2021 Kia Seltos: A New Player in the Subcompact SUV Scene

The all-new Kia Seltos is a subcompact crossover utility vehicle with room for five. It comes with standard front-wheel drive and available all-wheel drive, the latter not available with the similar-size Kia Soul.

Doubtlessly, Kia formulated the Seltos to fill, in part, the lack of an all-wheel-drive option in the Soul, while targeting new competitors in an emerging segment. The 2021 Seltos along with the Soul gives Kia a formidable 1-2 punch in attracting entry-level crossover shoppers.

2021 Kia Seltos Review

Kia offers the 2021 Seltos in five trims: LX ($21,990), S ($21,990), EX ($25,290), S Turbo ($25,490), and SX Turbo ($27,890). These prices do not include the $1,120 destination charge.

Those trims equipped with the standard engine come with front-wheel drive or available all-wheel drive. The two top trims are all-wheel-drive only.


The Seltos’ beltline pulls up just like the Volvo XC40.

Soul fans have long wanted an all-wheel-drive version. The Seltos is as close to one as it gets. Style-wise, though, Kia’s newest crossover is a clean departure from the Soul. Moreover, apart from its familiar tiger-nose grille, the look doesn’t match other Kia crossovers, but that’s not a bad thing.

Indeed, the layout is quite attractive with deep creases running across its nose and hood. The headlights are long and stretch across the fenders. Take note of the honeycomb grille – it is distinct and sporty, and imparts elegance. Fixed within the bumper are vertical fog lights. Thus, the front fascia offers detailing you typically won’t find in this segment.

The Seltos has a high beltline, ample creases, and distinct body lines. Models equipped with the available contrasting roof add substance. From the rear this crossover is dressed in wraparound taillamps connected by a chrome strip.

Most trims come with LED lights. The base trims have 17-inch alloy wheels; the turbo has 18-inch wheels. A rear spoiler and a single exhaust tip are standard. The list of upgrades includes special garnishment, roof rails, power-controlled and heated side mirrors, and a sunroof with a power sunshade.


The 2021 Seltos is one of the roomiest models in its class. That said, the rear-seat legroom is limited and if you plan to sit three in the back, please note that the side-by-side room is tight.

Behind the rear seat is 26.6 cubic feet of cargo space. Drop the 60/40 split rear seat down and the storage area mushrooms to 62.8 cubic feet. That’s not too far off the mark from what some larger compact models offer.

We give the Seltos props for its tall, comfortable front seats. The rear seat is above average because it reclines by several inches, which is unusual for this segment.

Move beyond the base model with cloth seats and most trims come with premium cloth with contrast stitching. You won’t find rear leather anywhere in the Seltos, but the Sofino premium leatherette material is a decent substitute.

The cabin features an abundance of soft-touch materials with texturized hard plastics, typically included in out-of-the-way places. Piano black trim offers an attractive accent where available.

The list of standard features includes keyless entry, manual front seats, air conditioning, and full power accessories. Among the options are push-button start, LED lighting, illuminated visor vanity mirrors and a cargo cover.


Kia offers a long list of standard and available tech features. Most models come with an 8-inch touch-screen display, Bluetooth, Android and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility, and USB input. A six-speaker audio system is standard.

Choose either turbo model and you’ll find an additional USB port. The top-trim SX has a few unique features, including a 10.25-inch touch-screen navigation system with satellite radio, and the brand’s UVO telematics. This trim also adds an 8-speaker Bose audio system and a wireless charging pad.


Driver-assist technology is widely available in new vehicles. As for the Seltos, you’ll find several popular features, but not on the base model. Instead, begin your search with the S trim and you’ll find many of the driver-assist technologies you expect, including automatic emergency braking.

These additional features include forward collision avoidance assist with car and pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane following assist, lane keep assist, and high-beam assist.

Beginning with the turbo models, you’ll also find blind-spot collision avoidance assist-rear and rear cross-traffic collision. Head to the top trim and Kia adds such features as smart cruise control with full stop and go, safe exit assist, highway driving assist, and forward collision avoidance with cyclist detection.


Gravel road adventures with the Kia Seltos.

Like the 2020 Soul, the 2021 Seltos comes with a standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or an available 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Unlike the Soul, a six-speed manual gearbox is not available.

What does send power to the wheels with the base engine, which makes 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, is an “intelligent variable transmission” or Kia’s name for a continuously variable transmission. A CVT doesn’t offer gears; instead, it utilizes a pulley system for sending power to the wheels.

That said, this CVT mimics gear shifts in sport mode, delivering seven forward “gears.” Power is routed to the front wheels or to all four wheels with available all-wheel drive.

The two top trims have the turbocharged engine, which is what powered our test model. This one earns 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque and works with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Unlike with the front-wheel-drive-only Soul, this powertrain transmits power to all four wheels.

The turbo Seltos offers capable off-the-mark acceleration and laudable passing power. Its diminutive size and relatively lightweight frame ensures that this crossover scoots down the left-hand lane with authority.

The 2021 Kia Seltos crosses the Rocky River Truss Bridge, an aged viaduct in Pittsboro, NC. Constructed in 1921 and refurbished in 1959, this single-lane bridge carries traffic across NC 1953 (GPS Coordinates: 35°37’27.0″N 79°11’58.0″W).

We did notice the transmission tends to upshift quickly instead of extending gear ranges apart. Thus, the quick shifting tempered forward motion and that means it also slowed its responsiveness.

On twisty roads, the Seltos holds it own, but we found the four-wheel suspension system soft. While cornering, the Seltos rolls, then leans while pulling out. We can see further room for improvement in the handling department, perhaps with a dedicated performance model.

Now to interject a few thoughts about the Soul v. the Seltos. The Soul is beloved by many, notwithstanding its lack of all-wheel drive. It does what it needs to do at a budget-friendly price and with three generations of customers behind it.

On the other hand, the Seltos is the new kid on the block and deserves scrutiny. Its higher price point ($4,000 more than the base Soul) will hold back some from making the transition. Although similar in size and market intent, the Soul seems sportier, while the Seltos is more refined. Thus, your choice will likely be based on budget and amenities.

Competitive Set

Besides the Kia Soul, the Seltos goes up against a formidable and growing list of competitors.

Count the Chevrolet Trax, Toyota C-HR, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Mazda CX-30, and the Subaru Crosstrek among them. Some competitors, such as the Kicks and C-HR, are front-wheel drive only, while the Crosstrek comes with standard all-wheel drive.

Our Recommendation

Another one-lane bridge, this one on SR 1628 (Cool Springs Road). (GPS coordinates: 35°27’01.0″N 79°25’19.2″W)

On close scrutiny, nearly every Seltos model offers standard all-wheel drive. That should please Soul fans who have been clamoring for this option for more than a decade.

Start your search with the LX and you’re already getting many of the amenities you’d expect in this segment. Ultimately, however, your purchase decision may come down to engine choices. We’d go with the S Turbo, forgoing some of the pricier amenities for an affordable people mover.

2021 Kia Seltos Specifications

Kia 2021 Seltos
Segment Subcompact Crossover
Price Range $21,990 to $27,890
Destination Charge $1,015
Engine No. 1 2.0-liter, I4
Horsepower 146 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 132 @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission CVT
Engine No. 2 1.6-liter, I4
Horsepower 175 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque (lb.-ft.) 195 @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
Transmission 7-speed manual
Seating 5
Curb Weight (pounds) From 3,185 to 3,317
Wheelbase (inches) 103.5
Length (inches) 172.0
Width (inches) 70.9
Height (inches) 63.6
Headroom (f,r…inches) 40.0, 38.4
Legroom (f,r…inches) 41.4, 38.0
Shoulder room (f,r…inches) 55.5, 54.7
Hip room (f,r…inches) 53.5, 52.8
Storage (cubic feet) 26.6, 62.8
Gross vehicle weight (pounds) NR
Towing (pounds) NR
Payload (pounds) NR
Fuel regular
Fuel Tank (gallons) 13.2
EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway/combined) 27/31/29
Manufacturing Plant Gwangju, South Korea

Data compiled by Tom Keegan. Specifications supplied by the manufacturer.

See Also – Merry Hamsters and the All-New 2020 Kia Soul

Photos copyright Auto Trends Magazine. All rights reserved.

Matthew Keegan

Leave a Comment