2021 Kia Seltos - Driven
The subcompact crossover class has so much potential. Best-selling “compact” models like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, and Chevrolet Equinox have gotten fantastically spacious, refined — and expensive. A modern CR-V or RAV4 is just as big, fancy, and costly as midsize models used to be. For lots of people, they’re still a great deal: for as little as $25,000, you get ample space for four or even five adults and their stuff, all the latest advanced safety features, a fully featured touchscreen infotainment system, and great gas mileage. But lots of people don’t need or even want something this big, or at least aren’t eager to pay for it. So most automakers now offer a subcompact model that’s smaller and less expensive than their compact.
What’s puzzling, though, is how flawed most of these subcompact crossovers have proven to be. Many of them are polarizing styling statements, sometimes with looks that compromise their utility even more than their scaled-down dimensions do. A surprising number of them offer no all-wheel-drive. Some suffer from execution flaws like underpowered yet inefficient engines, compromised interior layouts, or clumsy driving dynamics. Each model that gets a lot right has also had at least one serious flaw — whether it’s the fun-to-drive but cramped Hyundai Kona and Mazda CX-3 and CX-30; the spacious but slow, noisy Honda HR-V; the pleasant but overpriced Nissan Rogue Sport; the off-road-ready, on-road-jerky Jeep Renegade and Subaru Crosstrek; or a host of other would-be contenders. That’s to say nothing of the ones that, well, don’t get a lot right. Why, oh why, couldn’t someone just take everything that people love about a compact crossover and simply make it a little smaller and less expensive?
At long last, that call has been answered. The all-new 2021 Kia Seltos is a mechanical cousin to the Hyundai Kona, but it’s taller and longer. And that’s just what was needed to address the Kona’s lower, more car-like seating position and its tight rear seating. This makes the Seltos the first truly well-rounded subcompact crossover, delivering all-around competence with no disastrous downsides. It’s handsome, functional, fun to drive, fuel-efficient, and affordable. While no car is perfect — certain buyers will gravitate toward the specific advantages of some Seltos competitors — this is the only subcompact crossover that has something for just about everyone.
If you didn’t realize that there was a gap between the Kia Soul and the Kia Sportage, well, don’t feel bad because we didn’t either. But, it’s all good, because Kia has managed to fill that gap with a model known as the Seltos. It celebrated its U.S. launch at the 2019 Los Angels Auto Show after being introduced a couple of months before that in India. Naturally, there are some minor changes to make it meet U.S. regulations, but for the most part, we’re looking at a compact SUV with some Telluride-inspired design cues and enough ground clearance that you could actually take it off the beaten path if you really wanted to.
The real highlight of the Seltos is its cargo capacity. In relation to its size, the capacity is rather respectable at 26.6 cubic-feet with the rear seats in place and 62.8 cubic-feet with the rear seats folded down. It also comes with a decent list of technology, including a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that looks like it came out of yesteryear’s BMW parts bin, and there’s even an 8-speaker Bose audio system. The latter is actually a first for a Kia, so it has that going for it.
The Seltos is available with your choice of two different engines. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. The smaller, but turbocharged 1.6-liter mill delivers 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s also a small model, so it should be adequate. Kia is promising an impressive starting point of “below $22,000,” so expect it to start out around $21,990 and climb closer to the $30,000 range in top trim.