Autotrader: The 2021 Kia Seltos—an urban warrior with an adventurous spirit

United States

The new Kia Seltos is a 5-seat subcompact SUV that’s larger than the Soul but smaller than the Sportage. The Seltos is only a half-inch longer than the Kia 000270, +0.33% Niro, but it’s a boxier design that’s much higher off the ground. As such, the Korean-built Seltos is a spacious new entry in a segment bristling with proven players, such as the Honda HMC, +0.51% HR-V, the Nissan Kicks, the Chevrolet Trax, the Subaru FUJHY, +0.72% Crosstrek, the Toyota C-HR and the Hyundai HYMTF, -3.90% Kona.

We think that the small new Seltos will make a big splash. It’s compact on the outside, yet spacious within. It’s perfectly sized for city maneuvering while still being roomy enough inside for a trip to dinner with another couple. Perhaps most important, the Seltos — unlike some other vehicles in this segment (the Toyota TM, -0.50% C-HR and Nissan NSANY, -0.75% Kicks come to mind) — is available with all-wheel drive, underscoring its adventuresome spirit. While it’s more of an urban warrior than a rock-crawling SUV, the Seltos does have a useful 7.2 inches of ground clearance, and AWD models come with a locking center differential for those times when the road is muddy.

The Kia Seltos


In many ways, the 2021 Seltos reminds us of a junior Telluride, the company’s popular big 3-row SUV. It’s well-built, it’s handsome, and the interior feels a class or two above what the Seltos’ starting price of $ 21,190 might suggest.

Other positives include a choice of two efficient powertrains — a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter with 146 horsepower, or a turbocharged 1.6-liter with 175 hp — and standard AWD on all models except the S, on which it’s a $ 1,500 option. The price is good, too — an AWD Seltos with the turbo engine, a 10.25-in touchscreen and modern features such as adaptive cruise control starts below $ 28,000.

Though the base Seltos LX doesn’t have automatic emergency braking, the other versions — from the S to the SX Turbo — have it, and it works well. They also have lane-keep assist. Unlike some systems, in which the steering wheel feels like it’s being yanked from your hands, the lane-keeping assist system in the Seltos uses gentle steering corrections that don’t surprise the driver.

What’s new?

The Kia Seltos is a new subcompact SUV for 2021.

What we like
  • Choice of two engines
  • AWD available on all but one model
  • Excellent safety suite on most models
  • Adult-friendly rear seat
  • Excellent warranty
What we don’t
  • LX model lacks safety suite
  • Pricier than the Hyundai Kona or Nissan Kicks
How much?

$ 21,990 to $ 27,890

Fuel economy

The 2021 Kia Seltos is available with a choice of powertrains. When equipped with the 146-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission, the Seltos is rated by the EPA at 29 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg in combined driving. That same Seltos with AWD isn’t quite as efficient, but it’s still good, with mileage figures of 27 mpg city/31 mpg hwy/29 mpg combined.

The sportier engine, a turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with 175 hp, comes standard in the Seltos S Turbo and the SX Turbo. These turbo models, with standard AWD and a dual-clutch automatic transmission, are rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined.

More: The 25 most fuel-efficient SUVs of 2021

For comparison, the Nissan Kicks, available exclusively with the 1.6-liter engine and front-wheel drive, is rated at 31 mpg city/36 mpg hwy/33 mpg combined. The FWD Hyundai Kona, powered by a turbo 1.6-liter engine with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, is rated at 28 mpg city/32 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined, and the AWD version delivers 26 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/27 mpg combined. The 2.0-liter Kona gets 27 mpg city/33 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined with FWD, and 26 mpg city/30 mpg hwy/28 mpg combined with AWD.

Standard features and options

The 2021 Seltos comes in five grades: LX, S, EX, S Turbo and SX Turbo. AWD is standard on all Seltos models except the S. It’s a $ 1,500 option on the S, and it’s grouped with heated front seats.

Interestingly, the Seltos LX and the Seltos S each start at $ 21,190, plus a destination fee of $ 1,120. The Seltos LX comes standard with the 2.0-liter engine, a CVT and AWD. The LX, fitted with a black grille, also has an 8-in touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and 17-in alloy wheels. One thing it doesn’t have, though, is automatic emergency braking.

If you want that significant safety technology, it’s standard on the Seltos S and above. In addition to automatic emergency braking, the S trim has lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and a driver-attention monitor. Other notable Seltos S hardware features include roof rails, LED daytime running lights, a sliding center-console armrest and a leather-covered steering wheel.

The Seltos EX ($ 25,290), the top 2.0-liter model with AWD, ups the content level with a push-button start, a power driver’s seat, a sunroof, a synthetic leather interior trim, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a wireless phone charger, rear air ducts and front and rear USB charging ports.

Also see: Looking for a people mover? Here are 10 of the most affordable 3-row vehicles

Next up are the Seltos S Turbo ($ 25,490) and Seltos SX Turbo ($ 27,890), two AWD models equipped with the turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Seltos S Turbo is equipped much like the EX, but with 18-in alloy wheels. The Seltos SX Turbo builds on that with adaptive cruise control with stop and go, an electronic parking brake, an 8-speaker Bose audio system, voice-command navigation, a 10.25-in touchscreen, XM satellite radio and Kia‘s Highway Driving Assist feature. When cruise control is engaged, Highway Driving Assist enables the Seltos to adjust its speed based on the vehicle ahead of it and the posted speed limit.

Seltos models equipped with AWD have a multilink independent rear suspension, whereas FWD models are fitted with a semi-independent torsion beam rear axle. Also notable: An attractive two-tone roof is a no-cost option on the S, the S Turbo and the SX Turbo trims, and all Seltos models come with a superb warranty that provides 10 years or 100,000 miles of powertrain protection.


Apart from the entry-level LX, all 2021 Kia Seltos models are equipped with an impressive standard safety suite that includes automatic emergency braking, a potential lifesaver that warns drivers of impending collisions and automatically applies full brake pressure when needed to prevent or lessen the impact of a collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian.

Also standard on all but the base Seltos LX is lane-keeping assist, which warns the driver when the SUV drifts out of its lane. If the driver doesn’t respond, the system automatically makes the necessary steering corrections to remedy the situation.

On the EX trim and above, the 2021 Kia Seltos has one of our favorite safety advances: a blind spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. During lane changes, this system lets the driver know if there’s a vehicle in the Seltos’ blind spot, and it also lets the driver know if there are any cross-traffic issues when you’re backing out of, say, a parking stall at the grocery store.

Although the entry-level Seltos LX doesn’t have automatic emergency braking, it still has its fair share of safety technology. This includes six standard air bags, a rollover sensor and hill-start assist, which keeps the Seltos from rolling backward down a hill once the brakes have been applied for 1.5 seconds.

Behind the wheel

The Seltos has the look and high-quality feel of a premium SUV. It’s blessed with a reassuringly solid structure, and its boxy shape contributes to its excellent interior room and decently large cargo area. The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine — the same powerplant used by the Hyundai Kona — offers an excellent blend of power and economy.

Check out: These electric trucks could be exactly what the EV market needs

Like the Kona, the turbo Seltos is quick, and its AWD powertrain profits from a torque-vectoring system that improves traction when accelerating out of corners. There’s also a push-button on the center console that locks the center differential to help keep the Seltos moving through the slippery mud and muck.

Turbocharged Seltos models are equipped with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Though the gearbox is occasionally indecisive at slow parking lot speeds, the majority of its shifts are smooth and well timed.

As for the 2.0-liter engine in the standard Kia Seltos, it gets the job done smoothly and becomes significantly more responsive when Sport mode is engaged. The 2.0-liter engine is teamed with a CVT that simulates the shifts of a conventional automatic transmission.

Around town and on the open road, the 2021 Seltos exhibits a firm but comfortable ride, and the lack of road, wind and engine noise makes this small Kia SUV feel particularly well suited for long road trips. While this Korean-built crossover SUV is smaller than its Sportage, Sorento and Telluride siblings, the compact new Seltos is a charmer that’s earned its spot in Kia’s impressive lineup of ever-improving SUVs.

Other cars to consider

2020 Honda HR-V — Although it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, the Honda HR-V continues to impress us with its easy everyday manners and super roomy back seat.

2020 Nissan Kicks — The affordable Nissan Kicks has a lively spirit, lots of cargo room and excellent fuel economy, but it’s only available with FWD.

2020 Hyundai Kona — Even the base Hyundai Kona has automatic emergency braking, but its back seat is cramped compared with the one in the Seltos.

Used Toyota RAV4— Though the RAV4 is bigger than the Seltos, it serves about the same purpose. A used Toyota RAV4 with less than 30,000 miles can be had for about $ 20,000, depending on which version you get. Given Toyota‘s well-known reliability, a used car might make sense here. However, you won’t be getting Kia’s 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Also on MarketWatch: New-home construction activity soars to highest level in over a decade, as builders rush to produce single-family homes

Autotrader’s advice

The all-new Kia Seltos is a roomy, attractive and fuel-efficient subcompact SUV that’s ready to take on proven players like the Honda HR-V and the Toyota C-HR. We recommend skipping the entry-level Kia Seltos LX, the only model without automatic emergency braking, and opting for a Seltos S or above. These Seltos models have an impressive safety suite that includes automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist and a driver-attention monitor. And, as with all Kias, each comes with an outstanding 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

This story originally ran on