Review: 2021 Kia Seltos SX

The new kid on the crossover block is the 2021 Kia Seltos. However, it’s not quite the same size as other, well established crossovers like the Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V. It’s a bit bigger but not quite as big as compact crossovers like the Toyota Rav4. It’s in the middle.

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo


Engine – The 2021 Kia Seltos is available with a 2.0L naturally aspirated engine that produces 146 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. However, this top SX trim receives a 1.6L turbocharged engine. It’s the only trim that has this engine in the Canadian market. In the United States, it is also available on the S trim. This 1.6L engine produces a healthy 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Because it’s turbocharged, peak torque is hit at a very low 1,500 rpms and is sustained until the rpm needle hits 4,500. This low end torque makes the car feel peppy and while performing an overtake on a highway, the engine feels strong and up to the task without much fuss. 

Because this SX trim is only available with AWD, the fuel economy numbers are quite a bit higher than those of the front-wheel-drive variant with the 2.0L engine. However, they’re still not too bad at 7.9 L/100km (29.7 mpg) on a highway and 9.4 L/100km (25 mpg) in a city. Although the city fuel economy figure is on the high side, there are some positives. This engine does not require premium fuel and during my time with the Seltos, I averaged 8.5 L/100km (27.7 mpg)  over a roughly 500 km 60% city drive cycle. So those fuel economy figures are easily achievable.

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo

Transmission – This 1.6L engine is only available with a 7-speed dual clutch transmission. The 2.0L engine gets a CVT. Normally, I’m a fan of DCT transmission but this 7-speed has to be one of the worst. It feels like it’s “learning” how to set off from a stop because clutch engagement feels slow and jerky at times. Once it gets moving, the shifts are smooth but they’re slow by dual-clutch standards. The shift speeds do improve if you put the Kia Seltos into Sport mode but then the rpms do not drop below 2,000 which is not good for the fuel economy. 

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo

Braking – The 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo tips the scales at just over 1,500 kg (3,307 lbs). But that is no problem for the brakes which can bring the crossover to a stop in 48.7 meters (160 feet) from 112 km/h (70 mph) as per Car and Driver’s test. There is quite a bit of brake pedal modulation but this aids in performing smooth stops. Forward collision alert is not standard on the Kia Seltos and is only available on EX or higher trims.

Handling – The Seltos has a direct responding steering feel but apart from that, it’s lacking in feedback and overall driving enjoyment. This is by no means a sporty crossover like the Mazda CX-30. But the effortless steering means that the Seltos is good at what it was designed to be. A city runabout. 

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2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo


Ride Comfort – The 2021 Kia Seltos has slightly firmer suspension than the Hyundai Kona that it is based on. Having said that though, the ride still feels plush over rough roads. The seats also aid in comfort. The front seats are soft, as is the leather upholstery, and the rear bench is quite plush and not firm like in many other crossovers. 

Interior Space – The Kia Seltos has above average legroom in the front and rear seats when compared to similarly sized crossover SUVs like the Nissan Qashqai or Chevrolet Trailblazer. However, it has one of the biggest trunks with 752 L (26.5 cu-ft) of cargo with the rear seats up and 1,778 L (62.8 cu-ft) with the rear seats folded. 

Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – A big plus for the Seltos is that the engine is very quiet. Even when accelerating at a normal rate from a stop, it hardly intrudes into the cabin. Obviously it will be quite loud if you take it past 3,500 rpms and onwards. However, it’s road noise that is particularly intrusive at highway speeds. 

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo

Odds and Ends

Gadgets – As you would expect from crossovers these days, the 2021 Kia Seltos comes equipped with features such as heated seats, CarPlay & Android Auto, Bluetooth, 8-inch touchscreen, and so on as standard. However, it does not have any advanced safety or driver aids as standard. The competitors from Nissan & Chevrolet do have advanced safety features across all of their trims and it’s a big selling point for this class of vehicle. For the Canadian market, you have to upgrade to the mid EX trim to receive features like automatic emergency braking or lane keep assist. A bit of a missed opportunity in my opinion as the EX starts at $27,595 CAD ($25,290 USD) which is quite a big jump from the $22,995 CAD ($21,990 USD) starting price for the LX FWD. 

But if you do fill up the Seltos with every feature like this top SX Turbo trim – which costs $32,595 CAD ($27,890 USD), you get a heads-up display, 10.25-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, LED headlights and of course all of the available advanced safety & driver aids. 

There’s also a couple of safety features that are meant to warn inattentive occupants or drivers. The first is an alert if a vehicle comes up from behind while you’re opening a door. The second is a notice in the instrument display which tells the driver that the vehicle ahead has started moving from a stop. This is mainly for those inattentive drivers that should be paying attention to the road rather than their passengers or phones when at a stop light. 

2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo

Interior Design – Kia designs their interiors with simplicity in mind. Every button and knob in the cabin is situated where you expect it to be and is simple to use & understand. I particularly like a few of the design elements throughout the interior such as the speaker covers which are not the traditional flat & boring designs that we’re all used to. One questionable design element is the handle on the passenger side of the center console – if it even is a handle. It reminds me of the “holy Sh^$” handle that you’d see in a Lamborghini. 

Exterior Design – The exterior of the Seltos feels like it was overdesigned a bit.  It’s not a bad looking SUV but it just feels like everyone in the design department had to get their inputs incorporated into the final product. The headlight and turn signal elements alone have more thought in them than an entire car from not even a decade ago. But there are a couple of design cues that I really like. The wheels on this SX trim look spectacular and I like the ends of the roof rails. It is hard to miss the Seltos on the road though so if you want to remain incognito, this is not the SUV to get. 


In the end, I actually do like the 2021 Kia Seltos. However, I would not recommend this SX Turbo trim. I’d take a look at the trim just below it – the EX Premium. You get most of the same features as the SX but without the heads-up display, Bose premium speakers and the turbo engine with the dual-clutch transmission. Most importantly, you’d be saving $2,000 CAD. Even though you’d lose some of the power, you’d gain the fuel economy of the 2.0L engine and the transmission won’t drive you crazy like the 7-speed DCT.

Thank you to Kia Canada for providing the vehicle.

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