Review update: The 2021 Kia Seltos SX pairs style with substance

September 2, 2020

Kia’s on a roll. The Korean automaker can’t build the Telluride three-row SUV fast enough, and now its pint-sized Seltos crossover brings some slick European design to a usually utilitarian segment.

The 2021 Kia Seltos small crossover SUV fills a void between the subcompact Niro and the popular Soul. Count the Soul as its competition as well as the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek.

With a TCC Rating of 5.8 out of 10 the 2021 Kia Seltos wins us over with distinct style, a good value, and great packaging.. But it’s loud on the highway, the upgraded stereo is atrocious, and the transmission doesn’t like certain situations.

Here’s what I learned after a week with the Kia Seltos getting groceries, running errands, and taking a road trip with the family.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Hit: Kia did it again

The Telluride is a sharp ride, but it looks as if it hails from America (which it does) while the Seltos could hail from Europe with crisp creases on the hood, sharp LED headlights, and chrome trim spanning the taillights. My tester’s 18-inch alloy wheels had center caps that almost gave the appearance of center-lock wheels like a supercar.

Miss: Loud in the wrong ways

A Dodge Charger Hellcat is loud in all the right ways. The Seltos is loud in all the wrong ways. On the highway at 70 mph the wind noise from the large side mirrors is atrocious. Unlike the stereo, you can’t turn off the wind noise.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Hit: Great packaging

Honda has long been the king of packaging, but South Korea’s Hyundai and Kia brands are really hitting their stride. The Seltos can comfortably haul a family of four and their cargo for a weekend up north at the lake with the ability to swallow 26.6 cubic feet of gear, and there are creative little slots to insert the rear seat belts into when not in use so they can’t move around. That’s nifty.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Hit: Infotainment done right

Kia could show some competitors a thing or two on how to design an infotainment system. My tester’s 8.0-inch touchscreen featured an easy-to-use interface along with real buttons and knobs for quick functions such as moving from the radio to climate control pages. It’s quick, responsive, and attractive.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Miss: But that stereo

My well-equipped SX Turbo tester featured an 8-speaker Bose stereo system instead of the standard 6-speaker setup. It’s among the worst audio systems I’ve experienced in a vehicle, and I’ve spent time in a Honda Accord with a four-speaker setup. The bass booms constantly. Turning the bass down all the way doesn’t fix the issue. The only solution was to simply turn off the stereo, which my kids didn’t appreciate. It’s quite possible the base setup is better, or at least less annoying.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Hit: Comfortable

Regardless of where you sit in the Seltos it’s a comfortable experience. The front seats are wide and supportive, though my tester’s synthetic leather won’t be fooling anyone. The rear bench seat has good leg and toe room. Headroom isn’t an issue, and the rear seatback reclines for added comfort. That is rare in this segment.

2021 Kia Seltos

2021 Kia Seltos

Miss: No creeping allowed

My Seltos SX Turbo had a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It was somewhat lazy, always looking for the upshift rather than letting the revs build and keeping the powertrain in the main powerband. Also, the clutch engagement was poorly tuned. Attempting to creep forward at a stop light or in stop-and-go traffic is impossible to do smoothly as the clutch isn’t feathered as it engages, it’s either fully engaged or disengaged. Those who get car sick might not want to get stuck as a passenger in traffic in the Seltos.

In a sea of small crossover SUVs the 2020 Kia Seltos SX Turbo delivers impressive space, style, and a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty, but the top SX Turbo spec might not be the best Seltos to buy because the transmission and Bose audio downgrade the experience.

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2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD

Base price: $23,110

Price as tested: $29,485

EPA fuel economy: 25/30/27 mpg

The hits: Sharp design, great packaging, comfortable, easy-to-use infotainment system

The misses: Terrible Bose sound system, transmission isn’t smooth, loud on the highway.

2020
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2020
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