2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Sure footed up-market luxury at a down-market price
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
Recently, Car & Driver ran a piece on car names that sound like medicines. Kia’s entry on that list was their new compact SUV, the Seltos, which sounded like “a prescription drug for nicotine withdrawal.” When I first climbed behind the wheel of this Kia, I was rather befuddled to discover that the Seltos lacks a starter button. In the past year of testing a different car every week, I can’t recall a single one that required a physical key to be inserted into a slot. Hence my name choice for this newest Kia is Keya, a prescription medication to counteract loss of dexterity.
The Seltos is the first 2021 model from Kia that I have tested, and it proves this company is still on a roll after their full-size SUV Telluride blasted a homerun out of the park last year. Like the Telluride, the Seltos adeptly combines performance, civility and practicality in handsomely wrapped packaging. It’s hard to believe that you can buy a mini SUV as fully equipped and pleasurable to drive as the Seltos for just $26,740. It’s first assignment was to pose for photos, and on the way to my favorite spot for shots, I instantly discovered that the Seltos was far livelier to drive than similarly priced compact SUVs I’ve driven recently.
Attribute that responsiveness to the 1.6-liter turbo motor which produces 175hp and 195lb.-ft. of torque. Since the Seltos S weighs just 3,271lbs., its power-to-weight ratio of 18.6lb/hp puts it at a distinct advantage compared to competitors’ small SUVs. The acceleration times prove the point, with the turbo Seltos cutting a very respectable quarter mile run of 15.3 seconds at 91mph, and a 0-60 time of just 6.6 seconds. The fact that Kia equips the Turbo Seltos S with a 7-speed double clutch automatic transmission further invigorates the driving experience. Kia calls this gearbox a “Quick-Shift DCT” and indeed it’s so easy to swap cogs manually that you’ll find your driving experience in this Seltos to be unexpectedly rewarding.
Part of the sure footedness is due to the standard torque vectoring all-wheel drive system which includes a center lock differential unit. Another plus goes to the unusually oversized Kumho tires (235/45R18) which grip the road with a Treadwear rating of 580 and a Traction rating of AA. These Solus tires bring a new design element to sidewall design, with a continuous checkered flag patterning that enlivens each wheel well. We also liked the complex design of the S Turbo’s standard 18-inch alloys which are capped with pseudo center lock nuts finished in bright red. These wheels are emblematic of the inventive and sportive appearance of the Seltos S. From its characteristic Kia-styled Tiger grill, to the aerodynamic strakes that define the lower rear fascia, the Seltos presents a head-turning feast for the eyes.
Likewise, the interior fitments belie the Turbo’s bargain price. The 8-inch touchscreen is intuitive and geared for operation with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Although our test model lacked a SIRIUS/XM Satellite radio connection, we were able to utilize our cell phone for tunes thanks to the center console USB Multimedia port. If you opt for the highest level Seltos, the SX version, you will discover that Kia has specifically fine-tuned its standard Bose sound system for younger ears, with a particular emphasis on bass fidelity. Kia’s mini SUV offers a surprising amount of storage space for a vehicle with just 103in. of wheelbase. If you flip the rear split 60/40 bench seatbacks forward you will find a flat cargo floor good for 26.6 cubic feet of cargo. This bonus room far surpasses other compact SUVs for capacity and loading ease.
The Seltos cabin looks and feels more expensive than the price would lead you to conclude. There’s a nicety to the trim on the dash and doors, with a subtle diamond plate embedded in the pattern that matches the corrugated metal housings for the speaker enclosures. The accommodating seats are finished in black Sofino leatherette with dark gray cloth inserts. These inserts feature an asymmetrical design motif that lends the cabin an unexpected air of class. The leather wrapped steering wheel looks like it belongs in a much more expensive Audi or BMW. Indeed, the driving experience of this new Kia rivals more expensive competitors in terms of fit, finish and ingenuity of design.
What we most like about this Kia is its partial reliance on traditional design rather than cutting edge technology. We appreciate the old school fly-off handbrake located between the front seats. It’s oh so much better than the hide and seek electric brakes manufacturers are spraying all over the place these days. In fact, we even grew to appreciate once again the satisfaction of inserting a metal key into a lock receptacle located on the steering column. There’s something very satisfying about engaging a mechanism on physical terms rather than electronically. That tactile experience is emblematic of the great feedback you’ll derive from ownership of this brand-new Kia.
2020 KIA SELTOS S TURBO AWD
ENGINE: 1.6 liter inline 4, turbocharged, intercooled, 16 valve DOHC, direct fuel injection
HORSEPOWER: 175hp@6000rpm TORQUE: 195lb.-ft.@1500rpm
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 25MPG City/30MPG
Highway PRICE AS TESTED: $26,740
HYPES: Up-Market Luxury Down-Market price
GRIPES: Turbo Boost Abrupt
STAR RATING: 10 Stars out of 10