SAN ANTONIO — We came here to get a look at the 2021 Kia Seltos, and to test drive it, too.
Kia gave us a lot of fluff about the Seltos being refined and right-sized. They told us that it was slotted between the Sportage and the Soul. Eh, nope.
Here’s the deal. The Soul is in a class by itself. We don’t even consider it a sport utility, a crossover utility or any other kind of utility. It is special and that is in a good way. We’ll leave it at that. Well, not quite. Kia officials consider the Soul more car than utility vehicle. What’s more, in roughly three years Kia has transformed itself from a company dependent on cars to one full of utility vehicles. Counting the Seltos, they have the Sportage, the Sorento, the Niro and the Telluride. That’s five; one for just about every pocketbook out there.
As the market veers heavily towards utility vehicles, the Kia Seltos is the automaker’s way of expanding its offerings based on what buyers are craving: utility vehicles.
The Seltos, it seems to us, rounds out Kia’s utility lineup. The Telluride is full-sized, the Sportage and Sorento are mid-sized and now the Seltos is small-sized. In other words, Kia now has a utility lineup that meets the needs of those who want a utility versus a car, and there are a lot of them, and their numbers are growing.
But don’t get it twisted. According to Kia, the Seltos is a very capable utility vehicle. And the intent is for it to satisfy a wide range of buyers.
First, there will be six trim lines: the LX 2.0L AWD, the S 2.0L FWD, the S 2.0L AWD, the EX 2.0L AWD, the S 1.6T AWD and the SX 1.6T AWD.
What all this means is that the Seltos comes in all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive and there are two engines available. The 1.6-liter four-cylinder turbo makes 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque at a low 1,500 rpm. That translates into oomph. The 2.0-liter engine made 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.
The 2.0 liter has what Kia called an intelligent variable transmission while the 1.6-liter turbo had a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. They didn’t bring any 2.0-liters, so we had the 1.6-liter turbo.
The front-wheel-drive 2.0 gets 29 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg combined. For the all-wheel-drive version, the numbers are 27 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 29 mpg combined. The 1.6 turbo gets 25 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg combined.
Of course, the Seltos had Kia’s tiger-nose grille with a honeycomb and diamond pattern. It was tall, with 7.2 inches of ground clearance. There were taunt surfaces and tight lines and a distinctive profile that was highlighted by a chrome beltline on the upper trim lines. And the automaker said that an optional two-tone roof added an additional layer of coolness. What’s more, to add an aura of ruggedness, the Seltos had cosmetic skid plates and fore and aft.
It had a long hood and wheelbase. There were full LED headlights, a lower front bumper, a tapering greenhouse, red wheel center caps, tailgate garnish connecting the rear tail lamps, dual exhaust connected by chrome trim and 17- or 18-inch wheels, depending on the trim level.
In the Texas Hill Country, the Seltos was solid on the road. There was a bit of wind noise around the A pillar but road noise from the tires was just about nonexistent and the ride was smooth and unfettered by the bumps and ridges on the state highways that we were on. The low-end torque of the turbo had more than enough oomph to get up and over the hills here.
We had the 2021 Seltos SX Turbo AWD. Inside there was a wide, more than 10-inches, touch infotainment screen. Our test vehicle had an all-black interior with black stitching.
As with most automakers, it was a clean layout. Control buttons were along the bottom of the infotainment screen. The instruments were black with white numerals. There was a large TFT screen between the odometer and speedometer.
There was plenty of hip and shoulder room. Two adults fit up front with no problem and two more could easily sit in the back seats in comfort.
The Seltos had a MacPherson strut front suspension coupled with a torsion beam axle on front-wheel-drive versions and a multi-link rear suspension on all-wheel-drive models. The system also had torque vectoring.
There were three drive modes: normal, sport and smart. Each adjusted the powertrain, drivetrain and steering mapping. We thought there was a good bit of elbow room, though the front seat cushions seemed a bit short. Our driving partner thought the seats were too firm, but they seemed fine to us. Those front seats were heated.
The 2021 Seltos had one of the most extensive suites of safety features that we’ve run across. Kia Drive Wise had a dozen features including the usual suspects like blind-spot alert, lane departure warning and smart cruise control. But the Seltos had safety features that we didn’t expect in a car this size or one in this price class.
The system had lane keep assist, lane following assist and rear occupant alert that signaled the driver to check the rear seat to prevent someone from being left inside.
We also found the highway driving assist system intriguing. It will take federal highway speed information from the navigation system and under certain conditions adjust speed to be within the posited limit. Hmmmmm, a feature that keeps you from speeding. We hope it can be turned off.
Two smart phones or other devices can be plugged in at the same time. Wireless charging is also available.
The build quality was impressive. They used advanced high strength steel in almost two thirds of the chassis. There was also more than 300 feet of structural adhesives used. We felt the solidity of the Seltos on the road, its sturdiness was unmistakable.
The 2021 Seltos is on sale now. Pricing starts at $21,990 for the 2.0-liter Seltos S FWD and tops out at $27,890 for the 1.6-liter turbo AWD. Neither price includes the $1,120 freight charge.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com