Stylish, roomy and unexpectedly premium, the new Kia Seltos is indisputably excellent. This small crossover is the latest in a long series of hits from the South Korean automaker, a conga line of cars that includes models like the Soul, the Stinger and, most recently, the Telluride three-row SUV.
Putting the screws to rivals like theand the Seltos is a small crossover designed to squeeze between the funky-looking hatchback and slightly larger utility vehicle.
Setting this Kia apart from those models and its primary rivals, the Seltos is intended to be something of an off-roader. Obviously, it's no Jeep Wrangler, but there is some actual substance beneath that tough styling, a bit of steak to go with the sizzle. Ground clearance measures 7.3 inches, the same amount you get in a Honda Pilot. This vehicle's approach and departure angles each clock in at 28 degrees, making it reasonably useful off road. Finally, a nifty all-wheel-drive system with a locking center differential is offered in certain trim levels, which can evenly split torque between the front and rear axles for enhanced traction in slippery, sloppy or otherwise severe conditions. What's not so cool are the front and rear "skid plates." They may look to provide some useful protection, but they're nothing but flimsy plastic.
The Seltos is available in five different grades. Serving base duty is the reasonably priced LX version; stepping up from there you can get an ES model, an S 2.0, S 1.6T or the range-topping SX, which is what I'm testing here. As for pricing, this vehicle kicks off at $23,110 including destination charges, which are $1,120.
Kia is killing it with interiors these days, and the Seltos' cabin is another example of that great work. Yes, nearly everything inside is made of hard plastic, but nothing is blatantly cheap. The buttons and switches feel good, there are plenty of interesting textures and build quality is excellent. Nearly all Seltos models come with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, though EX and SX versions also feature a wireless charging pad, leatherette seating surfaces and push-button start.
An eight-speaker Bose audio system is standard on top-shelf SX models, ditto for a 10.25-inch, high-resolution touchscreen. All other versions of the Seltos come with an 8-inch display, though no matter the model, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included.
The Seltos has a wheelbase of 103.5 inches and an overall length of 172 inches. That makes it about the same size as a Honda HR-V or Nissan Kicks. These dimensions provide generous interior space. With the rear seats up, you get just shy 27 cubic feet of junk-hauling capacity; fold 'em down and that figure grows to nearly 63 cubic feet, which is just about as much as in a Chevy Equinox.
As with the cargo hold, this vehicle's back seat is huge, with plenty of room for legs and heads. Front or rear, 6-foot-tall folks should have no trouble fitting in the Seltos.
By now you may be asking yourself, "What does Seltos mean?" Kia says it's named after Celtus, the son of Heracles in Greek mythology. But there's nothing valiant about what's under this crossover's hood. The base engine is a naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for a relatively dismal 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, matched with a continuously variable transmission. What you'll really want is the up-level, 1.6-liter turbo. This force-fed dynamo delivers a more livable 175 hp, but more importantly, torque tops out at 195 lb-ft. Making the most of that output is a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.
The Seltos' base engine can be had with either front- or all-wheel drive, but the 1.6T only comes with AWD. Models so equipped should return 25 miles per gallon around town, 30 on the highway and 27 mpg combined. Naturally, without the turbocharged engine or all-wheel drive, other versions of the Seltos are slightly more efficient.
The Seltos is as quiet and smooth as anything else in the segment, but the powertrain could be improved. The Seltos can feel gutless in certain driving situations thanks to an engine that doesn't come alive until the middle of its rev range and a transmission that's always a couple of gears too high. This combination can seriously hamper low-speed drivability. When you take off from a standstill it's a bit soft, but even once the vehicle is moving it feels pokey. The engine doesn't have enough off-idle torque to get things moving and the gearbox is reluctant to downshift.
Fortunately, there's an easy solution to this lethargic performance: putting the Seltos in sport mode. Not only does this tighten up the steering feel, it also keeps the transmission from going upshift-crazy, which makes this vehicle much more enjoyable to drive. The trade-off, of course, is likely slightly reduced fuel economy, but it's well worth it in my book.
That seven-speed transmission shifts quickly and is mostly smooth, but it's still not as pleasant as a traditional torque-converter automatic. Sometimes there's a faint juddering sensation when taking off from a stop and it feels slow when going from drive to reverse or vice versa.
Aside from the gearbox, I have one other minor quibble about how this vehicle drives. The brake pedal is too touchy, resulting in full-on panic stops when you just wanted to slow down for a residential speed bump. A small amount of pressure goes a long way in this Kia.
In order to keep up with rivals, new vehicles today are practically required to have a range of advanced safety technologies, and the Seltos is no exception. The Kia Drive Wise suite includes things like lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and lane-keeping assist. These features are standard on all models, save the most basic LX trim. Beyond that stuff, you can also get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist and even adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability.
The 2021 Seltos is a great addition to Kia's utility vehicle lineup. Even the fully loaded SX model feels like a good value, checking out for $29,485, including destination. The Seltos is stylish, with a high-quality and spacious interior, plus it offers plenty of technology. Aside from its sometimes-recalcitrant transmission and brake pedal that's a bit too sensitive, this vehicle is still a great choice.
Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.