The Kia Telluride is the reigning Victory & Reseda Vehicle of The Year award winner. What #VOTY19 showed us was how serious Kia was when it came to producing desirable and pretty damn good SUVs.
The Telluride represented a massive leap of faith that paid off handsomely. There was a time during this pandemic when you could not find one on dealer lots because everyone wanted one. Sounds like a good problem to have, Kia.
The boost the multiple award-winning Telluride gave Kia needed a follow-up. They had to look down the size chain to find that inspiration. After all, customers also want smaller SUVs, as well.
The answer would be a global product for Kia – the 2021 Seltos. The new small SUV needed to competitive in every market it would sell in – including the good ol' USA.
And, it does compete quite well. That is, if you consider what it is competing against.
The segment the Seltos has been plunked into range from a pair of adventure vehicles (for example, Subaru Crosstrek and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross) to some traditional-looking SUVs (for example, Nissan Rogue Sport and Jeep Compass). The Seltos appears to lean toward the latter grouping, which is a tip in its favor.
It is because "mainstream SUV consumers" are looking for vehicles, such as the Seltos.
When it first came out, I liked its looks. The front end is a new interpretation of the Tiger Grille with the lighting units arranged in a very modern art way. You have LED lighting signatures stretching towards the middle of the upper part of the grille with the actual headlamps positioned in the lower middle of each end of the front clip. I also like the angle of approach design in the lower fascia, which helps in not bashing a flat front end onto a parking space stopper.
It looks “rugged” up front. However, it almost looks like almost every other SUV everywhere else. And, that’s fine. You need to have a vehicle look like the Seltos in order to sell it on the grounds of what it offers inside. In the meantime, all four doors open wide for good access in and out. The tailgate opens high and offers a solid load area to fill its cargo space.
Not to mention, it is very well proportioned. The placement of the wheelbase within the body makes the silhouette just where a small SUV should be. No longer overhangs front or rear, nor any awkward roof and glass signatures. Just right!
My tester was the S Turbo model, which elevates a mid-level trim model with some sporty add-ons. The satin chrome trim is offset by four 18-inch sporty alloy wheels. In other words, the Seltos combines normality, quirkiness, and ambition.
Getting the S trim – turbocharged or not – means getting a combination cloth and leatherette upholstery inside. The seats are a bit firm for my back, but they do offer some bolstering to keep you in. Rear seat room is very good for a guy my size with nice leg and headroom. Cargo space starts off with 26.8 cubic feet of anything I want to put back there before folding down the rear seats. Once those seats are folded down, I have 62.8 cubic feet of space to play with. In all, this is an interior that plays larger than its size – and that’s a good thing!
The driver has a straight-forward set-up to work with. Analog dials and a smallish, but comprehensive information screen in the middle are clear for the driver to disseminate all the information they need. Controls, stalks, switches, and dials are great to the touch, and offer good, logical operation. I also like the size of the steering wheel, as well as the shifter.
In the S Turbo, you get the eight-inch infotainment touchscreen that is mounted on a tablet-like piece on top of the center stack. Six standard-type speakers emit sound from the system, that offers smartphone integration from an Apple or Android device. This system does not include SiriusXM. If you want that, you can upgrade to the SX Turbo model or download the SiriusXM app on your smartphone with your account connected to it.
There are five trim levels on the Kia Seltos. However, there are two S models in the lineup. One has the really good 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with the Intelligent Variable Transmission. That driveline is solid, as it is found across a couple of other Kia (and Hyundai) models. However, my S Turbo tester has the upgraded 175-horsepower 1.6-liter engine with – you guessed it – a turbocharger. The turbocharged engine is connected to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, with the available all-wheel-drive system on my tester.
I know that there will be plenty of customers who would just be satisfied with the 2.0-liter engine – and I don’t blame them. But, those of us who like a bit of thrust will not be disappointed by the turbo in the Seltos. It gets up pretty nicely, even with a bit of turbo lag. Once it gets going, you will feel it. The transmission is smooth and on-point.
As for fuel economy, I averaged 31.1 MPG. That figure put a smile on my face. It’s good to see that SUVs are turning better fuel economy than anticipated.
One thing I noted on this Kia Seltos is how light it is. It also feels quite high. My tester weighs in at 3,317 pounds and is supposed to have a ground clearance of 7.3 inches. Still, I feel as I am rising about traffic, dancing on the tarmac along the way.
With that said, the ride quality is good. The suspension works hard to absorb rougher roads with ease. Its light feeling does not hamper overall handling. The Seltos feels stable in maneuvers, but please be mindful that it has a lower threshold when it comes to some turns – for example, cloverleaf interchanges.
The steering is pretty good. It offers a solid turning radius for its size with a good on-center feel. The steering wheel’s thick rim is a plus in. my book. As for the brakes, they are very good in terms of normal and panic stops. The pedal feel is solid and sure.
Let’s talk pricing. My tester came with a sticker price of $26,740. That’s a good value! The Seltos lineup starts with a base price of $21,990 for a LX with standard all-wheel-drive. At the other end of the spectrum, you can get an SX Turbo all of the bells and whistles – plus a sunroof – priced at under $30,000.
In its segment, a good value means you get a good vehicle for the money. Even better when that vehicle is within reach of most budgets. That is the best way to approach the 2021 Kia Seltos.
If that formula sounds familiar, then look no further than the reigning #VOTY19.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Kia Motors America
All photos by Randy Stern