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First Drive Review: 2021 Kia Seltos splashes into the market as a well-designed, right-priced SUV

The adventure-ready Kia Seltos has debuted to a long list of accolades.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

If you think the 2021 Kia Seltos has familiar looks, you're right. This all-new compact crossover has been crafted with the DNA of Kia's full-sized 2020 Telluride SUV. That's good news because the award-winning Telluride was lauded not only for its handsome looks, but also for its smart engineering and notable collection of standard features. Seltos is endowed with a similar set of attributes in a smaller footprint. It slots between Kia's Soul and Sportage.

Kia calls the new model "rugged, refined, and right-sized" and is targeting singles and couples from Gen X, Gen Y, and Boomer demographics who are seeking a mainstream utilitarian vehicle that is suitable for Costco runs and capable for modest forays into the backcountry.

2021 Kia Seltos Seltos is designed for adventuring but not true off-roading. Goats not included.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Seltos is available in front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions, with a choice of two powertrains and six trims. It comes with Kia's industry-leading warranty.

The Korean automaker offers a clever value proposition for its based-priced Seltos model that retails for $21,990 (plus $1,120 for destination); buyers can choose the LX trim with less equipment and standard all-wheel drive or the S trim with more equipment and front-wheel drive; both are powered by a naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine. All other models are offered with the available AWD and a choice of the 1.6-liter or a turbocharged 2.0-liter; the top-of-the-line SX Turbo starts at $27,890.

Kia says Seltos, "punches above its class." Its styling, safety features, and wide array of technologies and comfort and convenience features give it the look and feel of a more premium vehicle than its low price point would suggest it is.

2021 Kia Seltos The interior of the Seltos is more refined than the one in the Soul.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Standard equipment includes an 8-inch color touchscreen, AM/FM/MP3 with Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, voice recognition, drive modes, hill start assist, downhill brake control, traction control, automatic cruise control, tire pressure monitoring, six airbags, alloy wheels, driver's seat height adjuster, heated privacy glass at the rear side and tailgate, and two-step reclining rear seats.

A wide array of trim-specific and optional equipment is on board or available. Some highlights include:

  • 10-way power-adjustable seat with lumbar/heated front seats/leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob;
  • 10.25-inch high-resolution color touchscreen (standard on SX trim level) with satellite radio, UVO telematics, navigation and split-screen display;
  • 8-speaker Bose premium sound system (first time in a Kia), with six color themes that echo the sound-connected mood lighting and change color and intensity based on volume level;
  • 12-volt power outlet, USB charging ports front and rear, and wireless charging;
  • Kia Drive Wise", a suite of advanced driver-assistance systems that brings collision warning, automatic emergency braking, driver monitoring system, blind spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning; pedestrian and cyclist detection, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, lane-keeping and rear occupant alert.

Seltos sits upright at slightly over five feet tall and stretches to 172 inches in length. A pleasant blend of design attributes shape the exterior with robust and rugged cues comingled to upscale nuances. Kia's tiger nose honeycomb grille is detailed with diamond-like accents, while an aggressive lower front bumper and raked approach angle embolden the front. Skid plates lend a playful, off-road-ready attitude.

2021 Kia Seltos The Seltos's design makes it look road-ready.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The rear emphasizes its panache and power with sculpted dual exhaust pipes connected by a chrome trim and a chrome garnish that ties the tail lamps together. Most versions have projector beam headlights mounted between upper LED running lights and turn signals, and lower fog lights. Uplevel trims sport LED bi-function multi-focus reflector headlights.

Sofina leatherette either trims or covers the seats of the attractive and well-lit cabin that has good ergonomics for seating and controls; the easily-accessible infotainment system is positioned high on the dashboard. Seltos has more interior room than most rivals, says Kia; it's suited for four adults or three small-statured riders in the rear can bring the total to five. An adjustable luggage board in the rear cargo area expands stowage. Manual seats are standard in the base model, which is pretty normal for this size vehicle. Automatic seats are available in higher trims.

2021 Kia Seltos Kia has appointed the Seltos very well for its price point.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque and is mated to a continuously variable transmission, while the available 1.6-liter turbo-four gets 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque geared by a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Drive modes allow for normal, smart (eco) and sport motoring; all-wheel-drive versions have a locking center differential that provides enhanced traction and torque vectoring for dirt or slick surfaces and improved handling for treacherous weather. Fuel economy ranges between 25 and 27 mpg city, 30 and 31 highway, and 27 and 29 combined, depending on the drivetrain.

On the road, the compact ute has a mannered ride and brings punchy performance with the turbo engine and dual-clutch transmission, when the throttle is pushed and sport mode is engaged. The SX trim offers good cornering grip, a responsive suspension, linear steering, and efficient brakes. An off-pavement track provided the opportunity to take note of the crossover's 7.2 inches of ground clearance and the impressive 28-degree approach angle. Although Seltos is not an authentic off-roader meant for extreme motoring, it has an impressive set-up for weekend adventures and wilderness forays.

2021 Kia Seltos The car has many design characteristics of the Kia Telluride.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The Seltos enters the SUV market as an immediate contender. Kia is riding high on the success of Telluride and producing a small, well-appointed SUV with similar styling that executes the mission it was made for well should be a recipe for success.

The 2021 Kia Seltos starts at $21,990 and tops out just below $28,000. That pricing is similar to the Hyundai Kona, which is arguably its closest rival.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is an off-road ready family hauler.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Nissan Pathfinder is the company's three-row crossover, sitting below the Armada and above the Rogue in the company's lineup. It's a rival to the Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. Check out the Nissan's most compelling features by scrolling down.

Every Pathfinder comes loaded with safety technology.

The Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety and driver assist technology comes standard on the Rogue. It includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, land departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

Additionally, the company's Intelligent Driver Alertness and Rear Door Alert technologies are standard.

ProPilot Assist takes the wheel.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan's ProPilot Assist technology doesn't allow for hands-free driving and it's not self-driving, but it does fuse together many functionalities that make daily drive functions easier, especially when your children are doing their best to distract you.

ProPILOT Assist combines steering assist and Intelligent Cruise Control to help control acceleration. It can be used in heavy traffic and on open highways.

For 2021, ProPilot Assist has been enhanced. It has next-generation radar and camera technology that is designed to allow for smoother braking, better steering assist, and improved detection performance when vehicles cut into the lane.

There's a removable second-row center console.

Between the second-row captain's chairs in the seven-passenger Pathfinder, there's a thin center console (enough storage space for two cupholders and some small items) that is removable without using any tools. Removing this console allows for easier access in/out of the third-row for small children and adults. With the console in place, the seats can still be tipped and moved forward for quick ingress/egress to/from the third row.

The second row is spacious.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Sitting in the second-row captain's chairs is very much like sitting in those that you'd find in a full-size SUV. Adults will find that hip-room is plenty big enough while children will relish the opportunity to feel like they're being treated to upscale accommodations.

Three people fit across the back seat.

Second-row captain's chairs are being offered for the first time on Pathfinder with this new model. Nissan has added rear seating flexibility with the ability to fit three across the back seat. While three adults are a tight fit in the third row, children, tweens, and some teens that don't have long legs won't likely have a problem with it.

Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Nissan has made the Rogue available with all-wheel drive. Those models also get five drive modes: Off-road, Snow, Standard, Eco, and Sport. The modes are engaged using the drive-mode selector mounted on the center console. The all-wheel drive system uses new technology that is designed to respond quicker when slippage is detected.

It has a 6,000-pound towing capability.

Nissan boasts that the 2022 Pathfinder has best-in-lass available 6,000-pound maximum towing capacity. That's enough to allow boats, ATVs, camp tents, or trailers to be connected out back. Trailer Sway Control is standard on the Pathfinder and allows for more towing confidence, especially when winds pick up.

Moving the second-row seat is as easy as the push of one button.

Nissan has equipped the second-row bench seat in the Pathfinder with EZ-Flex one-touch mechanics. It takes just one press of a button to activate fold and slide functionalities for the second-row seats. The button can be reached from both the driver and passenger sides of the vehicle for ease.

The cargo area is plenty spacious.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America


Behind the SUV's third-row seats Pathfinder can fit a 120-quart cooler or four golf bags - all with the third row full of occupants. The interior can also accommodate 4x8-foot plywood sheets.

The ride is sublimely quiet.

Nissan has equipped the Pathfinder with acoustic laminated front glass, thicker second-row glass, increased door and floor isolation, and a 60-percent increase in engine noise absorption materials. The result is a vehicle that provides a quieter ride, meaning less likelihood parents will have to should to be heard by third-row passengers.

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The Kia Sorento Hybrid offers a lot to like for families looking to save on fuel.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The redesigned Kia Sorento looks good. Kia has given the three-row SUV new life, not as a substitute for the Telluride SUV but instead as its own crossover, with plenty of differences to give them their own identity.

The 2021 Sorento comes in two variants, the Sorento and Sorento Hybrid. Each is offered in its own set of trim levels. The Sorento base model is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder internal combustion engine that delivers 191 horsepower and 182 pound-feet of torque. Higher grades get a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque.

Sorento Hybrid comes in two trim leaves, S and EX. Both are powered by the company's turbocharged 1.6-liter hybrid powertrain that offers up 177 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The SUV prioritizes fuel efficiency over performance, an important distinction that sets the Sorento Hybrid apart from other hybrid variants, including the Toyota RAV4 Prime, a plug-in hybrid that delivers an energetic boost to the RAV4 lineup.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid The Sorento Hybrid is the type of vehicle that can get you to a trailhead, but isn't built to go beyond that.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The power output is fine if you plan on sticking to in-town driving and aren't looking to load up the Sorento Hybrid for a long road trip. In the default Eco drive mode, the car responds to the throttle the most comfortably. Under traditional and harder acceleration, the Sorento Hyrbid's powertrain is noisy and ill-mannered. It's almost like the SUV is telling you, "I'm built for efficiency, not speed". Message received.

Kia's done a good job making the Sorento agile and it drives nicely and makes for a pleasant daily runaround. Unlike what Toyota has done with the Highlander, all-wheel drive is not available on the Sorento Hybrid.

The 2021 Sorento Hybrid comes standard as a six-seater with captain's chairs in the second row. The seats, leatherette in the upmarket trim level, are comfortable enough. There's a decent amount of cargo space with the third row erect or stowed.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid The cabin of the Sorento Hybrid is plush enough for its price point.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The well-thought out cabin design delvers exactly what customers need and in the EX trim level, the car's appointments are near-premium. The SUV has the usual list of standard and available features, but nothing is too fancy: Bluetooth, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, voice recognition, satellite radio, push button start, keyless entry, a rearview camera, wireless smartphone charger. Nothing looks, feels, or operates like it's cutting edge, but it doesn't have to - this isn't a luxury vehicle.

There is one very nice design touch in the cabin. On either side of the infotainment touch screen are vents that service the front row of the auto. Their output is divided into two each with the bottom vent able to serve the midsection of front passengers' bodies while the upper part goes higher. More automakers should design vents this way.

The Hybrid EX model that was delivered for testing had its lane keeping and centering system not as honed in on lane lines as is optimal, which resulted in crossing over the lines without any alert going off or corrective action being taken by the vehicle's computer.

2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid Cargo space is always tight in three-row SUVs, but Kia has given the Sorento a good balance between cargo space and third-row legroom.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The 2021 Kia Sorento Hybrid starts at $33,590. That's a thousand-and-a-half over the starting price of the Telluride and $4,000 more than the traditional 2021 Sorento.

There are currently only two other three-row hybrid SUVs on the market, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the Ford Expedition Hybrid. The three models and their varied price tags and third-row layouts service very different customers but they generally all get lumped together. The Sorento Hybrid is, by far, the lowest priced model of the three, and it feels like it when you're inside. There's nothing wrong with that. Dodge sold a lot of Journeys despite the fact that it wasn't the best or most expensive SUV out there.

Think of the Kia Sorento Hybrid as the Dodge Journey of three-row hybrid crossovers and you won't be disappointed.

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