Go Smaller: Kia Seltos Debuts in Los Angeles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
go smaller kia seltos debuts in los angeles

Kia’s Seltos was probably the worst-kept secret at the 2019 LA Auto Show. Hyundai Motor Group had already confirmed it as a global model earlier this year, teased it numerous times, and featured it on a gigantic banner outside the Los Angeles Convention Center prior to its official debut. But Kia still managed to surprise us.

Along with the U.S.-spec version of the Seltos, Kia also paraded two off-road concepts meant to preview future offerings. Positioned above the Soul, the new crossover is basically an oversized subcompact aimed at fleshing out the brand’s “SUV” lineup. While mostly conventional, it does offer some of the industry’s hottest trends (hidden pillars, contrasting roof, butch plastic cladding, etc) with enough attitude of its own to remain semi-distinctive. Most of that comes from a presumed ruggedness, enhanced by the brand’s edgy marketing.

Kia’s tagline for the vehicle is “Inspired by the Badass in You.”

Expect Kia to double down on that mantra after the model goes on sale late in 2020 (as a 2021 model-year vehicle), because that’s what the accompanying concepts were all about. The Korean marque revealed two Seltos X-Line models in LA this week: The Trail Attack Concept is all about improving off-road capabilities through lights, a suspension lift, and big, gnarled tires. The Urban Concept is basically the same but styled more for city dwellers.

While an urban off-roader seems daft on the surface, I’ve done plenty of curb hopping in New York City and have noticed the locals have a penchant for sinisterly modified Jeep Wranglers. You see them every few blocks, typically with huge tires and more lights than one would ever need without there being a citywide blackout in effect. Let’s not waste too much time on the concepts, though. They’ll probably remerge in a year’s time as lifestyle/activity vehicles with plenty of optional accessories.

The production Seltos closely matches what we’ve already seen in Asia, and is kind of a hodgepodge of Kia’s various products. The front has touches from the Optima and Soul, with hints of Telluride and Sorento. The back is more generic, making it harder to finger any specific Kia model as a direct influence.

Beneath the hood, owners can have either a 146-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 132 lb-ft or splurge for the optional 1.6-liter turbo with 175 hp and 195 lb-ft. The standard Seltos comes with a CVT, while the 1.6-liter receives a dual-clutch transmission with seven speeds. The manufacturer plans to offer the model with either front- and all-wheel drive. MacPherson struts are said to be up front with a torsion-beam setup in the rear (standard). All-wheel-drive variants will ditch the twist beam for a multi-link arrangement.

With a starting MSRP of “below $22,000,” Seltos finds itself occupying an interesting middle ground between budget micro SUVs and slightly larger alternatives. Kia undoubtedly believes this was the right play to make; it’s touting the model’s superior interior volume and comfort as the reason to not buy something like a Nissan Kicks. Rear legroom is an admirable 38 inches but it’s been difficult to get concrete specs on other passenger-related dimensions (some may be less impressive, but the Seltos looks to have decent shoulder room).

Kia did provide cargo specs, however, saying some 26.6 cubic feet of cargo room resides behind rear seats. Folding them down brings that up to 62.8 cubes — which is technically more than the Sportage. That’s probably where the model shines the brightest and will receive the most praise come review time.

Visually, the interior is classic Kia. There’s a floating 10.25-inch touchscreen (8 inches is standard), underlined by a handful of physical buttons. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity come standard and customers can add a Bose premium audio system outfitted with a color-changing, musical mood lamp. Adding another USB (it comes with two), automatic climate control, or a wireless charging pad for your phone is similarly optional.

Wheel size is either 17 or 18 inches, depending on trim. There are four in total — LX, S, EX and SX — and moving up that ladder tacks on minor embellishments to the exterior while opening the door for new interior options and leather upholstery. Ditto for the 1.6-liter turbo, as it’s limited to the S (which also has the 2.0-liter) and SX trims.

The rest is exactly what you’d expect from a new automobile coming from Kia — multiple drive modes, automatic engine shut-off, tons of connectivity features, and an optional suite of advanced driving aids. Interestingly, automatic emergency braking doesn’t appear to be standard. Definitely not a deal breaker for us, but it’s worth noting after so many automakers have promised to make it standard content.

The rest will have to remain a mystery for a while longer. Kia promised to furnish more specs (MPGs, hopefully) closer to launch. As of now, North American deliveries are estimated to commence this time next year.

[Images: Hyundai Motor Group]

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3 of 17 comments
  • Ajla Ajla on Nov 21, 2019

    "Kia’s tagline for the vehicle is 'Inspired by the Badass in You.' " Ridiculously embarrassing.

  • Slavuta Slavuta on Nov 21, 2019

    With all the automotive news, I feel like keeping my Mazda6 MT for 15 more years

  • Jeff S I am not a fan of Tesla and they were niche vehicles but it seems that they have become more common. I doubt if I get an EV that it would be a Tesla. The electrical grid will have to be expanded because people over the long run are not going to accept the excuse of the grid can't handle people charging their EVs.
  • AMcA The '70 Continentals and Town Cars may have been cousins to the standard body Fords and Mercurys, they didn't have to be disguised, because they had unique, unbelievably huge bodies of their own. Looking at the new 1970 interior, I'd say it was also a cost savings in sewing the seat. Button tufted panels like the 1969 interior had require a lot of sewing and tufting work. The 1970 interior is mostly surface sewing on a single sheet of upholstery instead of laboriously assembled smaller pieces. FINALLY: do I remember correctly that the shag carpet shown under these cars was a Photoshop? They didn't really go so peak '70s as to photograph cars on shag carpets, did they?
  • Inside Looking Out Toyota makes mass market cars. Their statement means that EVs are not mass market yet. But then Tesla managed to make mass market car - Mode; 3. Where I live in CA there are more Tesla Model 3s on streets than Corollas.
  • Ltcmgm78 A lot of dirt must turn before there's an EV in every driveway. There must be a national infrastructure plan written by other than politicians chasing votes. There must be reliable batteries that hopefully aren't sourced from strategic rivals. There must be a way to charge a lot of EVs. Toyota is wisely holding their water. There is a danger in urging unplanned and hasty moves away from ICE vehicles. Do we want to listen to unending speeches every election cycle that we are closer than we have ever been to 100% electrification and that voting for certain folks will make it happen faster? Picture every car in your town suddenly becoming all electric and a third of them need a charge or the driver will be late for work. This will take a lot of time and money.
  • Kendahl One thing I've learned is that cars I buy for local errands tend to be taken on 1,000 mile trips, too. We have a 5-speed Focus SE that has gone on longer trips than I ever expected. It has served us well although, if I had it to do over again, I would have bought an ST. At the time of purchase, we didn't plan to move from 1,000 feet elevation to 6,500. The SE is still adequate but the ST's turbo and extra power would have been welcome.