As you’d expect from Kia, value is the Seltos’ strongest suit.
From the funky Soul to the family-sized Telluride, Kia’s crossover lineup spoils you for choice – but it wasn’t always like this. For years, the Korean automaker was missing a proper pint-sized crossover, but the tides are turning. Enter the 2021 Kia Seltos SX AWD: it’s a roomy, very well equipped, and surprisingly perky people-mover that, like many others in the segment, stretches the definition of “subcompact”. Better late then never, right?
Like the closely related Hyundai Kona, you can choose between one of two four-cylinder engines. A 2.0-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder is standard fare, putting out 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. That’s hooked up to a continuously variable transmission, and all-wheel-drive is standard on all but the base LX trim.
Step all the way up to the SX, though, and the four-pot gets a bit smaller but gains a turbocharger: the 1.6L turbo-four puts out a solid 175 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. But whatever you do, just don’t call the Seltos a Kona with a Kia badge: despite the mutual powertrain and drivetrain, the Seltos actually shares its underpinnings with the Indian-market Hyundai Creta. That’ll definitely stump your friends the first time you roll up to trivia night with your brand-new Seltos.
All that said, the Seltos drives quite well, provided you keep your expectations in check. The turbo-four runs out of breath when you wring it out, but keep the revs low – peak torque is available at 1,500 rpm – and it’s surprisingly zippy. Steering is absolutely lifeless and numb, but bumping the Seltos into Sport mode adds more weight to the steering, and sharpens throttle response and tells the transmission to hold onto gears for longer.
Speaking of, the dual-clutch isn’t particularly smooth at low speeds, but it delivers reasonably snappy shifts when you need them. And while the Mazda CX-30 Turbo is still our segment favourite for tearing up on-ramps and the occasional piece of spaghetti-shaped roads, the Seltos holds its own with minimal body roll and excellent road manners over bumps, potholes, and choppy pavement. That said, the Subaru Crosstrek is still the ride quality champ in the segment.
On top of all that, the delta in fuel economy between the two engines isn’t as big as you’d think. Non-turbo models are rated at 8.8L/100km in the city and 7.6L/100km on the highway, while the boosted Seltos SX is pegged at 9.4L/100km city and 7.9L/100km highway. Plus, regardless of the engine you choose, all Seltos happily take regular. The small bump in fuel economy is worth it.
Outside, the Seltos certainly isn’t as easy on the eyes as the CX-30, but definitely less polarizing than the Kona. Love it or hate it, there are some pretty clever design touches as well – the LED turn signals and tail lights have a trippy pattern to them, while the LED accents up front run almost the entire length of the grille, giving the Seltos something of a moustache at night. Bonus points for the Seltos’ colour options – even if you have to pay $200 for any colour that isn’t black, you do have some refreshingly bright options.
Inside, all the Kia basics are there: the layout is smart and logical, it’s spacious, and the infotainment is extremely intuitive. On this top-dog SX, the 10.25-inch touchscreen is responsive and crisp, and includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, navigation, and satellite radio. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom regardless of where you sit, and all-around visibility is great. Practicality is another one of the Seltos’ strongest advantages, even besting some of the larger subcompacts like the Honda HR-V and Nissan Qashqai. You have 753 litres of cargo space at your disposal with the seats up, but fold them down and that grows to a generous 1,778.
You even get some neat design touches inside the Seltos, like the pattern on the speaker grilles and the mood lighting that can pulse along to the beat of your music. But despite all that and the cheery exterior colour options, the all-black motif and overall fit-and finish makes the cabin feel a bit dreary. At least during the day, the Seltos’ interior is a no-fun zone compared to the Soul, or even the Hyundai Kona.
As you’d expect from Kia, value is the Seltos’ strongest suit. Starting at $23,095, you get 16-inch alloy wheels, heated seats, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-spot monitoring, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. An extra $2,000 adds different wheels and AWD, and another $2,600 on top of that for the mid-range Seltos EX adds the active safety gizmos you’d expect these days, plus a sunroof, push-button start, and leatherette, all for a reasonable $27,695.
The upper trims get pricey, though. The almost-fully-loaded EX Premium gives you 18-inch wheels, LED lighting, and the 10.25-inch touchscreen with navigation, among other bits, for $30,695. Our SX tester tops out at $32,695, and in addition to the turbo-four and dual-clutch automatic, you get a Bose sound system and a chintzy-looking heads-up display. The Seltos offers great value on the lower end, but it’s tough to justify the fit-and-finish above $30,000.
By and large, the 2021 Kia Seltos SX AWD is a pretty good buy. Its interior may not feel as fancy as others in the subcompact segment, but it’s roomy, offers great value, and with the turbo engine, it’s pretty spunky. Better late then never, indeed.