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2021 Kia Seltos debuts as impressive subcompact SUV competitor Featured

Posted On Monday, 13 July 2020 04:21 Written by
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The 2021 Kia Seltos is a strong new entry in the subcompact SUV segment, and offers All-Wheel Drive The 2021 Kia Seltos is a strong new entry in the subcompact SUV segment, and offers All-Wheel Drive Photo courtesy of Kia

It seems to be raining new small SUVs over the past few years, with almost every automaker unveiling new vehicles to add to the already large mix of options available to consumers seeking an entry-level SUV.

Kia, which already has a healthy list of quality SUVs to offer, saw an opening in its lineup and decided to fill it, debuting the brand new 2021 Kia Seltos, a vehicle that slides in between the Soul and the Sportage in Kia's lineup. The subcompact SUV is slightly longer than the popular Soul offering, but not as large as the Kia Sportage.

Seltos takes on tough competition — including the Mazda CX-30, Chevy Trax, Nissan Kicks, and Hyundai Venue — but delivers the unique feature of available All-Wheel Drive, which much of the competition does not offer in this segment.

I recently spent a week driving a 2021 Kia Seltos, and I’m back with a full report on how it holds up in the segment. 


In order to stand out in this tough segment, a unique look is essential. And the Seltos delivers very effectively in this department. Designed in a manner similar to Kia’s award-winning Telluride, the look features a bold grille, sleek sidelines and an available sharp two-tone design. While many of the vehicles in the category shine in terms of looks, the Seltos instantly joins the battle for best-looking in class with a thoroughly modern design.

The Seltos features a 7.2-inch ground clearance, one feature that separates it from the crowd and makes it prime for some adventures on roads less traveled. Also helping the adventurous spirit of the vehicle is an aggressive lower front bumper, and front and rear skid plates. Looking sharp are the alloy wheels (in 17 or 18 inch sizes). This vehicle looks like it can handle its business, and the good news is that it actually does.

Once inside the Seltos, you’ll find a vehicle that’s extremely well-designed, quite comfortable, tech-savvy, and featuring materials more upscale than you might expect from Kia. For the mid-$20K range, which is what many Seltos buyers will pay, you’re getting quite a bit for your money.

Four adults can fit comfortably in the Seltos, but don’t put the extra-tall folks in the back, as this is a subcompact. While leg room is good for the segment, don’t expect miracles.

The 60/40 split-folding and reclining rear seats allow for versatility in the Seltos’ cargo space. Storage is an overall high point on the vehicle, as once you fold down the back seats you will find 62.8 cubic feet of cargo space to fill — a stellar number for the segment.

Among the creature comforts inside the Seltos include: Heated front seats, combination leatherette and cloth seat trim, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.

You can access the vehicle via keyless entry, and turn on the ignition via push-button start. Controls on the Seltos steering wheel, for audio and cruise control, are easy to use. 

My test vehicle featured LED headlights and fog lights, automatic temperature control, LED interior lamps, and rear passenger air vents.


The 2021 Kia Seltos comes with two engine options, both paired with an automatic transmission. I tested the more powerful one, a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine packing 175 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque.

The base engine is a fuel-efficient 2.0-liter non-turbo offering that delivers 146 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft.

These are the same engines offered in the smaller Kia Soul, but the uniqueness factor of the Seltos is magnified by the optional all-wheel drive, which boosts the Seltos’ rugged factor and ability to perform in tough weather conditions or the occasional dirt road. FWD is standard, for those who don’t opt for the AWD.

The Seltos’ AWD experience features a center-locking differential that splits power between front and rear wheels in severe environments, and the AWD system makes use of torque vectoring, which increases traction by predicting which wheel will best utilize power in each situation, boosting the vehicle’s stability in corners.

I found my experience in the Seltos to be an overall enjoyable ride, on both smooth and rougher paths. It won’t break any speed records, but can provide the driver a quick boost when you need some speed to pass, such as on the highway or when trying to change lanes in busy traffic. Handling was also excellent in my experience driving the Seltos.

You can choose your Drive Mode: Options are Normal, Smart and Sport. Particularly in Sport, the experience is one I would describe as peppy.

The ride in the Seltos can be a bit noisy, but not at a level where it impacts the quality of your driving experience. 


On both fronts, Kia continues its grand tradition of excellent offerings with the Seltos. Just be aware that many of the driver-assistance features are not standard on all trim levels.

First, let’s talk tech. The SX Turbo trim level I tested featured Kia’s best infotainment system, UVO Link with navigation, and its 10.25 inch display.

The rectangular screen features a 3-part display that allows for multiple operations to be viewed at once (navigation, radio, weather, etc.). It responds well to voice commands, and the physical design of the system was easy as pie to master by touch controls. I appreciate that it’s not complicated and anyone’s grandma could use it without a major learning curve. 

The Uvo Link system also offers vehicle diagnostics, maintenance alerts, remote start and more, all through your smartphone. Radio station favorites for each individual driver of the Seltos can be loaded via Kia’s app, furthering personalization.

The vehicle is also compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, for phone mirroring. One nice touch is the optional wireless phone charger, which is nicely hidden in the center console up front and unobtrusive, allowing you to charge your phone as you drive without worrying about cords.

The Seltos offers the driver some friendly reminders, such as “leading car has advanced” when you’re in line at the ATM or drive-thru, or sitting at a red light. It also reminds you to check rear seats for any passengers before exiting the vehicle.

There is even mood lighting that is connected to the Bose sound system. And USB ports can be found both in front and rear. Bluetooth connectivity allows for streaming of music and content from your phone to the vehicle.

On the safety front, the rear camera, with dynamic guidelines to ease parking situations, was very helpful.

Other safety features offered on the Seltos include:

  • Smart cruise control with Stop & Go (can bring car to full stop if vehicle moves in front while in cruise control mode)
  • Forward-collision avoidance assistance (stops vehicle to avoid accident, including for pedestrians)
  • Blind-spot collision warning (detects vehicles in next lane, warns with icon and audio alert)
  • Blind-spot collision avoidance assist (Applies brakes to avoid collision with vehicle in blind spot)
  • Rear cross traffic collision warning and avoidance assist (stops you from backing out into a bad situation)
  • Lane keeping assist and Lane following assist (forcibly keeps vehicle in your lane)
  • Lane departure warning (alerts you to stay in your lane)
  • Driver attention warning (senses when driver is not focused, sends audible/visual warning)
  • Safe Exit Assist (alerts driver to not open door if traffic is coming)

For a smaller SUV, this is an impressive list of options that all work very well, another feather in the Seltos’ cap.

Also in the safety realm, you get a full array of airbags, electronic stability control, and hill-start assist control.


Fuel mileage numbers on the Seltos are quite impressive, and vary by model.

For the FWD model with 2.0-liter engine, you’ll get 31 MPG combined/29 city/34 highway. For the AWD model with 2.0-liter engine, you’ll get 29 MPG combined/27 city/31 highway.

Finally, with the AWD, 1.6-liter turbo engine, you’ll get 27 MPG combined/25 city/30 highway. I averaged about 25 mpg with this engine, but keep in mind that this Included regular use of sport mode.


The 2021 Kia Seltos I tested was at the top of the price range, at $29,485. The base price of the Seltos starts at an affordable $22K. Most buyers will end up with vehicles priced somewhere in the middle $20K range, unless you decide you want all the bells and whistles and decide to push toward the $30K mark.

Warranties include:

  • 10 year, 100,000 miles limited powertrain warranty
  • 5 years, 60,000 mile Limited Basic warranty
  • 5 years, 60,000 mile roadside assistance


Between its attractive design inside and out, strong tech offerings and responsive drive quality, the 2021 Kia Seltos is a strong new subcompact SUV from Kia with lots to like, and the potential to upset customer loyalty in this segment..

For it to be a long-term player in the SUV realm, Kia just needs to hope it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle of Kia’s many SUV offerings, or have sales cannibalized by other models like the Soul. But the inclusion of the AWD option should help to prevent that.

===== can be found on Twitter @AutoTechReview, or stay updated at the AutoTechReviews Facebook page. Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.

Additional Info

  • Vehicle: 2021 Kia Seltos  
  • Price as tested: $29,485 (starts at $22K) 
  • Best feature: Attractive design, strong ride quality, full of tech and safety features
  • Rating: 4 out of five stars 
  • Who will want this vehicle?: Subcompact SUV buyers seeking a comfortable, tech-savvy option 
Matt M. Myftiu

Matt Myftiu has been a journalist for two decades with a focus on technology, NASCAR and autos.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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