In the ever expanding world of SUVs, we turn our attention to the Kia brand, which up until now has survived without an all-wheel drive model smaller than their well regarded sportage compact. Well, it just so happens that sister brand Hyundai recently introduced a fantastic subcompact utility, the Kona. so, the remedy to Kia’s situation is pretty obvious to us.
There’s not much room for social distancing in the small crossover field these days, and barely any in Kia’s own lineup. Size-wise, the 2021 Seltos wedges itself under the all-wheel-drive Sportage, and above the front-drive only Niro and Soul.
Kia says Seltos is a play on the Greek god Celtus, which hopefully will not give this mini-ute a superiority complex. It may be the smallest Kia all-wheel-driver, but its upright stance, tall front end, and rugged demeanor all favor their largest utility, the Telluride, rather than Sorento or Sportage.
Roof rails, LED lighting, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and 17-inch alloy wheels are all standard.
Sharing the Hyundai Kona’s platform means a MacPherson strut front suspension; while in back it’s a multi-link rear with all-wheel-drive, torsion beam if you stick with power for the fronts only.
And, if you do stick with front-drive, you’re also stuck with the base 146-horsepower naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter I4 engine; as the smaller but mightier 1.6-liter I4 turbo only comes with all-wheel-drive. Output for the 1.6 is 175-horsepower and 195 lb-ft. of torque.
Unlike most in the class, for better or worse, Kia tried to imbue the Seltos with legit off-road credentials, pitting it against the Jeep Renegade. Not just added cladding here; locking center differential, 7.3-inches of ground clearance, skid plates underneath, and a front bumper designed to maximize approach angle.
On pavement is where it will do the most treading of course; and here it feels solid and more substantial than many of its competitors.
Even through the cones of our test course, when limits were approached, it felt largely unflappable with very little body roll and good grip. You will still battle some understeer, and have to deal with fairly aggressive stability control.
In our panic braking test, the Seltos also did quite good, with a 110-foot average stopping distance; though the brakes did begin to fade after a few runs.
An unusually steamy test day makes us think our Seltos all-wheel drive turbo can manage a 0-60 run faster than 7.5 seconds. Still, even on a day with both heat and humidity in the 90s, it showed plenty of pep.
Seltos actually feels even stronger on the street, and pairs nicely with the 7-speed DCT transmission that comes with the turbo. The 2.0-liter gets Kia’s Intelligent Variable Transmission.
There’s good comfort inside, which to be honest, is where most of these tiny utes sacrifice the most; limiting their effectiveness to urban runabouts. But the Seltos is one small utility you could easily hit the highway with for extended drives.
There’s an 8-inch touchscreen for infotainment, with Kia’s typical great UVO interface; and lots of well placed manual controls.
Also, heated seats, rear camera with dynamic guidelines, remote keyless entry, and drive mode select.
Oh, and you should know, all this is in S trim, just one step up from the base LX. The only things added to our test car were all-wheel-drive with the turbo engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, and added safety features like Blind Spot Collision Warning. Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, and even Lane Keep Assist are standard.
Front seats are more supportive than comforting; but again, up for the long haul. Rear seats offer true adult-size legroom, with reclining backs that also fold almost fully flat in 60/40 fashion.
That brings us to cargo capacity, another usual shortcoming of sub-compact utes. And yet again, the Seltos is better than most; 26.6 cubic-ft. of space in back, expanding to 62.8 cubic-ft. with the seat backs folded.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for an all-wheel-drive 1.6-liter are 25-City, 30-Highway, and 27-Combined. We averaged a good 28 miles-per-gallon of Regular.
Predictably, Kia has kept pricing reasonable, starting at just $23,110, with your choice of an all-wheel drive LX or front-drive S at that price. EX trim comes in at $26,410; top SX trim at $29,010.
With the 2021 Kia Seltos, Kia has packed their full-lineup even tighter; but of course this now gives the Sportage room to grow and get closer in size to the Sorento. It may have taken a while for Kia to bring all-wheel-drive to the mini-ute segment, but they’ve done so in grand fashion. So, even in the crowded sea of small crossovers, the Seltos is sure to make some waves.
Engine: 1.6L I4 Turbo
Torque: 195 lb.-ft
0-60 mpg: 7.5 seconds
EPA: 25 City / 30 Hwy / 27 Combined