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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883


2021 Kia Seltos: All-new CUV slips into the crowded subcompact segment

There seems to be an endless demand for small crossovers.

Or at least an endless supply of automakers willing to build them.

Thanks to modern production efficiencies, manufacturers can spin out new models quickly and without incurring large development costs. In the process, they are slicing and dicing the segments into ever-smaller slices of the market.

Take the all-new 2021 Kia Seltos ($21,990). Kia drops the little crossover into a segment where it already campaigns two vehicles — the subcompact Soul wagon ($17,950) and the Sportage CUV ($23,990), which is barely big enough to slip into the compact space.

Urban utility

The Seltos is based on the same platform as the Soul and its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Kona, whose powertrains it also shares.

The Seltos can be had in FWD and AWD configurations. Its upright stance, ruggedized appearance and elevated, 7.2-inch ride height suggest aggressive off-road capabilities, but the Seltos is really about affordable urban utility.

It seats four adults and has a large-for-the-segment cargo area. Rear-seat passengers fare well, with enough legroom and headroom for a pair of six-footers. The rear seatbacks recline.

There are abundant hard plastics in the forward cabin and our tester’s leatherette seating surfaces failed to impress. Otherwise, materials quality and fit-and-finish are quite good. 

We found the seats to be comfortable and supportive and had no trouble finding a comfortable driving position. 

Ride quality is generally quite good, though the impact of potholes and other broken surfaces can be felt throughout the cabin. The firm ride can turn choppy under certain conditions and the cabin grows noisy under acceleration. At highway speeds, wind and road noise are evident. Casual storage opportunities are limited to an open bin in the center console and a separate, covered cubby beneath the padded armrest between the seats.

Two-tone palette

The infotainment system features easily navigated menus. Analog buttons and knobs manage the audio and climate control systems. 

And because young buyers like to personalize their rides, Kia offers Seltos in a variety of two-tone color schemes.

Our top-of-the-line SX Turbo wore a black roof over white body paint.

Seltos is available in five trims, LX ($21,990), S ($21,990), EX ($25,290), S Turbo ($25,490) and SX ($27,890).

All trims but the S come standard with all-wheel-drive. 

The base LS is equipped with an 8-inch dash-top touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Keyless entry and tinted rear glass are standard, as are 17-inch wheels.

But the LS offers only the barest minimum of safety and driver-assist features. For advanced features like lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high-beam controls, buyers must step up to higher trims.

EX a sweet spot

Blind-spot monitoring, with rear cross-traffic alert, is reserved for the S Turbo and above. Adaptive cruise is standard only on the SX. The SX also claims exclusive rights to the 10.3-inch infotainment screen, with navigation, and the premium Bose audio system.

The SX gets LED headlights. All others sport halogen lamps.

The midlevel EX will be the likely sweet spot for many buyers. In addition to standard AWD, it offers such standard features as heated seats, blind-spot monitoring and keyless ignition. 

A 146-hp 2.0-liter four powers LX, S and EX trims. It’s paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). 

The S Turbo and SX run a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission.

Equipped with the turbocharged engine, the Seltos spurts from 0-60 in a click or two over 7 seconds, while the 2.0-liter engine needs a bit more than 10 seconds. Both numbers are class-appropriate.

Drive modes matter

For the most part, the dual-clutch gearbox in our SX tester made good, clean shifts. In low-speed city traffic, though, it was prone to indecision and stumbled occasionally between gears.

Three drive modes —Normal, Sport and Smart — significantly impact driving characteristics. Sport stiffens the steering feel and sharpens throttle and transmission responses. Smart mode employs both Normal and Sport modes, depending how aggressively Seltos is being driven. 

The Seltos is no athlete, but it is nimble and responsive in city traffic and feels steady and composed in the corners.

Steering system responses are quick and precise. On-center feel is ambiguous, though, and at highway speeds, the driver must make constant little course corrections.

On AWD models, brake-based torque-vectoring stabilizes the Seltos in curves. A locking center differential locks the system into a 50/50 front-rear torque split for extra low-speed traction in snow or mud.

The Seltos faces excellent competition in a crowded segment. Its fate lies in the hands of the buying public.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at

2021 Kia Seltos SX
Vehicle base price: $21,990
Trim level base price: $27,890
As tested: $29,485 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Clear White/Black Roof Paint; cargo mats
EPA rating: 27 combined/25 highway/30 highway
Regular unleaded gasoline specified

Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.