by Frank A. Aukofer

With a few caveats, it looks as if the 2021 Kia Seltos follows the winning ways of its siblings from the South Korean manufacturer, especially the critically acclaimed Telluride.

A small crossover sport utility vehicle, the Seltos teeters in size between subcompact crossovers like the new Hyundai Venue and compacts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. In fact, it’s almost the same size as the compact Kia Sportage — just four inches shorter with four fewer cubic feet of space inside.

2021 Seltos

But it has some of the same appeal of the new Telluride, where the Sportage, in SUV and crossover guise, has been around since 1998. The Seltos has rugged, SUV-stylish looks, a well-designed interior and, in the tested S model, outstanding driving dynamics and performance.

However, there are a few shortcomings, mainly owing to the fact that the only way to get some equipment is to choose which of five versions, or trim levels, fits your desires.

For example, on the tested S Turbo version with the 175-hp 1.6-liter engine, which delivers 195 lb-ft of torque, there is no pushbutton starting, exterior-touch locking, automatic climate control or SXM satellite radio. It has a starting price of $26,610, including the destination charge.

2021 Seltos

To get those items you must move up $2,400 in price to the top-line $29,010 SX all-wheel drive model, which has the same turbocharged engine and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. But then you must give up the S version’s excellent and comfortable cloth upholstery and seat yourself on leatherette.

Lower trim levels somewhat make up for the lack of satellite radio by including Apple Car Play and Android Auto so people can play music and navigation from their smart phones.

The S Turbo and SX are the only models with the upgraded engine and transmission. Others, including the base S with front-wheel drive, have a 145-hp, 2.0-liter engine with 132 lb-ft of torque and a continuously-variable automatic transmission.

2021 Seltos

All versions come with all-wheel drive except for the base S, which has front-wheel drive. Its starting price is $23,110 — the same as the LX with all-wheel drive. The S also can be ordered with all-wheel drive.

All Seltos versions come with basic safety equipment, including rear occupancy alert, tire-pressure monitoring, hill start assist and downhill braking control. But the LX does not have forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection. To get that, you must order one of the upper trim levels.

Also, some of the more sophisticated safety and convenience items like blind-spot warning, lane keeping assist and rear cross traffic alert, are not available on the LX. If you want adaptive cruise control, it’s available only on the top-line SX model.

2021 Seltos

One very unusual oversight on the tested S Turbo, the sun visors did not slide on their support rods to fully block sunlight from the sides. The South Korean manufacturers Kia and Hyundai have been in the forefront of including such items, as well as other convenience and safety equipment, even in base models.

Carping aside, the Seltos S Turbo — there was no opportunity to drive the lower powered versions — delivers an entertaining, even exciting, driving experience with handling more akin to a sports sedan than a small crossover. It is rabbit-quick off the line with little or none of the dreaded lag as the turbocharger spools up. Zero to 60 miles an hour happens in the six-second range but it feels quicker, especially with rapid throttle response for passing or jumping lanes in traffic.

2021 Seltos

The Seltos name is an adaptation of Celtus, a character in Greek mythology who was the progenitor of the Celtic people. But Kia changed the spelling to better connect it to “speed” and “sport.”

At 5 feet 4 inches including the roof rails, the Seltos is not particularly tall. But it has the look of a serious crossover SUV, unlike its funky smaller sibling, the Kia Soul.

In a smaller, less expensive package, the Seltos, especially in the top-line SX trim, has some of the same appeal as the Telluride, which was voted Utility of the Year by an independent group of 50 automotive journalists from around the United States and Canada, including this reviewer.

It would help its case if, as needed on the tested S Turbo version, a few additional stand-alone options like pushbutton starting and SXM radio were available. And Kia, please equip the Seltos with proper sliding sun visors.

2021 Seltos

Specifications

  • Model: 2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged; 175 hp, 195 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 4 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 4 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 99/27 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,317 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 25/30/27 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $26,610.
  • Price as tested: $26,740.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2021 Seltos

Photos (c) Kia