The Kia Seltos is the newcomer to Kia’s lineup. It’s been in production since 2019, but 2021 marks the first year that it will be available on U.S. soil. It has just recently made it into dealerships as Kia begins to roll out its 2021 crop of vehicles, and it’s poised to make quite the disruption in the subcompact crossover market. Of course, let’s be clear, this still isn’t Kia’s smallest model – it’s the model designed to sit between the Soul and the Sportage. Highlights of the Seltos include better-than-expected cargo room, a Bose audio system, and the range-topping engine that’s good for 175 horsepower. What might be even more impressive, though, is the Seltos starting point of around $22,000.

Powertrain and Performance

Kia Seltos - Driven Drivetrain
- image 940796

The Kia Seltos might sit near the bottom of the brand’s lineup, but it’s not exactly the underpowered economy car of yesteryear. In base form, you’ll get your power from a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder that’s good for 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated exclusively to an Intelligent Variable Transmission, which is basically Kia talk for CVT. Opt for the sportier 1.6-liter turbo engine in the Seltos S or SX models, and you’ll put down 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This engine is also paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940782

By default, the Seltos sends all of its power to the front wheels. However, at the time of purchase, you can opt for the active, on-demand, AWD system - system derived from that of the Telluride and can distribute torque equally between the front and rear axles as needed. On top of this, it also offers torque vectoring, which means power can be shunted to whatever corner needs it the most to maintain optimal traction.

2021 Kia Seltos specifications
Engine 1.6L Turbo Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI)
Fuel Gas
Horsepower 175 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 195 lb.-ft. @ 1,500-4,500 rpm
Transmission 7-Speed Dual Clutch Transmission
Drive AWD
Towing Capacity 2000
Fuel Economy 25/30/27
Curb Weight 3,317
Fuel Capacity 13.2

Kia Seltos vs. The Competition

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940715

So where is the Kia Seltos’ biggest mechanical selling point? Well, that comes in the form of performance. With the 1.6-liter turbo engine, you’re getting 37 horsepower and 47 pound-feet more than your would in the Chevy Trax. Compared to the Honda HR-V, you’re looking at an extra 34 horses and 68 pound-feet of torque. The base model also comes in first when you look at horsepower, but at 132 pound-feet of torque, it falls a bit shy of the Chevy Trax. All three models are offered with all-wheel drive.

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940779

The Seltos weighs a bit more at 3,317 pounds vs. the Trax at 3,237 pounds and the HR-V at 3,142 pounds, but it can tow considerably more. While the Honda HR-V has a towing capacity of 1,763 pounds (800 kg) and the Trax has a towing capacity of 1,263 pounds )about 573 kg), the Seltos can pull up to 2,000 pounds (about 907 kg) when equipped with the turbo engine and towing package.

Kia Seltos Fuel Economy

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940783

The Kia Seltos is good for 25 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 27 mpg combined. This puts it ahead of the Chevy Trax by one mpg in every category but inferior of the HR-V’s 28 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 30 mpg combined. The Seltos has a 13.2-gallon fuel tank, so your expected range from full to empty varies between 330 miles and 396 miles depending on your driving style.

Kia Seltos Exterior Design

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940759

If you don’t recognize the Kia Telluride DNA smeared across the exterior design of the Seltos, then we suggest you look again. Naturally, the front end is dominated by Kia’s Tigernose grille, while the headlights are of the full LED variety, including the unique LED strips. Moving downward, the Seltos’ mild off-road capabilities are advertised thanks to the silver skid play and black trim that encompasses the lower kick panels and wheel wells. With 7.2-inches of ground clearance, some mild trials are at least doable.

Around back, the Seltos is one of the most attractive Kias on the market. The muscular rear haunches bleed over to the rear and blend in with the rear hatch nicely thanks to the wraparound taillights and corner markers above the rugged rear fascia. And, despite the rugged look down below, the Audi-like dual exhaust outlets add a bit of contrast as does the silver rear skid plate.

How Big is the Kia Seltos?

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940714

The Kia Seltos is 172 inches long, 70.9 inches wide, and 63.6 inches tall, which makes it both longer and wider than the Chevy Trax and Honda HR-V. The Trax is a bit wider, though, but the Seltos’ 103.5-inch wheelbase trumps both competing models. The 62-inch front and 62.4-inch rear tracks are also better than the competition. In terms off garaging, the Seltos should fit in just about any garage, but you might find that it’s a bit of a tight fit if you want to get it into the smallest of one-car garages. As long as you’re careful, however, it will fit in almost any garage.

Kia Seltos Interior Design

Kia Seltos - Driven Interior
- image 940792

The interior of the Kia Seltos is a mixed back, and that’s even true for the range-topping SX trim. Based on the exterior design, it’s easy to forget that this is a mid-$20,000 people mover and not a premium vehicle. Not that Kia hasn’t made huge gains in terms of material and fit and finish, but the Seltos is still far from the premium segment, and that starts to become evident when you get inside. The steering wheel is comfortable and wrapped in soft touch material, and the seven-inch semi-digital instrument cluster, paired with the 10.25-inch infotainment system goes a long way, but there’s still a lot of what I’d like to call economy plastic. You know; the kind of stuff that seems to last forever but fades over time, eventually starts to rattle, and is prone to blemishes easily.

Kia Seltos - Driven Interior
- image 940788

That said, I don’t want to undersell the Seltos, as there’s a lot of positive vibes on the inside. The digital HVAC control screen, the shiny trim around the center stack, shifter, and instrument cluster, and the comfort of the seats go far beyond what you might expect from Kia. With that said, the front is definitely more comfortable than the rear. Our tester had leather-like upholstery, but where the front seats have exceptional padding, the rear seats are, well, rear seats. There’s little support from what is little more than a bench seat with a fold-down armrest in the middle. The rear seats are fairly comfortable, but given the smooth material, it might be easy to slide around if someone forgets they are driving a subcompact crossover and not a Kia Stinger.

How Much Cargo Room Does the Kia Seltos Have?

Kia Seltos - Driven Interior
- image 940785

For a model that is positioned firmly in the subcompact crossover segment, we’re beyond impressed with how much cargo the Seltos can carry. With the rear seatbacks in place, you can lug around 26.6 cubic-feet of cargo – 7.9 cubic-feet more than the Chevy Trax and 2.2 cubic-feet more than the Honda HR-V. Lay down the rear seatbacks, and the Seltos will swallow up 62.8 cubic-feet of cargo, 14.4 cubic-feet more than the Trax and 4.0 cubic-feet more than the HR-V. Keep in mind that the Seltos also has a large glove box, spacious center console storage area, and small cubbies in each door too.

Does the Kia Seltos Have Modern Tech?

Kia Seltos - Driven Interior
- image 940790

The Seltos LX, S, and EX come with a semi-digital instrument cluster that feature a 3.5-inch OLED display in the center between the two analog gauges. Move up to the SX, however, and you’ll get a larger, seven-inch digital display that also includes the gear indicator and a digital speedometer. As far as the infotainment system goes, you’ll probably want to opt for the 10.25-inch touchscreen that includes satellite radio, UVO telematics, navigation, and a split-screen display. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are a given, and you can also opt for an eight-speaker Bose audio system – a first for any vehicle built by Kia.

Kia Seltos Safety

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940758

You can opt for Kia’s “Kia Drive Wise” advanced driver-assistance system aka ADAS. It includes the following:

  • Blind Spot Collision Warning (BCW): Under certain conditions, can detect vehicles traveling in the next lane. When a vehicle is detected in the blind spot, an icon flashes in the mirror. A chime will sound if the turn signal is on.
  • Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist (BCA): Builds on BCW by applying brakes to the outer wheel under certain conditions to return the vehicle to its lane.
  • Driver Attention Warning (DAW)9: Senses inattentive driving patterns and sends an audible/visual warning to alert the driver.
  • Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with pedestrian detection (FCA): Assists the driver in braking to help prevent a collision or lessen the effects in certain conditions if a vehicle or pedestrian is detected in front.
  • Highway Driving Assist (HDA)10: Uses federal highway speed limit information from the navigation system and, under certain conditions, will automatically adjust speed to be within the posted speed limit and maintain distance with the vehicle detected in front.
  • Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS): Designed to alert the driver if the system detects that the vehicle is about to depart from its current lane without a turn signal.
  • Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS): Builds on LDWS by applying slight steering inputs in certain circumstances to help bring the vehicle back into the lane.
  • Lane Following Assist (LFA): Builds on LKAS. Follows lane markings that the system detects and provides steering inputs to help maintain the vehicle in the center of the lane.
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCCA): Uses BCW technology to help detect approaching cross traffic when in reverse. When approaching cross traffic is detected, the system alerts the driver and applies brakes.
  • Rear Occupant Alert11: Designed to provide a message in the instrument cluster for the driver to “Check rear seats” in order to help prevent leaving the vehicle with a rear passenger left inside; the message appears when the driver door is opened after a rear passenger door has been opened and closed.
  • Smart Cruise Control with stop & go (SCC w/S&G): Designed to adapt to the driving environment by automatically applying the brakes, or accelerator, to help maintain a predetermined distance from a vehicle it detects in front. Can bring the vehicle to a full stop and resumes when traffic resumes within three seconds of stopping.
  • Safe Exist Assist (SEA)12: Can alert the driver or passengers opening their door not to exit the vehicle when the system detects approaching traffic. When detected, a chime sounds.

Kia Seltos Competition

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940780

The Kia Seltos has a ton of competition, but today we’ve been comparing it to the Honda HR-V and the Chevy Trax. Both sit firmly in the same segment and are fairly comparable in price across their respective ranges too.

Is the Kia Seltos Better Than the Honda HR-V?

left right

The Honda HR-V isn’t an unattractive vehicle, but it’s not the best-looking model on the planet either. This is especially true when, despite a recent mid-cycle update, it still doesn’t feature Honda’s most recent design language. That’s because the current HR-V has been on the market since 2014 and is due to be replaced in the next couple of years. While you might not get the best tech or appearance, this might play out in your favor due to a lower starting price of just $21,020. However, the 1.8-liter gasoline engine is the only engine available at the moment, and regardless of trim, it’s good for just 141 horsepower and 127 pound-feet of torque. Towing capacity comes in shy of the Seltos at 1,763 pounds, but fuel economy is superior, with the HR-V garnering as much as 34 mpg on the highway.

left right

Despite being quite a bit older than the Seltos, the HR-V doesn’t disappoint inside. The HVAC system, for example, features a digital display, just like the Seltos. There is no digital instrument cluster to be had, though, and Honda is doing itself an injustice keeping that dated touchscreen display in the game. Just like the Seltos, there’s a lot of that economy plastic to be scuffed, but the cabin is still largely attractive. It also offers up similar cargo room – 24.3 cubic-feet behind the second row, and 58.8 cubic-feet with the rear seats laid down.

Kia Seltos vs Honda HR-V
Kia Seltos Honda HR-V
Engine 1.6L Turbo Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) 1.8 liter In-Line 4-Cylinder
Fuel Gas Gas
Horsepower 175 hp @ 6,000 rpm 141 @ 6500 rpm
Torque 195 lb.-ft. @ 1,500-4,500 rpm 127 lb-ft @ 4300
Transmission 7-Speed Dual Clutch Transmission CVT
Drive AWD AWD
Towing Capacity 2000 1763
Fuel Economy 25/30/27 28 / 34 / 30
Curb Weight 3,317 3,142
Fuel Capacity 13.2 13.2

Read our full review on the Honda HR-V

Is the Kia Seltos Better Than the Chevy Trax?

left right

The Chevy Trax might look a little more modern today than it did a few years ago, but make no mistake – it’s still an eight-year-old vehicle. Introduced in 2012, it went through a facelift in 2017 and Chevy hasn’t touched it since. The exterior does feature Chevy’s current design language, though, and there is something attractive about it’s design. The interior, however, is typical GM nonsense. There is tons of cheap (cheaper than the Seltos and HR-V) plastic everywhere, a dated infotainment system, and don’t even get us started on the flimsy gear shifter. The design of the interior is somewhat funky and attractive, though, with the wavy nature of the dash and aggressive door panels being unique in the segment. Compare to both the Seltos and HR-V, however, the Trax feels more like an economy rental car than something you’re proud to show off to your family after you leave the dealership.

2017 Chevrolet Trax
- image 719545

Under the hood sits a 1.4-liter turbo-four that’s good for a meager 138 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, and a six-speed automatic transmission that is light years behind the Seltos’ available seven-speed DCT. Fuel economy also falls to the bottom of the list, with the Trax getting just 24 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and 26 mpg combined. Cargo room for a subcompact crossover is also embarrassingly bad at 18.7 cubic feet behind he second row or just 48.4 cubic-feet with the rear seats laid down. Passenger space is also down compared to both the Seltos and the HR-V. Pricing for the Trax starts at $21,300, so you might as well spend $19,00 on the new Chevy Trailblazer instead.

Kia Seltos vs Chevy Trax
Kia Seltos Chevy Trax
Engine 1.6L Turbo Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) Ecotec 1.4L turbo DOHC VVT I-4
Fuel Gas Gas
Horsepower 175 hp @ 6,000 rpm 138 HP @ 4900 rpm
Torque 195 lb.-ft. @ 1,500-4,500 rpm 148 lb-ft @ 1850 rpm
Transmission 7-Speed Dual Clutch Transmission Hydra-Matic 6T40 six-speed automatic
Drive AWD AWD
Towing Capacity 2000 1263
Fuel Economy 25/30/27 24/29/26
Curb Weight 3,317 3,237
Fuel Capacity 13.2 14

Read our full review on the Chevy Trax

Final Thoughts

Kia Seltos - Driven Exterior
- image 940713

Kia having the Seltos in the lineup feels a little like overkill. After all, it already has the subcompact Soul, and the Sportage, the latter of which at this point feels kind of like the predecessor to the Seltos. The Seltos could, in fact, eventually render the Sportage obsolete. It starts at just $2,000 less and it sits right in the middle of the $17,490 soul and $24,590 Niro. With a starting price of $21,900 the Seltos feels like a bargain compared to the competition and the alternative models around it, and we have a feeling that it’s going to be sticking around for a long time to come. What happens ot he Sportage, however, is anyone’s guess, but we wouldn’t buy it over the Seltos any day.

Philippe Daix
Obsessive and Compulsive Automotive Expert - phil@topspeed.com
Always on the lookout for the latest automotive news, Philippe Daix is our most senior editor and founder of TopSpeed.com. He likes to see himself as a consumer advocate with a mission to educate motorheads of all ages.  Read More
About the author

Related Articles

2021 Kia Seltos - Driven

2021 2021 Kia Seltos Picture Gallery

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: