And one small change that Kia needs to make.
Kia's sales are through the roof, with SUV models like the Telluride moving off lots faster than the company can produce them. With demand for SUVs and crossovers at an all-time high, it's no surprise to see Kia add yet another new model to its lineup. The 2021 Kia Seltos is a subcompact crossover, positioned above the smaller Soul but below the compact Sportage.
When we first drove the Seltos earlier this year, we enjoyed the cleverly-packaged space and predicted buyers would prefer it over the boxy Soul. We've now had a chance to drive the Seltos for an entire week, allowing us to uncover this vehicle's strong suits and discover its biggest flaw.
While we love the styling of the Soul, not everyone is won over by its boxy charm. With the Seltos, Kia aimed for a more conventional crossover design with elements taking from elsewhere in the company's lineup. The shade of Starbright Yellow worn by our tester may not be the most widely appealing color choice, but it was nevertheless a conversation starter. The Seltos looks especially stylish n SX Turbo trim with an optional two-tone black roof, 18-inch wheels with red center caps, LED running lights and taillights, 'tiger nose' grille, and silver accents.
The Seltos may be a subcompact crossover in stature, but it feels much larger inside. The rear quarters offer a generous 38 inches of legroom while the cargo area houses a spacious 26.6 cubic feet of storage. Kia even included a movable trunk floor and with the rear seats folded, the cargo area expands to a whopping 62.8 cubic feet. Upfront, occupants have plenty of space for their items, including a cleverly-designed dual-tier bin ahead of the shifter.
Most Seltos models include an eight-inch touchscreen display, but our fully-optioned SX Turbo test car came with Kia's excellent 10.25-inch screen. This wider unit features high-resolution graphics, intuitive touch controls, and standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity. Kia's split-screen functionality is simple to control, allowing you to use Android and CarPlay while also viewing the built-in map or audio controls. Other cool features include a Bose audio system with light-up speakers and a Sounds of Nature mode that plays calming white noise.
Kia offers the base Seltos with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder producing 146 horsepower. Those seeking more pep should opt for the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, which bumps output to 175 hp. It may not be the most potent model in the subcompact crossover segment, but 175 hp feels more than adequate for such a small vehicle. The base engine manages a 10.3-second 0-60 mph time but the Turbo's 7.3-second sprint feels more athletic. Kia offers this same engine with 201 hp in the Soul GT-Line and Forte GT, so we hope the Seltos could be in-line for a power upgrade soon.
Only one trim level, the Seltos S, comes with front-wheel-drive. All other trims, including the base-level LX for $21,990, include all-wheel-drive as standard. Only the Fiat 500X and Subaru Crosstrek offer AWD on more trim levels, though the Seltos trumps both competitors on ground clearance. It may not be the most capable off-roader, but Kia does include a four-wheel-drive lock mode and hill descent control should you ever find yourself off the beaten path.
If you opt for the 1.6-liter turbo engine, the continuously variable transmission is swapped for a seven-speed dual-clutch. We've sampled this gearbox in other Kia vehicles before, but it feels poorly-tuned in the Seltos. Shifts are disturbingly clunky, especially at low speeds in traffic. The transmission still responds well under acceleration, but it feels almost like a novice manual failing to smoothly disengage the clutch. A different tune could work wonders for the Seltos as could the smoother eight-speed automatic from the new K5.