The driving experience with the Seltos is one of the more refined in the segment.
Kia is making strides up national sales rankings and is setting their sights on another high-volume segment, the subcompact crossover. New for 2021, the Seltos delivers Kia’s well founded high-value formula to a hyper competitive marketplace. Kia has already had lots of success in the compact crossover segment with the Sportage, and the Soul has earned a loyal following, so we had high expectations for the Seltos. To see if the new crossover would live up to those expectations, we spent a week with a 2021 Kia Seltos EX AWD.
The Seltos continues Kia’s trend of edgy looks, though oddly doesn’t share many of its lines with its larger brethren. The front end is the distinguishing feature dominated by a low brow that’s highlighted with a full-length LED strip and a large skid-plate built into the fascia. It’s a slick looking little SUV with beefy plastic cladding on the lower portions, tasteful brightwork and agreeable lines. Our tester came finished in a unique Neptune Blue, which goes a long way towards making the crossover stand out. Our mid-trim EX came with dark charcoal colored 17-inch alloy wheels, and offer enough sidewall to not live in fear of potholes.
Now, the Seltos doesn’t share its platform with the Hyundai Kona (reviewed here), but rather the Asian-market Hyundai Creta. Hence, the Seltos has slightly larger dimensions all over, which translates to more space inside the cabin for people and cargo. The cargo area is generous for the segment, and there’s plenty of leg and headroom for adults in the rear, which is more than can be said for many of the current sub-compact crossover crop. There’s lots of handy storage up front for the daily carry items, though the two cupholders in the center console are small and awkwardly placed.
Interior materials are not top-notch, but they are on-par with expectations for this segment and price point. There are lots of matte finished black plastics complimented by glossy piano black accents. The EX comes with heated leather seats; the leather is low-grade, but they’re still comfortable and warm. There’s also a nice leather wrapped heated steering wheel, which will feel great when winter is upon us.
All Seltos models come equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Lower trim levels, including our EX get an eight-inch touchscreen while the EX Premium and SX get a huge 10.3-inch screen with integrated navigation. The interface is well laid out and easy to use, and can be split to display the map while changing radio stations or making calls. The EX Premium and SX also get wireless phone charging and satellite radio, though with plenty of charge ports and Android Auto to run Spotify it won’t be missed. The EX did come with a sunroof, which was nice to have during this warm fall week.
The Seltos is powered by one of two four-cylinder engine options; a standard 2.0-liter that makes 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft. of torque at 4,500RPM, and a turbocharged 1.6-liter that pumps out 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque at 4,500RPM. Unfortunately, the only way to get the peppier 1.6L turbo is to opt for the fully loaded SX trim level, which means shelling out for equipment you may not want. Most Seltos models, including our tester, will be equipped with the naturally aspirated 2.0L.
For the segment, the 2.0 is a well refined engine that does its work quietly and smoothly, though it’s far from powerful. It’s mated to Kia’s IVT (Intelligent Variable Transmission), which does a fantastic job simulating real shifts, so much so that without paying attention it’s hard to notice that it’s a variable ratio transmission. The 1.6-liter turbo does get a sportier seven-speed dual clutch automatic, which we recently tested and doesn’t quite suit the personality of the Seltos.
Unless you opt for the basic front-wheel-drive model, all other Seltos models come standard with all-wheel-drive. It’s a fully automatic system, but there is a 4WD lock button on the console should you need to override the system and get all four wheels spinning. Kia’s system may not be ready to go toe-to-toe with the likes of Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel-drive system, but for the average commuter this system will provide plenty of confidence during winter’s worst.
The driving experience with the Seltos is one of the more refined in the segment. The ride is firm but not abusive, handling is sharp, and the little crossover feels well planted which means having a little fun in the corners is not out of the question. On the highway, there is audible road noise, but less than many direct competitors. Acceleration is the single biggest weak point as the 2.0-liter does feel underpowered, especially when loaded with people or cargo, and the nature of the IVT transmission means brisk acceleration feels laboured.
Fuel economy came in right where expected for the segment, at 8.4L/100km with a fairly even mix of city and highway driving. That’s right in line with the rated 8.8L/100km city and 7.6L/100km highway from Kia Canada. Of course, the Seltos is happy with regular 87-octane fuel, regardless of which engine option you choose.
Electronic safety aids are becoming more and more popular, especially with shoppers in the subcompact segments concerned about keeping their young families safe. Kia is stepping up here offering a large suite of safety gadgets, even on our EX trim. Our model came equipped with blind spot warning, lane keep assist, lane follow assist, forward collision avoidance and rear-cross traffic avoidance.
In sticking with Kia’s formula of undercutting the competition and sweetening the pot with extra features, the Seltos is aggressively priced. The LX FWD starts at $22,995, and spending a mere $2,000 adds AWD, 17-inch alloys and trades the torsion beam rear suspension for an independent multilink setup. Next is the EX, which comes in at $27,595, and at that price it gets the tech mentioned above, and more. The EX Premium adds more gadgets such as the larger touchscreen, navigation, wireless charging and LED headlamps, at $30,595. Lastly, the SX Turbo comes fully jammed with the peppier engine, heads-up display, Bose sound and more.
For the vast majority of subcompact crossover buyers, the EX at a bargain price of $27,845 is a fantastic value. It’s a very well equipped little crossover for the same price as a similarly equipped compact car like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla (reviewed here), making crossover ownership all the more justifiable.
We won’t pretend that the Seltos doesn’t feel like it was built to a price point, because it was, and it is. Nicer materials inside and some additional touches like a powered decklid and ventilated seats would really make it feel more upmarket. However, with those upgrades would certainly come a larger price tag, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better value in this segment, especially not one that’s as agreeable to drive as this 2021 Kia Seltos EX AWD. I expect we will see plenty of these packing the streets and parking lots in no time.