Drive: Kia adds sporty and refined Seltos to its 2021 crossover lineup
“Someday, one might hope, Kia will offer a version of the Soul with all-wheel drive,” we lamented in our review of the 2020 Kia Soul a year ago. Kia did us one better. The South Korean automaker hasn’t bolted an all-wheel-drive system to the diminutive Soul; instead, it brought out an all-wheel-drive model that’s a little bigger than the Soul and a little smaller than the compact Sportage sport-utility vehicle.
Available with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, the new model, called the Seltos, has a more conventional appearance than the quirky Soul, and a sportier look than the Sportage. Kia now boasts six crossovers and SUVs, ranging in price from $17,490 for the subcompact Soul to $31,990 for the big Telluride. Slotted between the Soul and Sportage, the Seltos — its name derived from ancient Greek legends — fills a niche that doesn’t seem to have a name yet. It’s base-priced at $21,990.
Our well-equipped test car, a Seltos S with all-wheel drive, had a sticker price of $27,085. The car seemed well thought out and right-sized for many families looking for a combination of utility, comfort and economy at a low price.
While the Seltos has some SUV chops, including 7.3 inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive, it has the look and personality of a compact station wagon — something between the Volkswagen Jetta and the old Volvo 240 wagon. It doesn’t drive like an SUV, either. We found its road manners crisp and refined, with plenty of road feel and ample power under most conditions from the 175-horsepower turbocharged Four. The ride was firm but not unpleasant.
With luggage capacity of 26.6 cubic feet with all of the seats upright, and 62.8 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the back seat lowered, the Seltos qualifies as a serviceable people-mover and occasional cargo carrier.
Kia offers a choice of two engines and transmissions in the Seltos — the turbocharged Four, with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic and a normally aspirated, 146-horsepower Four with a continuously variable transmission. Our Seltos was rated at 25 mpg city, 30 highway, using regular unleaded gasoline. We averaged about 32 mpg in mostly highway driving. When equipped with front-wheel drive, the less powerful of the two engines and the CVT, the Seltos is rated at 35 mpg on the highway.
Because it fills a niche within a niche, the Seltos doesn’t find itself in a highly competitive market segment. Sister automaker Hyundai’s Kona, the Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks all fall within range of the Soul, Seltos and Sportage in terms of price, purpose and capability. Through July, Seltos sales had totaled 18,582, trailing Kia’s other crossovers and SUVs, but outselling all of the brand’s sedans except for the midsize Optima.
Crash tests remain to be completed on the Seltos. The Sportage, slightly larger and taller than the Seltos, has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline Four, 175 horsepower, 195 lb.-ft.torque
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch shiftable automatic
Ground clearance: 7.3 in.
Weight: 3,317 lb.
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion-beam rear
Wheels: 18-in. alloy
Tires: 235/45R18 all-season
Seating capacity: 5
Luggage capacity: 26.6 cu. ft.
Maximum cargo capacity: 62.8 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 13.2 gal.
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city, 30 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
Steven Macoy (email@example.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.