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2021 Kia Seltos review: Entry-level goodness

by Emely Foust (2020-07-19)

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Good things come in small packages.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Kia's been on sort of a tear revamping its crossover and SUV lineup. But when the results are as good as the boxy-cool Soul or absolutely superb Telluride, you won't hear me -- or buyers -- complaining. The next bit of Kia utility goodness is the subcompact 2021 Seltos, and it's yet another home run.


2021 Kia Seltos



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LikeDistinctive looks.Great overall value.Lots of standard and available tech.

Don't LikeHit-or-miss efficiency.Sluggish initial acceleration, even with turbo power.

I love the way the Seltos looks, especially in this Starbright Yellow color capped with a Cherry Black roof. There are a lot of great design details here, like the triple-stacked foglights, textured chrome trim around the grille, interesting daytime running lights and Tour Quế Lâm từ Hà Nội spiky 18-inch wheels. There are a few regrettable choices, however: The skid plates are for show only, and while I'm fine with large exhaust tips that conceal a smaller pipe, these dual outlets are completely fake. The actual exhaust is at least eight inches below.

This rugged-looking CUV slots between the Soul and Sportage and is offered with a pair of engines. LX, S and Quế Lâm EX models get a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated I4, but the S Turbo and SX Turbo are graced with -- you guessed it -- a 1.6-liter turbo I4. Front-wheel drive comes standard on the non-turbo S, while all-wheel drive is optional. Every other Seltos can only be had with AWD.

Optional turbo power

The Seltos does a fine job on the road. My tester has the turbo engine, with 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Despite that last number, the Seltos is a little sluggish off the line, especially in its default drive mode. Here, the engine and transmission are tuned for efficiency, with quick upshifts and a slightly more muted throttle. Sport mode helps things significantly, and it even tightens up the steering. I like that the Seltos' turbo engine pairs with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic, as opposed to the continuously variable transmission in naturally aspirated models. It just makes the whole experience that much more pleasant.

However, keeping the Seltos in Sport mode does a doozy on its fuel economy. While the EPA gives the 1.6-liter Seltos SX Turbo with all-wheel drive a rating of 25 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined, I'm only seeing 23.2 mpg. Those with fuel efficiency on their mind should stick with the front-wheel drive S trim, which has EPA ratings of 29 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 31 mpg combined. 

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2021 Kia SeltosEnlarge ImageA naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine is on tap for lower trims, but this SX model has a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4.
Emme Hall/Roadshow

Should you care to go off-road, you might actually get a fair distance off the beaten path, thanks to a center locking differential in all-wheel drive models that can split the torque evenly between the front and rear axles. The Seltos' suspension geometry isn't as good as, say, the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, and those plastic skid plates won't help should you scrape something, but with over 7 inches of ground clearance and 28 degrees of approach and departure angles, the Seltos' off-road chops are surprisingly robust.

Vigorous tech

LX models are pretty bare-bones in terms of equipment, with driver aids not really coming online until the S trim, which gets standard high-beam assist, lane-keeping assist and lane-departure warning. The SX Turbo has all of that plus blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control. With the Highway Driving Assist, the Seltos stays in its own lane on the highway, combining the work of the adaptive cruise and lane-keeping tech. making short work of sweeping turns. However, I can feel and see the little mid-corner corrections it makes through the steering wheel.

An 8-inch touchscreen running Kia's Uvo infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard, but my top-shelf Seltos gets a larger 10.25-inch display. Kia's Uvo system is not my favorite, what with its small icons, but my colleagues have nothing but praise for it. To each their own, I guess.