Kia has been on a tear in recent years and has released some of the most compelling vehicles on the market. They have made the red-hot Telluride and new K5 sedan, but in between those two freshman offerings is another newcomer. The 2021 Kia Seltos is an all-new subcompact crossover that has many of the features of its larger and more expensive siblings in a more affordable package. Let’s dig deeper to see why it should be on your radar.
Take a look around the next time you’re out on the road and make a mental note of the different vehicle colors you see. I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of colors are some variation of white, black, grey, or silver. Buyers can order a Seltos in one of those colors, but they can also go in the complete opposite direction and have the vehicle delivered in colors that would make Elton John blush. That was the case with my test vehicle, which was slathered in Starbright Yellow, a color that is so loud that I received more looks in the Kia than I did when driving exotic cars.
Past that, the Seltos borrows many of its styling cues from Kia’s larger and more expensive crossover, the Telluride. It’s got strong lines and a busy, but not over-the-top front fascia that gives it an aggressive look.
The Seltos is a small crossover but makes good use of the space that it has. The front seats are surprisingly deep, supportive, and nicely bolstered. There’s a bit less padding than most people would expect, but the buckets remain comfortable on long trips. The cozy interior dimensions are helpful for shorter drivers and front passengers, as all controls and buttons are well within reach. At the SX trim level, the driver’s seat is power-adjustable and offers a decent level of choice for driving position. The passenger’s seat comes only with manual adjustments and can’t be moved with the same degree of freedom that the driver’s seat has, but there’s enough space to accommodate most people.
The Seltos shows its size most noticeably in the back seat, where there’s a constant battle for room between rear-seat passengers and those in the front seats. With a six-foot-tall person riding in front, there’s not much room left in the back for anyone taller than five feet or so. This becomes more of an issue when there are car seats involved. Safe installation requires that the car seat not touch the back of the front seat, which means that the Seltos’ front passengers’ knees will almost undoubtedly be jammed into the dash or steering column, depending on where the car seat is installed.
The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-banger that is rated at 146 horsepower. That doesn’t sound like a ton of power, and it certainly doesn’t feel like a ton of power from behind the wheel. It’s paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that tries its hardest to be a willing companion to the engine but ends up sucking the fun out of the party in most situations. The 1.6-liter engine under the hood of the Seltos SX Turbo that I tested is a much more suitable match for the vehicle and offers a better experience in almost every measurable way. It’s smooth, refined, and brings a healthy 175 horsepower to the party. It’s capable of pushing the Seltos to highway speeds without breaking a sweat, and it makes scooting around town an absolute blast.
The upgraded engine is paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which is much better at almost everything than the CVT, but it can be clunky at low speeds. Because DCTs are essentially manual transmissions that shift themselves automatically, there are times when the gearbox is trying to find a gear while the driver is trying to accelerate. That leads to a lurching, jerky sensation in the vehicle that can be unnerving while attempting to maneuver through tight spots like parking garages and city streets.
Kia does a great job with its infotainment systems and technology in general, so it’s no surprise that the Seltos is excellent from a tech standpoint. My SX Turbo model came with the optional 10.3-inch touchscreen, which sits proudly high up on the dash for easy viewing. It’s a wide screen that offers excellent viewing angles and remains visible even in direct sunlight. Kia’s UVO software can feel simplistic at times, but it’s that simplicity that makes it so usable in almost every situation. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, as is Bluetooth and a host of connectivity options.
The Seltos missed out on a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but that doesn’t mean that it’s short on safety features. The LX and S trim levels lack advanced driver aids as standard equipment, but they can be added through options packages or standalone features. Blind spot monitoring, collision avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic alerts, automatic emergency braking, lane departure alerts, and lane keep assist are all available in lower trims and standard in the top SX Turbo model. One of the most useful and interesting features is called Safe Exit Assist, which uses the vehicle’s sensors to determine if there is an oncoming vehicle. The Seltos will then alert its passengers of the danger so that they don’t open a door into an approaching vehicle.
I’ve long complained that there are far too many crossovers and SUVs, and that there should be more cars on the market. I’m still more than willing to voice that grievance to anyone who’ll listen, but vehicles like the Seltos make the trend a lot easier to swallow. It’s stylish, packed with value, and full of great tech––all characteristics that make it a compelling choice for new car shoppers. It’s worth a drive and more than worth a spot on the shopping list, but do everyone a favor and order it in a reasonable color.