For years, Kia sought its golden groove in the auto industry with sedans that looked vaguely Russian.
That was in the ‘90s, just as Kia and sibling Hyundai were slowly learning that vehicles have got to sing with some style in the U.S.
Now, Kia can claim the impressive and critically praised Telluride mid-size crossover and following in the ‘Ride’s wide tire tracks this year, the 2021 Kia Seltos subcompact crossover.
Ambitious Kia just might be stuck in the right rut.
Built on the well-regarded Hyundai Kona platform, the Seltos slots in above the quirky Soul and below the compact Sportage.
Technically, it features more room and cargo capacity than the Soul, pushing it closer in size to the Sportage – but not quite.
The white Seltos I had two weeks ago sported some of the same handsome lines and good proportions as hot Telluride.
Its long, horizontal grille, for example, curved gracefully around into the fenders, displaying just a hint of Kia’s signature Tiger-nose grilles.
Sophisticated-looking, low-key headlamps flanked the grille, slicing into smooth, lightly curved sides with a distinctive line up high and slightly flared wheel-wells.
They enclosed nice-looking 17-inch wheels shod with 215/55 tires that made the Seltos seem larger.
Meanwhile, high-mounted taillamps wrapped around the rear tailgate, completing the Seltos’ crossover-sleek contemporary look.
Seltos, incidentally, is apparently Kia’s spelling of Celtos, the son of Hercules.
The mid-level, $26,000 EX All-Wheel-Drive model I had relied on a pretty average 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 146 horsepower to propel its nearly 3,300 pounds.
However, an optional turbocharged 1.7-liter motor with 195 horsepower looks to be much more spirited – and would definitely be my choice.
Around town, the 2-liter engine is adequate, providing a reasonable surge away from stops. But if you push it, the engine flattens out, made even more obvious by the Seltos’ continuously variable transmission (CVT). It’s an argument for just cruising – and likely achieving the crossover’s average 29 miles-per-gallon fuel economy.
Maybe more important than what’s under the hood, though, are the vehicle’s solid ride and handling.
While hardly sporting, the Seltos felt agile and responsive, able to zip around corners at a moderate rate and cruise comfortably at 75 – traits not normally associated with a sort-of subcompact crossover.
The steering, as you might expect, was pretty numb, but overall, the Seltos felt more upscale than its price suggests.
Though it can get a bit choppy on old neighborhood streets, the ride smooths out well on better pavement.
Likewise, the black interior in my Seltos had the usual amount of plastic found in sub-$30,000 subcompacts, but it was executed with some flair.
A flat black upper dashboard, for instance, rolled down onto a mid-dash featuring a thick black band that kind of resembled carbon fiber.
Anchoring the mid-dash was an 8-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. In addition, the Seltos had a good set of safety features, including blind-spot warning, blind-spot collision avoidance, rear cross-traffic warning, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance and lane-departure warning.
The little vehicle even had a wireless phone charger, which many larger, more expensive vehicles I’ve driven lately lack.
Its leatherette seats featured smooth, black surfaces with “stitched” bolsters and perforated centers, and offered decent legroom but limited headroom in back.
My well-equipped EX model arrived with two options: Snow White Pearl paint, $345; and carpeted floor mats, $130.
Maybe Kia struggled some with its earlier cars – though the current Stinger GT remains one of my favorite sedans. But it apparently knows how to consistently turn out attractive, well-designed crossovers.
The Detroit Three better pay attention.
2021 Kia Seltos EX AWD
- What I liked most: The Seltos’ good looks, functionality and value
- What I would change: The standard 2-liter engine, which lacks power and lags the rest of the vehicle
- MSRP: Base price, $21,990; as equipped, $26,885.
- Official color: Snow White Pearl.
- Fuel Economy: 27 miles per gallon in town, 31 on the highway and 29 mpg overall.
- Odometer reading when tested: 2,328 miles
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: 3,271 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 172 inches long/70.9 inches wide/64.2 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 13.2 gallons, filler on the driver’s side.
- Towing capacity: Not applicable.
- 2021 Kia Seltos in a few words: Another attractive, compelling crossover from increasingly competitive Kia.
- Warranty: Five-year, 60,000-mile overall warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
- Final assembly location: Gwangju, Korea.
- Manufacturer’s website: Kia
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLE 63 S