I wanted to love the 2021 Kia Seltos. And perhaps that’s what did me in.
It’s kind of like going to an over-hyped movie that everyone loves, and when you finally see it, you’re like: Eh. It was fine.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t not like the Seltos, but it just didn’t wow me like some of Kia’s recent new entries.
THE GOOD STUFF
The Kia Seltos sits between the Soul and the Sportage in Kia’s SUV lineup, but I’d say its design lineage is a direct descendent of the Telluride – and that is definitely part of the good stuff. It has an upright stance, and the grille is bold and aggressive like the Telluride.
Plus, there are some excellent exterior design details, including the carved-out side panels, textured trim surrounding the grille and attractive wheel covers – the latter two may be specific to the S test vehicle, but were nice touches. The overall effect is handsome and well styled.
The interior is also handsomely styled. The dash and center stack are clean and simple. The buttons and dials for infotainment and HVAC are big and clearly labeled, so there’s not a lot of guessing about how things work.
As an S Turbo trim, there were also a lot of nice amenities including heated front seats, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a nice suite of standard safety features.
One of the interesting things Kia did with the Seltos is make all-wheel drive standard at the base LX trim. You won’t get any of the standard safety features, but you will get AWD.
Curiously, the S trim is laterally priced – but it ditches AWD and adds standard safety. In fact, this is the only model in the Seltos lineup that offers anything other than AWD; it’s front-wheel drive.
Interesting trade off. In a weird way, Kia’s asking you to make a Sophie’s Choice here. What’s more important: AWD or safety? If you can’t pay more than $23K, you can’t have both.
SO, WHERE DID IT GO WRONG?
Let me start with the pricing. I know we’re currently living in an alternate reality with COVID-19 stay-at-home orders, but I never imagined a world where a Kia would cost more than a Hyundai. And that’s what happened with the Seltos. It’s based on the same platform as the Hyundai Kona, but it costs $1,670 more for FWD and $270 more for AWD. Oh, and that Kona AWD model comes with standard safety.
While I appreciate the AWD-is-standard strategy – which Hyundai does not employ – I thought the lack of safety technology on the base trim was peculiar. Especially for a brand that has been beating the big boys in terms of standard amenities.
I also found it odd that you had to go up to the EX or SX Turbo trim to get push-button start. It’s not even an option on anything lower than the top two trims of each engine option. On the Hyundai Kona, push-button start and passive entry come in one level off the base at the SEL trim – and that’s just $130 more than the base Seltos.
I think you see where I’m going with this.
I ended up with an S Turbo that costs more than $26k, and still uses a real, honest-to-goodness key in the ignition. I think that’s weird.
I was also a bit put off by the zig-zag trim structure that adds content at one level, then takes it away when you “level up.” For example, as previously mentioned, at the LX trim you get AWD. Then for the same price (zigging), the S trim ditches the AWD but adds standard safety technology. The EX adds AWD and safety tech and push-button start. Then you go to the S Turbo, adding $200, and you keep the AWD and safety tech as well as add the up-level engine, but ditch the push-button start, power sunroof, front and rear charging port, wireless phone charger, automatic climate control, rear ventilation duct and lumbar support – among other things. (zagging).
The all-in pricing for the SX Turbo at $29,010, isn’t bad, however. Interestingly, all-in pricing for the Ultimate Kona is $30,490.
It’s that damn key that’s throwing me for a loop.
The test vehicle had the up-level 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, which delivers 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This ended up being another sticking point for me.
On paper, these numbers look great – especially considering the petite size of the Seltos. But in reality, I thought this compact SUV was a bit sluggish and slow off the start. It had some noticeable turbo lag, and the engine noise creeping into the cabin under hard acceleration was a bit grating.
The base engine is a non-turbo 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, which delivers 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Even though this is less power, I almost wonder if it would be quicker off the line in urban traffic without the turbo lag.
TRIMS & PRICING
The Kia Seltos offers 5 trims – three with the base engine, and two with the up-level turbo. Every trim except for the S comes with standard AWD.
LX ($23,110): Includes 2.0-liter engine, AWD, power adjustable side mirrors, 17-inch alloy wheels, 8-inch touchscreen infotainment display, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, cloth seats, 1 USB port and rear occupant alert.
S ($23,110): Adds black-and-chrome grille, roof rails, heated outside mirrors, FWD, forward collision avoidance, driver attention warning, high-beam assist, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane follow assist. It deletes AWD.
EX ($26,410): Adds power sunroof, front and rear charge port, wireless phone charger, passive entry, push-button start, rear ventilation duct, automatic climate control, heated front seats, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, AWD.
S Turbo ($26,610): Adds the up-level 1.6-liter engine and 18-inch alloy wheels. It deletes power sunroof, front and rear charge port, wireless phone charger, passive entry, push-button start, rear ventilation duct and automatic climate control.
SX Turbo ($29,010): Adds UVO link with 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment display, navigation, Bose premium audio, front and rear charge port, wireless phone charger, passive entry, push-button start, rear ventilation duct, automatic climate control, forward collision avoidance assist fusion, highway driving assist and adaptive cruise control.
THE BOTTOM LINE
On my video review, several commenters dinged me for my remarks about the pricing and the engine, but I’ll take you back to my lead: I really expected a lot more from the Seltos in terms of amenities, power and materials. So, maybe that’s on me.
Sure, there is a lot to like: AWD, available heated cloth seats, standard Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and attractive styling. But that key in an upper trim with a premium engine – I can’t get over it.
What would turn things around for me? Make the FWD S your base model with standard safety. Increase the price by $1k for the next trim, adding AWD. But every model with the 1.6-liter engine should have AWD and push-button start.
So, standard safety on all trims and push-button start with the up-level engine. With those two things, this would be a very different review.
As it is, set your expectations a little lower, and the 2021 Kia Seltos is a fine vehicle.
For another take on the Kia Seltos, be sure to visit site editor Tim Esterdahl’s 5 good things/5 bad things video.