One-Day Drive

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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Hyundai is hard at work developing new electric vehicles, and has released some truly interesting electric concepts in recent months. However, the automaker’s efforts in the electric world haven’t stopped it from rolling out fun-to-drive and affordable performance vehicles under its N brand. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the latest vehicle in the series. The Kona N will go on sale soon with a reasonable starting price of $35,425, which includes a $1,225 destination charge.

2022 Hyundai Kona N One well-equipped model will be available.Hyundai

The Kona N joins Hyundai’s high-performance stable that also includes the Veloster N and Elantra N, though the latter hasn’t yet hit the streets. The hot crossover gets the same output numbers from its turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder as the Elantra N: 276 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. The Veloster gets 275 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. That rowdy four-banger is paired with an eight-speed wet dual-clutch transmission.

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2022 Hyundai Kona N Aggressive wheels and tires help keep the Kona N planted in corners.Hyundai

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The Rogue was fully redesigned last year.

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Nissan refreshed its best-selling vehicle, the Rogue SUV, in 2021 with a grown-up new look and plenty of new tech. Changes the year after a major overhaul are usually minor, but for 2022 Nissan's giving the Rogue a new powertrain. A brand-new 1.5-liter variable compression (VC) Turbo engine is on board, producing 201 horsepower and 225 pound-feet of torque.

2022 Nissan Rogue The new VC engine can change its compression to adapt to driving conditions.Nissan

Power is up 11 percent and torque is up a staggering 24 percent with the new power plant. The variable compression engine is capable of adapting to changing driving conditions. When the driver needs more power, the engine shifts to higher compression, which delivers better acceleration at the expense of fuel economy. When efficiency is best, the engine changes its compression again. The VC engines made their debut in 2019 in both the Infiniti QX50 and Nissan Altima. It's trick engine technology, but it doesn't always deliver on its promise of efficiency gains. Nissan's continuously variable transmission is still in place, though it has been improved with 17 percent wider gear ratio coverage and 32 percent lower friction. The automaker says it helps deliver better acceleration and fuel economy.

2022 Nissan Rogue Top Rogue trims get upscale finishes and a handsome cabin.Nissan

Pricing for the 2022 Rogue S FWD starts at $27,875, including a $1,175 destination charge. Adding all-wheel drive pushes the price by $1,500. Nissan offers three packages for the SUV as well, including a $2,660 SV Premium Package, a $1,320 SL Premium Package, and a $400 10.8-inch head-up display for the top Platinum trim.

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