Does Kia need another utility vehicle?
You bet they do and here it is: the 2021 Kia Seltos – a small SUV slotted between the Soul and Sportage.
Kia refers to it as an “adventure-ready crossover” and with over 7” of ground clearance, available all-wheel drive with lock mode, off-road friendly approach angles and skid plates it has the resume.
They say that everything’s bigger in Texas and Kia’s newest SUV is proving that here in San Antonio where the Seltos is officially being launched to the press.
It plays in, what is called, the entry crossover class – a crowded field comprised by the likes of the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade and Kia’s own Soul. So why would the Korean automaker so finely dice this segment?
Think of it this way: the Soul is cityscape while the Seltos is tumbleweed. There’s a ruggedness here that appeals to a different kind of customer.
Much like the Alamo when you first see it, this Kia looks small from the outside but the Seltos bests all of its competitors in cargo room and comes with rear seat spaciousness that is David Robinson-approved.
I’m spending the day with this top trim Seltos SX Turbo painted in this upcharge Starbright Yellow with Black Cherry roof, fully loaded for $29,580 – a bargain price that’s more compelling with each driven mile.
Not only is the design spot on but the Seltos quickly endears itself to the driver through the perfect handshake: an agreeable step-in height, high-end seat comfort, ergonomics as easy as a once-over fried egg, big time feature content and Kia’s typical leading electronics integration.
Our drive route leads us out of the city to Texas ranch country and the Seltos continues to impress. The seating position is high, commanding more like a bigger SUV from behind the wheel and the pairing of the company’s ubiquitous 1.6-liter turbo and 7-speed dual clutch transmission continues its winning formula.
Rated at 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, the Seltos is lively but not jumpy and the gear changes are handled as smoothly as a traditional automatic. But I’m of the belief that every DCT-equipped vehicle should come with paddle shifters which are absent here. There are drive modes, however: Normal, Smart and Sport but I’d like to see one more – off-road. After all, the 4-wheel traction employed here is derivative of the Telluride’s and I really like how it’s handling itself on the trail. There is a center lock to keep the power coming to all corners and hill descent control for easing down the steep sections, but a pre-programmed off-road mode would be beneficial. These Kumho Majesty grand touring all-season tires are a new release and are proving more than competent on all road surfaces but I could see a more aggressive tire option making sense on the menu.
Speaking of which, we weren’t allowed to drive this Seltos concept with all of its overlanding wares but it hints at a more rugged variant we were told might just happen.
Putting the Seltos through its paces out here on this Texas ranch is amazing. And it really shows off its abilities when it goes off-road. The suspension has been tuned for a very sumptuous ride quality so it’s handling all of these rocks, bumps and ruts with total ease.
It looks as though the zoo gates were left open out here on the ranch but don’t worry – I thankfully missed this little guy thanks to the ABS.
While the front-drive Seltos comes with a torsion-beam rear suspension, this all-wheel drive model with road-hugging torque vectoring benefits from a more sophisticated multi-link independent setup so this Seltos drives with a class above level of finesse. Gas mileage is rated at 27mpg in mixed driving so it also punches above its weight at the pump.
At under $30k for this top trim SX Turbo, Kia does Kia what does best: over delivers for the money. Always ergonomically strong, Kia also fortifies the Seltos with premium features, a quiet cabin and really comfortable front seats.
After about 200 miles of driving on the highway, winding roads and trail, the Seltos has provided a quiet, relaxing place to be with stress-reducing features such as adaptive cruise control with stop and go, dummy-proof infotainment with all of the latest connectivity minus wireless CarPlay and all of the modern safety features including high beam assist. There’s a wireless charge shelf, a big for its class center console, a new Bose sound system with the Soul’s famous sound-connected mood lighting in the door panels.
The rear seats recline so this space feels extra roomy and the cargo area has one of those trick shelves that can slide into different positions to accommodate various needs.
All told, my driving partner Chris and I have come up with few complaints. 1) A sunroof is not available in this particular configuration. 2) There’s no height adjustment for the passenger seat and 3) if you really want to stretch there’s no power liftgate.
Otherwise, Kia has another hit on their hands. If marketed correctly the Seltos should be able to build off of the Telluride’s momentum, keeping smaller SUV shoppers coming into Kia showrooms.