AUSTIN, TX — The 2021 Kia Seltos is “right-sized.” I’ve driven most, if not all of the players in the rapidly growing compact and subcompact crossover segments. They are almost all new or less than a couple of years old. They all boast fresh looks, lots of features and decent drivetrains. One other thing most have in common, is a cramped rear seat.
In some cases, a stylishly sloping roofline cuts into headroom. In others, the compact overall size all but eliminates legroom in back. Some suffer from both problems.
The 2021 Kia Seltos left me with about eight centimetres of space in front of my knees and a similar amount above my head with the driver seat in the fore-aft position I use. That is highly unusual in anything below mid- and full-size vehicles — whether cars, SUVs or crossovers. That amount of extra space will also put a smile on the face of childseat occupants or their parents.
After a few hundred kilo of mixed driving conditions in and around this city and surrounding hill country behind the wheel and in the back seat, the Seltos made a believer of me. Sharp looks, plenty of power, a chassis and suspension that soak up nasty surfaces and maintain a level keel when pressed in the turns, and a quiet and almost serene interior cemented the deal.
Kia is rightfully proud of many other attributes, including the design, inside and out, the standard equipment list and resultant value and the number of safety features. These are indeed impressive — and appreciated. But anyone who has experience with a competitive small crossover will quickly push that rear seat space to the top of their list.
The Seltos, on its own new platform, slots into the Kia crossover lineup above the Soul and Niro, and below the Sportage, Sorento and Telluride. For comparison, the Seltos is 22 cm longer than the Honda HR-V and 205 mm longer than the Hyundai Kona. It has more rear seat headroom than either of them, and the Mazda CX-30. It tops them all in rear seat leg and shoulder room.
The Seltos also has a good-sized cargo compartment, low step-in height and is easy to enter and exit.
Plenty of styling cues have been borrowed from the new Telluride, but the Seltos has a number of its own. This is an attractive newcomer that looks good coming or going, especially at night when innovative that sets it apart. Attractive alloy wheels at each point of the trim ladder add to this impression during daylight.
Inside, the attention to detail and material quality exceed expectations for a vehicle anywhere near this price point.
The base Seltos comes with a 146-horsepower, normally-aspirated, four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission, driving the front wheels. All-wheel drive and a new seven-speed dual clutch automatic are standard through the rest of the lineup.
The SX has a turbocharged engine belting out 175 horsepower, and more importantly 195 lb.-ft. of torque at only 1,500 rpm, compared to 135 at 4,500 rpm for the other engine. I didn’t get the opportunity to sample the base engine, but can report the turbo unit has plenty of spunk.
All models come with "drive mode select" which tailors the transmission, engine and steering to different driving styles. On AWD models, you can lock the center differential for maximum grip in extreme conditions.
Kia has covered the safety bases as well. All models come with rear seat reminder and safe exit, blind spot detection and collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert and rear view camera.
You can’t be a serious player in todays’ crowded vehicle market without offering plenty of technology and convenience features. Kia puts the competition of their back foot by equipping the Seltos with a customizable 26-cm infotainment screen (22” on base model).
Depending on trim level, you also get a Bose audio system, heads-up display, wireless cell phone charger and Kia’s UVO intelligence system that provides everything from remote functions from your smart phone and a monthly “health report.” It will even shut off the engine automatically if you park in a confined space long enough to produce elevated levels of CO.
The 2021 Kia Seltos comes in LX FWD ($22,995); LX AWD ($24,995; EX AWD ($27,995, EX Premium AWD ($29,595 and SX turbo ($31,595.) The base LX comes with air conditioning, power windows and locks, alloy wheels, heated front seats, blind-spot warning system, rear cross traffic alert, rear-seat occupant and safe exit alert, rear-view camera, 20-centimetre information screen with Apple CarPlay and Android auto.
As you move up the trim ladder, the content and features list expands. The LX AWD adds larger (17-inch) alloy wheels. Kia expects the EX AWD trim to be the dominant seller. It will come with forward collision avoidance and lane keep assist, blind spot collision avoidance, heated steering wheel, pseudo leather seats, sunroof, automatic climate control and push button start.
Moving up from there, you have the EX Premium with LED headlights, navigation, UVO, larger screen, power seats, cooled front seats and heated rears, smart cruise control and adjustable ambient lighting. Spring for the SX and you get the turbo engine, dual clutch transmission, 18-inch alloy wheels, heads-up display and a Bose audio system.
Regardless of trim levels and equipment, you get that roomy rear seat.
Kia sales were up five per cent last year in a market that was down 3.6 per cent. That momentum continued in January when sales were up 15 per cent. Kia was the highest mass market brand in 2019 for the fifth consecutive year in the J D Power Initial Quality study. The Seltos is targeted at the “urban Millennial” with “mature empty nesters” looking to downsize as the secondary group.
Judging from my first look and drive of the Seltos, I see no reason to doubt sales will continue to grow as young and old alike will cotton to this newcomer.
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 146 horsepower,132 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel; or turbocharged 1.6-litre four, 175 horsepower, 195 lb.-ft. of torque, regular fuel
Transmission: continuously variable or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
Drive configuration: front- or all-wheel-drive
NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 2.0 AWD: 8.8/7.6; 1.6 AWD: 9.4 / 8.7
Length: 4,370 mm
Width: 1,800 mm
Wheelbase: 2,630 mm
Price: $22,995 base, $31,595 as tested, plus freight