2021 Kia Seltos

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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Aaron Cole Aaron Cole Managing Editor
February 16, 2020

Buying tip

Skip the base model and its lack of active safety features. Start with the Seltos S or EX for its value or convenience features, respectively.

features & specs

EX IVT AWD
LX IVT AWD
S DCT AWD
MPG
27 city / 31 hwy
MPG
27 city / 31 hwy
MPG
25 city / 30 hwy
MSRP
$25,290
MSRP
$21,990
MSRP
$25,490

The 2021 Kia Seltos combines the practicality of the hatchback Soul in a larger package with the automaker’s low price and superlative warranty.

The 2021 Kia Seltos is the automaker’s newest crossover and the smallest in its lineup. It’s Kia’s answer for buyers who’ve asked for an all-wheel-drive Soul for more than a decade. 

The Seltos is slightly larger than the Soul and strikes out in its own styling direction, although the most attractive part of the small crossover likely will be its low starting price of about $23,000 with all-wheel drive included. 

It earns a 5.8 TCC Rating before safety is factored in. We’ll update this when official safety data is made available. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Review continues below

For its first year on sale, the Seltos is available in LX, S, EX, and SX trim levels. An X-Line with more rugged off-road styling is likely to arrive soon, although Kia’s mum on those details. 

The Seltos doesn’t look like any other Kia crossovers aside from its shared nose—and we’re OK with that. Although the Seltos is roughly the same size as the Soul, it’s taller and longer, with a European look that’s most apparent in its face and body sides. Deep creases in the hood and angular fog lights add to the continental flair, a “floating” roof completes it. 

Inside, the Seltos is tamer with a practical layout that favors the driver. Most versions will be equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen that’s perched on the dash, although a 10.3-inch touchscreen is available on SX versions. 

Most Seltos crossovers will get a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 146 horsepower mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). All-wheel drive is standard on most models except for one front-wheel drive base trim. We haven’t yet driven the base engine, but based on other experiences with it in other vehicles by Kia and parent-company Hyundai, we’re relatively sure it’ll be competent—although hardly speedy. 

The optional engine is a 1.6-liter turbo-4 that makes 175 hp paired to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The engine feels willing, although the transmission hesitates at low speeds and can leave the uprated engine flat-footed. 

The all-wheel-drive system is geared toward dusty trails and easy two-tracks, if the Seltos ventures even that far. 

Four adults can fit comfortably inside the Seltos, five in a pinch. The rear seats recline for better long haul comfort and the seats are reasonably comfortable for the Seltos’ low price. There are more than 26 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row and with those seats folded that space expands to more than 60. 

Base versions of the Seltos skip automatic emergency braking, which our scoring system doesn’t favor. One step up adds automatic emergency braking and active lane control, which we recommend. 

Kia offers two base versions of the Seltos—with all-wheel drive and fewer conveniences, or without all-wheel drive and a few more creature comforts—that start around $23,000. We’d step up to the $24,610 Seltos S with all-wheel drive for its active safety features, 17-inch wheels, and exterior accents that base versions skip. All crossovers get an 8.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, cloth upholstery, and two USB chargers. 

The top Seltos SX adds a 10.3-inch touchscreen, wireless charger, synthetic leather upholstery, the uprated turbo-4, and Bose audio for nearly $30,000.

6

2021 Kia Seltos

Styling

Unique, with a European flair, the 2021 Seltos is a handsome small crossover.

Striking out in a new direction, the 2021 Kia Seltos bears only a small resemblance in the nose and grille to the rest of Kia’s crossovers and the rest of their cars. 

Its European flair and available contrast roof are handsome from far away. It’s a 6 for style with one point above average for its exterior. 

The nose and hood are deeply creased, with headlights that stretch across the fenders and bookend the grille. The honeycomb grille is a good look for the Seltos and daytime running lights sit directly underneath the thin, horizontal headlights. 

Vertical foglights set low on the front bumper are connected with a body-colored bumper that makes the Seltos look tall. 

Around the sides, the Seltos’ continental look is underscored by a “floating” roof and chrome strip underneath the windows. We can see a lot of Volvo’s XC40 in the Seltos—that’s a good thing. 

Around back, the Seltos appears odd. A floating chrome strip connects the two rear taillights and plastic chrome wraps around the lower bumper to simulate dual exhaust ports. (They’re not, the Seltos has just one tailpipe and it’s hidden behind the bumper.) 

Inside, the Seltos has an asymmetrical cockpit that cants toward the driver with a mixture of textured hard black plastic, glossy plastic, and soft-touch vinyl. The interior is dressed up with small pieces of chrome, although there are some odd high-gloss surfaces on the steering wheel that can glare into the driver’s vision.

Review continues below
5

2021 Kia Seltos

Performance

The 2021 Seltos is sure-footed and comfortable where it counts.

The new 2021 Seltos is powered by a familiar duo of powertrains found in crossovers, wagons, and hatchbacks made by Kia and parent-company Hyundai. Their performance is on par in the Seltos, but we still have some issues. The good news: Most Seltos crossovers will be equipped with all-wheel drive that helps the small ‘ute scramble up trails and snowy roads. The bad news: The top engine choice is still hamstrung by an indecisive transmission. 

It’s average for performance with an honorable mention for a smooth ride. 

The Seltos starts off with a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 146 hp. It’s teamed to a CVT that most often powers all four wheels. Front-wheel drive is available on base versions that we don’t recommend. We haven’t had a chance to drive versions equipped with this engine, although we’ve had extensive experience with it in the Soul that weighs about 200 pounds less. It’s not particularly speedy, but it is adequate and it’s paired with the better of the two available transmissions. 

Most of our experience in the Seltos has been behind the wheel of SX Turbo models equipped with a 1.6-liter turbo-4 that makes 175 hp and mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that drives all four wheels. The 7-speed is incrementally better than previous iterations that have appeared in other Kia vehicles, although it’s not refined. At low speeds, it can judder and its eagerness to upshift can leave the turbo-4 flat-footed. That’s not to say that the turbo-4 isn’t fun—it just needs constant attention. 

The Seltos rides comfortably, but there’s noticeable body roll and lean in the corners, and its four-wheel independent suspension is tuned to be soft compared to the Soul. (Base versions with front-wheel drive get a slightly different setup, although we haven’t yet driven those.) 

The all-wheel-drive system is geared more toward dusty trails and all-weather conditions. If off-roading is a priority for your small crossover, the Jeep Renegade or Subaru Crosstrek are likely better picks.

Review continues below
6

2021 Kia Seltos

Comfort & Quality

The Seltos is comfortable for four, with room for gear.

Small crossovers still have big space and the 2021 Kia Seltos proves it. 

It’s the smallest crossover in the Kia lineup, but no less versatile. Five adults can fit (although three in the back better be average build or smaller) and there’s room behind the second row for 26.6 cubic feet of cargo. 

Starting from an average score, the Seltos gets a point added for good cargo room. It’s a 6 for comfort. 

Like the slightly smaller Soul, the Seltos is a relative wonder of interior packaging. The small crossover rides on a wheelbase that measures just 103.5 inches, but there’s enough room inside for four adults to sit comfortably—five in a pinch. 

The front seats are wide and supportive, although a little flat. Base versions get a cloth upholstery that feels durable and hard-wearing. Most versions will get contrast stitching and some synthetic leather inserts for a more interesting look. 

In back, 6-footers can sit behind other 6-footers with good leg room and toe room. Warring children will have to fight over the lone USB charger in the back—at least there’s one. 

The rear seats recline several inches for long-haul comfort, which is relatively novel among small crossovers. 

Behind the second row, there is good space for cargo although the load floor is relatively high and the rear hatch cutout is smaller than it looks. With the rear seats folded down nearly flat, that space grows to 62.8 cubic feet. There’s no pass-through for skis with the seats up, so winter-weather fans may need to buy a roof rack if the Seltos lives in a snowy state. 

The Seltos covers most of its touchable surfaces in soft materials that are attractive and comfortable, although a few hard plastics can be found in the center console and on top of the dash. They’re textured and look fine, but not as nice to touch. The steering wheel oddly includes a bottom spoke made from glossy piano black plastic that can glare sunlight back toward the driver, which was an odd choice. On top of being a little too bright, it’s also surely a magnet for scuffs from rings and other jewelry. 

Review continues below

2021 Kia Seltos

Safety

The 2021 Seltos lacks official crash-test data; base versions don’t offer automatic braking.

So far, the Seltos lacks any official crash-test data from any of the major rating agencies. But it’s not off to a good start, either. 

We’ll withhold our rating for now, but base versions of the Seltos skip automatic emergency braking that won’t fare well in our score here. 

The Seltos S gets automatic emergency braking, active lane control, and automatic high beams. (With the uprated turbo-4 S Turbo model, it adds blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alert.) 

Top Seltos SX Turbo add adaptive cruise control and a driver-assistance system that can help steer the Seltos for long drives to reduce driver fatigue. It’ll keep the Seltos centered in its lane in gentle curves, but we’ve found that it struggles with windy roads or twisty on-ramps. 

The Seltos has good outward vision all the way around with small windows toward the rear that boast outward visibility.

Review continues below
7

2021 Kia Seltos

Features

For a small crossover, the 2021 Seltos has big ideas: good features, great warranty, just skip the base version.

An excellent warranty and good touchscreen helps the 2021 Kia Seltos find our good graces, even though it doesn’t offer automatic emergency braking standard on base models.

Starting from an average score the Seltos gets a 7 out of 10 for features.

New for this year, Kia offers the 2021 Seltos in LX, S, EX, and SX trim levels. Two base models share the same cost: $23,110, including mandatory destination charges. The base Seltos LX is equipped with all-wheel drive but lacks key features including automatic emergency braking. We’d skip it. The base Seltos S gets automatic emergency braking, but lacks all-wheel drive. We’d skip that too.

Both of those base models are equipped with an 8.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, Bluetooth connectivity, cloth seats, 17-inch wheels, and power features. In lieu of all-wheel drive on the base Seltos S, that version gets a few more niceties such as chrome accents on the exterior, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, fog lights, and contrast stitching inside. Heated seats are also optional. 

Instead, we’d opt for a Seltos S with all-wheel drive that costs $24,610 and adds better-looking 17-inch wheels, active safety features (covered above). An uprated turbo-4 is $2,000 more, but we don’t recommend it. 

The Seltos EX costs $1,800 more than the Seltos S, but skips the uprated turbo-4 in favor of convenience features such as a sunroof, 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, and power-adjustable seats. It’s a close second to the Seltos S AWD for value. 

The top Seltos SX Turbo costs $29,010 and goes all-in on features and options. It adds a 10.3-inch touchscreen, all-wheel drive, the turbo-4, synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, LED lights, blind-spot monitors, driver-assistance systems, and a 7.0-inch digital information screen for the driver. It’s well-equipped, but also well into Sportage territory. 

All Seltos get Kia’s outstanding 5-year/60,000-mile comprehensive warranty. 

Review continues below
5

2021 Kia Seltos

Fuel Economy

The 2021 Kia Seltos is frugal among small crossovers with all-wheel drive.

The 2021 Seltos is fuel-efficient despite an all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on most models.  

The EPA rates the 2021 Seltos at 27 mpg city, 31 highway, 29 combined in its most popular configuration, which is a 2.0-liter inline-4 with all-wheel drive. That’s a 5 out of 10. 

Front-drive base models do slightly better at 29/34/31 mpg, according to the EPA. 

Stepping up to a 1.6-liter turbo-4 in top trims drops fuel economy to 25/30/27 mpg. In more than 150 miles, we averaged 26.3 mpg according to the onboard trip computer.

Compared to other small crossovers, the Seltos is competitive but not ahead of the class. The 2020 Subaru Crosstrek rates 30 mpg combined and the Honda HR-V nets 29 mpg combined, according to the EPA. 

Other crossovers such as the HR-V and Hyundai Venue are more fuel-efficient without all-wheel drive. 

Review continues below
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$21,990
MSRP based on LX IVT AWD
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5.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 6
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety N/A
Features 7
Fuel Economy 5
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