2021 Kia Seltos Adds to the SUV Matryoshka

The current SUV market looks like a four-wheeled impression of a Russian Matryoshka doll. From eight-passenger family trucksters to sub-compact crossovers smaller than a hatchback, there is an SUV for every lifestyle you can think of: Off-road inspired, high-performance, luxury, urban warrior, family hauler, hybrid, electric, all-wheel drive, 4×4, and all guaranteed to provide extra headroom. So, where does the all-new 2021 Kia Seltos fit on this ever-expanding landscape of tall rooflines?

2021 Kia Seltos compact SUV

Well, the Kia Seltos is a compact CUV bigger than the Kia Soul (just), smaller than the Telluride, and far better looking than the Sportage. The 2021 Seltos is reasonably priced with the most expensive trim levels staying under the $30k mark while offering most of the standard modern tech a 2020-era consumer expects. The Seltos drives well, can haul an average-sized family around with ease, with style to prevent it from fading into a seek-and-find parking lot.


The first thing you notice when looking at the 2021 Kia Seltos is the wrap-around headlamps. These headlights have a hockey stick appearance giving the reasonably priced compact SUV a premium presence. The Kia Seltos doesn’t appear to have a front chin with the bottom half of the bumper shaved off and replaced with a skid-plate-looking panel. It gives the illusion that the Seltos is ready to tackle wild terrain without fear of snagging a bumper on a rock.

The Seltos tested in this review wears Snow White Pearl paint matched with 17-inch alloy wheels. Kia does offer exciting two-tone exterior paint options for the Seltos. However, that is exclusive to select trim levels. This Seltos is the EX and does not qualify. But, the EX does include an upgraded grille with an integrated LED light bar, roof rails, heated outside door mirrors, and a compact spare tire.


This test model Seltos featured a black interior, which on most cars offers a bland visual experience. However, Kia tried hard to sprinkle eye-catching details through the interior to keep your eyes stimulated. The EX trim interior seats are upholstered in a combination leatherette and cloth trim. The 2021 Kia Seltos features an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. EX trim levels include heated front seats (that probably won’t get much use in Texas), leather-wrapped steering wheel, USB ports, and a sunroof.

Rear legroom is excellent in the 2021 Seltos, and cargo space in the back is big enough for an adult-size four-legged passenger, or two-week supply of groceries. A CUV this stylish to look at from the outside, I wished Kia would offer more interior colors to match the modern, dynamic, contemporary cues the exterior presents.

Safety Features

The 2021 Kia Seltos features full-length curtain side airbags with rollover sensors. Standard driver aids include Lane Following and Keeping Assist, Lane Departure Assist, Driver Attention Warning, and High Beam Assist. As well as Forward Collision-Avoidance. During the review, I found the Lane Departure Assist to be hyper-sensitive on the highway.

It reminded me of bumper guards in bowling. The moment the Seltos sensed I was drifting a few inches closer to the edge of a lane it would nudge me back to the center with a very noticeable tug at the wheel. It works a little too well and can feel like the car is being passive-aggressive about your ability to drive straight. Thankfully, this safety feature can be turned off with a simple button on the dashboard.


Kia offers two engine options on the 2021 Seltos. The standard engine is 2.0-liter DOHC, 16-valve, four-cylinder engine producing 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Higher trim levels like the Seltos S Turbo and SX Turbo get the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine making 175 horsepower. For this review, I tested the standard 2.0-liter four-banger and found that it has plenty of get-up-and-go to merge and keep up with the 80+ mph highway cruising speeds in Texas. Both engines use an automatic intelligent variable transmission (IVT).

When you commend the car to accelerate the 2.0-liter races up to 5,000 RPM with the IVT quickly feeding in the gears to supply all four wheels with power. It feels as quick as it looks with the help of responsive, but often numb, steering and the improved handling benefits of power being fed to all four wheels. Impressive for an SUV with less than 150 hp.

Electronic steering is very light, which is ideal for city driving, but it can also feel numb like an arcade racing simulator. You won’t feel the road by holding the steering wheel, but thankfully either will your spine as the seats in the Seltos are supportive and comfortable. During long-distance drives, the cloth-seats did a good job of keeping body fatigue at bay.

According to Kia, the Seltos uses a Dynamax full-time all-wheel-drive system that uses torque vectoring to monitor road conditions and distribute power more efficiently. It also includes a center-locking differential with a control button placed on the console near the gear lever. Only the higher S and SX turbo Seltos offer the option to switch between all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive. The other trim levels, including the EX, tested in this review, is AWD full-time – which is fine.

I tested the AWD system in a particularly muddy section. With steady throttle input, the Seltos dug-in and paddled its way out of the thick mud without issue. However, in doing so, part of the plastic covering underneath the vehicle came off. The Kia Seltos AWD system can handle all-weather conditions on the road, but I wouldn’t take it off the beaten path.

The 2021 Kia Seltos EX has an average mpg of 29 with 31 mpg on the highway and 27 in the city. I averaged 25 mpg during my week-long test drive that included a 300 mile round trip. The starting price for the entry-level Seltos LX is $21k, with the EX starting at $25k. The 2021 Kia Seltos EX tested in this review had an MSRP of $26,885, and if you are looking for the top of the line SX Turbo, that starts at $27k.

Final Thoughts

The 2021 Kia Seltos is a reasonably priced compact SUV with plenty of interior options, but there were a handful of faults. The tailgate, for example, is not automated, and it made me miss the convenience. Doing it by hand felt outdated (What year is this?).

The Lane Departure Assist was so sensitive that I found myself turning it off during long distance trips after it kept micromanaging me to stay dead center in the lane. Also, considering the size and engine displacement, I expected gas mileage to be better. Lastly, Kia needs to add more color to the interior options list. I know they can do better. But, beyond these minor faults, the 2021 Kia Seltos is a well optioned compact SUV delivering all-season performance, satisfying levels of interior space, in a modern styled package for under $30K.

2021 Kia Seltos AWD