Go Smaller: Kia Seltos Debuts in Los Angeles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

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]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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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

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
  • Ronin What is the magical white swan event in the foreseeable future that will suddenly reverse the trend?Success tends to follow success, and likewise failure. The perception, other than among true believers, is that e-cars are a lost cause. Neither government fiat, nor government bribery, nor even the promise of superior virtue among one's peers have been enough to push past the early adapter curve. Either the bust-out is right now for e-cars, or it doesn't happen. Marketing 101.Even subtle language-manipulation, such as deeming those possessing common sense as suffering from some sort of vague anxiety (eg, "range anxiety") has not been enough to induce people to care.Twenty years from now funny AI-generated comedians will make fun of the '20s, and their obsession with theose silly half-forgotten EVs. They will point out that, yes, EVs actually ran on electricity generated by such organic fuels as coal and natural gas after all, and then they will perform synthesized laughter at us.