Christopher Little

First Drive: 2021 Kia Seltos

Following the massive success of the Telluride, Kia isn’t resting on its laurels. Enter the all-new 2021 Kia Seltos, a rugged and right-sized CUV that slots in the lineup below the Sportage. Unlike the funky and FWD-only Kia Soul, the Seltos offers all-wheel-drive across all trim levels. And though it may share some critical dimensions, and even both engine and transmission combinations as the Soul, that’s about where the comparison can end. We were invited down to San Antonio, Texas for the national launch of the Kia Seltos to get a proper and rather unusual off-road introduction.

2021 Kia Seltos 2

Starting at $21,990 plus destination, buyers can get into the S FWD model or LX AWD model. Both trim levels come with 2.0L engine producing 146 hp and 132 lb-ft torque paired with Kia’s Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT). A more feature-laden EX model is also available starting at $25,290. Step up to the S AWD or SX AWD trims and the Seltos gets a peppy 1.6L turbo engine good for 195hp and 175 lb-ft torque with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. Our event treated us to the top trim SX 1.6T AWD with an as-tested price of $29,485, including the upcharge for the stunning Starbright Yellow paint and destination. The Seltos’s chiseled surfaces and sleek styling present an attractive CUV. Small details, such as the harmonized grille and headlight design plus red accents of the wheel center caps show an attention to detail that carries throughout.

2021 Kia Seltos 5

The Seltos backs up with all-road billing with over seven inches of ground clearance, Dynamax all-wheel-drive with locking center differential, a substantial 28-degree approach angle, and front and rear skid plates. To put the Seltos through its paces, we headed north out of San Antonio’s warehouse district to Geronimo Oak’s ranch. Here, we were told, we’d have full range of the ranch’s acreage, provided we could manage some of its less-than-friendly residents. Climbing into the Seltos is easy, given its raised ride height and wide doors. A boxy shape and high roofline provide substantial headroom and great visibility in all directions. The spacious cabin offers plenty of room for both front and rear passengers. The well-bolstered front seats offer great support, though the front passenger must make due with manual seat controls. Rear passengers enjoy a surprising amount of leg room and benefit from a high seating position and two-step reclining seats for added comfort. Rear cargo room is also substantial, benefitting from Kia’s adjustable luggage board that can be raised to sit flush with the flat-folding rear seats.

Our top-trip Seltos SX included the available 10.25 inch color touchscreen with standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Available wireless charging, plentiful USB ports, and multi-Bluetooth connectivity allows the Seltos to accommodate several devices at the same time. The SX trim also comes equipped with Kia Drive Wise, a suite of driver assistance systems include blind spot monitoring and collision avoidance, lake keeping and following assist with departure warning, highway driving assist, adaptive radar cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, and forward collision avoidance. Kia has always done well to pack technology and features into their models and the Seltos continues that tradition in spades. This is also Kia’s first model to feature Bose audio, which sounded just fine to our ears and looked rather unique with fractal pattern speaker grilles and multi-color mood lighting.

The spacious cabin is quiet at highway speeds, tracking neatly along the highway with little indication of a substantial crosswind being transmitted to the driver. The stiff body and excellent suspension tuning provide a controlled ride over rough roads and stable body control when the road turns twisty. Ergonomics and touchpoints are excellent, though the dash material and center speaker reflected the bright Texas sun into an annoying glare on the windshield. Arriving at the ranch, we were again reminded to make full use of the ranch, so long as we respected Oscar the ostrich. Geronimo Oaks is home to a wide variety of cattle, deer and antelope, and the odd ostrich or two. It made for some interesting driving conditions at times. Putting the Seltos through its soft-road paces over gravel, mud, and silt, the all-wheel-drive system and surplus clearance meant there was little drama. We suspect it could handle quite a bit more than the ranch could throw at it, but the Kumho Majesty 9 Solus TA91 highway all-season tires likely wouldn’t be up to the task.

2021 Kia Seltos 8

Kia is hoping that some buyers will be willing to downside into the Seltos CUV. But when have Americans, let alone Texans, ever decided smaller was better? Even so, compact sedan and crossover buyers will likely appreciate the roominess and all-weather capabilities the Seltos brings to market. The 2021 Seltos is on dealer lots now. If the Telluride’s debut is anything to go by, the Seltos will be a popular offering, bringing a bright color palette and excellent technology to drivers everywhere.

-Christopher Little

2021 Kia Seltos SX 1.6T AWD

Starbright Yellow


Carpeted Floor Mats


Destination Charges

As Tested MSRP $29,485

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