By on February 17, 2020

2021 Kia Seltos

We all know what happens to you and me when we assume, and a lot of folks will assume the 2021 Kia Seltos shares its bones with the also-new Hyundai Venue.

I know I did, and when I questioned Hyundai to fact-check myself, I didn’t get a clear answer (as the two companies tend to silo their information from one another).

The assumption that the Seltos is just a re-boxed Venue is wrong. The Seltos, despite playing in the same class as the Venue and being similar in size, is actually based on a different Hyundai – the Kona.

Yes, the Kona that I mostly like (in top-trim form) and Bark ripped (in lower trim) to shreds. The same Kona that Chris also dinged for pricing problems.

Not that you’d know it from looking at it. The Seltos has a busier, more futuristic look than the Kona, although it doesn’t have the latter’s odd headlight placement. Like the Venue, it offers two-tone styling, and at first glance it looks more like the boxy Venue than the wedge-shaped Kona.

Hence, the assumptions.

(Full disclosure: Kia flew me to San Antonio, Texas, fed me, housed me, and asked me to participate in Texas-themed games after dinner. I did not take home any gifts, save a notebook and pen. I did submit a chili recipe — the winners would be served for dinner — and did not win).

Like with the Kona, there are two engines on offer: A 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque that pairs with an “intelligent” continuously-variable automatic transmission, and a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque and pairs to a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission.

(Get Kia Seltos pricing here!)

Seltos bases with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available on all trims. The AWD system has a locking center differential.

2021 Kia Seltos

For this drive, Kia only had one engine on hand – the 1.6 in the top-trim SX guise. The 1.6L offers a kick in the spurs that registers as a pleasant surprise. Blazing fast it ain’t, but there’s enough juice on tap for easy maneuvering around the big rigs that clog the interstates outside San Antonio. Even with the AWD system, the Seltos gets moving with little effort.

Unfortunately, the seven-speed is a bit brusque in operation.

To the extent that crossover buyers give a whit about steering feel, it’s not bad – artificial, sure, but with a pleasant heft and nice accuracy. A Sport mode livens things up by adding weight to the steering and response to the throttle, keeping the engine in the prime part of the rev band, but we’re still talking about a compact city car here. It’s mildly more fun in Sport, but save your racer fantasies for that Miata you keep saying you’ll buy (but never do).

Ride is stiff but smoother than Kona, although the roads deep in the heart of Texas aren’t terribly rough. The few coarse surfaces I did encounter brought forth a bit of tire noise, and rainy/windy weather exposed some wind noise from the A-pillar at highway speeds.

2021 Kia Seltos

Cabin materials are a bit nicer on the SX than the rest of Seltos, and they’re class-competitive. The infotainment system is officially Kia’s UVO but it’s pretty close to what’s on offer in Hyundai’s new Sonata, including the available nature sounds. The menus offer the same user experience. An available wireless cell phone charger is a nice feature, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.

Rear-seat room behind a tall adult will be tight, should said adult put the seat all the way back. There’s under-floor storage in the cargo area, which measures out to 26.6 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 62.8 with the rear seats folded.

The exterior design is a bit strange, but it ends up being sleeker in person than you’d expect. Almost handsome, even. A bit boxy, sure, and if one accused the lighting areas, especially out back, of being a bit too busy, I’d not argue. Still, there’s just enough curvature (especially the scooped doors) here to keep things interesting, and the overall look is cohesive – arguably more so than Kona.

2021 Kia Seltos

Kia took us to an “off-road” course that amounted to little more than a farm road, so I can say the Seltos handles your standard gravel/dirt road just fine. There are skid plates, but don’t be fooled by them or the Kia marketing machine — light off-roading is probably all you can really do.

The overall experience is pleasant, yet unremarkable. The Seltos feels screwed together well, and it’s not a snooze to drive. Yet, it’s not so memorable as to be a class standout.

There are five trims available: LX, EX, S 2.0L, S 1.6T, and SX. Standard features include Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, USB port, Android Auto and 17-inch wheels. Available features include a 10.25-inch touchscreen for infotainment, satellite radio, navigation, up to three USB ports, wireless cell-phone charging, premium audio, blind-spot collision warning, blind-spot collision avoidance-assist, driver-attention warning, highway-driving assist, forward collision-avoidance assist, lane-departure warning system, lane-keeping assist system, lane-following assist, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, rear occupant alert, smart cruise control with stop and go, and safe exit assist.

2021 Kia Seltos

Base price is $21,990 before D and D, and the loaded SX I drove added two-tone paint ($345) and carpeted floor mats ($130) for a final price of $28,365, including the $1,120 destination fee.

Seltos plays in a crowded class. It’s not only set to compete with its sibling, the Kona, but also against the Venue, the Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford’s EcoSport, Nissan’s Kicks, Honda’s HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Kia’s Soul hatchback, the Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and Toyota C-HR, among others.

Looking at that list, the Seltos places somewhere in the upper tier. It’s a nicely-done crossover that won’t shake up the market, and unlike cynical exercises like the EcoSport, it’s well thought out.

Seltos is a solid effort that will be class-competitive. That assumption, I think, is safe.

[Images © 2020 Tim Healey/The Truth About Cars]

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41 Comments on “2021 Kia Seltos First Drive – Its Venue Is Kona...”


  • avatar
    Imagefont

    Once again no stick. You’re dead to me Kia!!!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      #MeToo

    • 0 avatar
      FormerFF

      #FaceReality

      In 2019, per Automobile Magazine, the take rate for manual transmission vehicles in the U. S. was 1.1%. Why you think a snoozebox like this would warrant one, I don’t understand.

      You want three pedals, you have to get a sporty car. Shifting for your self is almost gone from non-sporting cars and is all but over for SUVs/CUVs.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        And I thought this was supposed to be spunky-funky youth mobile

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          Looks like a compact station wagon on tall tires to me.

          Even if it is a “spunky-funky youth mobile”, how many of the under 30 crowd knows how to drive a stick, and how many want one? I’m guessing those that want a stick don’t want this, they’d want something sporty for onroad driving or something with some actual offroad cred.

      • 0 avatar
        Imagefont

        FormerFF
        The low take rate of manuals is a self fulfilling prophecy. Once they’re all eliminated the take rate will be zero! I don’t even think BMW offers a stick anymore, in any model. So much for the ultimate driving machine!

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          The reason that it is becoming this self fulfilling prophecy is that hardly anyone wants one. Back in the 80’s, the take rate for manual transmissions was in the 20 percent range. It has slowly declined since, and with the advent of much better autoboxes, the switchover has accelerated.

          It’s customer demand that is killing off the 3 pedal setup.

          BTW, you can get a manual in 2 series and 4 series BMWs.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        The overall take rate is meaningless – hardly any cars are even offered with a manual. What is the take rate for vehicles where it is actually an option?

        • 0 avatar
          FormerFF

          The best data you will find on this is an Automobile magazine post entitled “Every 2020 Car, Truck, and SUV Available with a Manual Transmission”. There is one correction to be made, in that the Elantra sedan no longer can be had with a stick.

          To answer your question, it depends on the type of car. For sports cars (BRZ, 86, MX-5, Fiat 124) it’s quite high, close to two thirds. For sporty hatches and sedans (GTI, WRX, Veloster, Mini hardtop), it’s close to 50/50. For ponycars, it’s around 25%. For sedans such as the Corolla and Forte, it’s dismal, less than two percent.

    • 0 avatar
      IBx1

      Y’all need to join us on facebook in Manual Elitist Jerks. We stand united against the pathetic automatic scum.

    • 0 avatar

      I am dead for Kia for very long time.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Why is the 1.6T in the Seltos and Kona rated at 175/195 but it’s 201/195 in other applications?

    I thought it was a fuel octane thing but I checked out their respective manuals and they look the same.

  • avatar
    blackEldo

    FYI: The Seltos has a longer wheelbase (103.5″) than both the Venue (99.2″) and the Kona (102.4″). The Kona and the Soul actually have the same wheelbase.

    Kia apparently wanted the Seltos to be more than just a rebodied/jacked-up Soul as well as slightly larger than the Kona (with which it shares a basic platform).

  • avatar
    dal20402

    IMO this is vastly better-looking than the Kona. Any plans for an EV version based on the Kona EV?

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Kia was mum on electrification plans. The usual “we cannot comment on future product.” But if I were a betting man, yeah, I’d guess there will be something in the pipeline.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Yes, the Kona that I mostly like (in top-trim form) and Bark ripped (in lower trim) to shreds.”

    This also applies to Santa Fe in a big way

  • avatar
    slavuta

    All these cars are nice. But gentlemen, just go and get a Toyota, which has port injection. These DI cars will build carbon deposits like there is no tomorrow. Unless you like removing your intake manifold and clean it, or pay for it.

    • 0 avatar
      redapple

      SLAV….
      Yes. Just get the Toyota. Your reason and others.
      How about this. Toyota (and Honda and Subarus for that matter) are better cars.

      BUT HERE IS THE KICKER. YEAH THE KIAHYUN IS $2000 LESS WHEN YOU BUY IT. BUT IT LL DEPRECIATE FASTER AND YOU LL SELL IT FOR 4000 LESS.

      SO. YOU GET A WORSE CAR THAT COSTS YOU MORE MONEY !!!!!!!

      YOU ARE STUPID TO BUY THESE POS s

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        Toyota makes good vehicles. But they won’t sell me a RWD car with over 350hp (that isn’t 90% BMW) unless I spend at least $65K.

        I personally can deal with the walnut blasting in exchange for the power and drive wheels.

        • 0 avatar
          tankinbeans

          Had there been any data on which vehicles suffer the most from the carbon buildup? They’ve certainly been around long enough for certain models to be better or worse than others.

          I recall reading an anecdote from a guy who was driving a 2015 Mazda6 with the 2.5DI and he hadn’t run into issues is something like 120k miles.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            tankinbeans,

            Mazdas do get carbon deposits. You may not have a problem of engine running bad to your ear but carbon does affect your air flow, efficiency, etc.

            Mazda Service Bulletin No: 01-020/15

            Some vehicles may experience the Check Engine Light ON with OTC P0300:00, P0301 :00, P0302:00, P0303:00 and/or P0304:00 stored in memory.
            . . . . .

            Carbon may be deposited around the intake valves, resulting in unstable engine combustion and misfiring during the accelerated warm-up system (AWS) operation. Customers having this concern should have their vehicle repaired . . . .

            . . . .Spray the cleaner fluid onto carbon deposit around the intake valves until fully covered (A) and let soak for 2 hours

            Me: 2 cylinders at one time, after positioning crankshaft pulley

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “Toyota (and Honda and Subarus for that matter) are better cars.”

        “YOU ARE STUPID TO BUY THESE POS s”

        Well, I guess it’s settled, then. Gimme a break.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Yeah, must be why there are tons of Hyundai and Kia models listed as Editors’ Choices by Car & Driver and nary a Toyota or Lexus model.

        • 0 avatar
          jh26036

          Editor’s pockets lined with H/K money

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            jh26036,

            “The DSG from VAG has been around for quite a long time. Longevity doesn’t appear to be a problem”

            Yea, they had them in the old Beetle. But they were failing and newer ones were failing. And they were expensive to repair. So, this is not a free longevity. People suffered.

            Actually, I read that there were issues with DCT in Tucsons.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      The new H/K engines do have multi-port injection.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        bd2,

        Lets just talk facts. Multiport is only available on 2L non-turbo engine. All others – GDI

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          He’s not wrong. All of the newest H/K engines are going to dual port injection and away from GDI. Check out the specs on the GV80.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            ajla,

            I went to Hyundai/Kia USA sites where looked at the engine specs. And 3.3 turbo and non-turbo are also GDI. I didn’t see one GV80. So, today, this is 95% GDI

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            Yes, the many of the current engines used by H/K/G are GDI. The engine family coming this year in the Genesis GV80, Sonata, Accent (and eventually all others others) is dual injected.

            https://thekoreancarblog.com/2019/10/23/hyundai-officialy-announces-
            2-5-t-gdi-3-5-t-gdi-3-0-diesel-and-8-dct-wet-transmission/

            Just be sure to update your comments accordingly once they come out.

        • 0 avatar
          Greg Hamilton

          Slavuta,
          How do you think the seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission will hold up? A similar setup in Ford products was a big headache.

          • 0 avatar
            slavuta

            Greg Hamilton,

            I don’t know. But if you look into history of these, it has been one major failure. And not only for Ford, but Acura, VW, etc. DCTs are famous for super quick shifts and this is why they found homes in supercars. VW decided to install them into regular cars and how did it work? Chrysler had big plans for it but cancelled.
            If history is anything they will start failing soon. Unless H/K found a design that is cheap enough to fit these into economy cars and will holdup at the same time.

          • 0 avatar
            SCE to AUX

            I believe the H/K design uses wet clutches, which is far better than Ford’s dry clutch design.

          • 0 avatar
            jh26036

            The DSG from VAG has been around for quite a long time. Longevity doesn’t appear to be a problem but cost to maintain is a concern when a normal auto doesn’t require much of anything while VW’s DSG needs a $200+ service every 40k miles.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    If it’s basically a Kona rebody, this thing is SMALL. We’re talking no-joke small, Chevy Trax small. They’ve done a commendable job taking the most awkward CUV size, the hi-top sneaker subcompact, and somehow making it look like a normal compact CUV — with, dare I say, one of the more handsome and sophisticated rear views of a CUV of any size. Applause.

    But this thing is selling for about $28.5 in top trim? Dude, that is a LOT of money for something this size. Sounds like it’s the best-driving thing in its class, if you pony up for the torquey turbo and quick-shifting DCT, but…yikes, getting top dollar for a small Kia might be a stretch. Especially when H/K hasn’t earned the best rep for its turbo engines (performing under rated HP due to improper assembly) or DCTs (I had one, don’t ask).

  • avatar
    probert

    The KIA awd w locking diffs is pretty good – I’ve driven a sportage in fairly tough conditions with no problems. Don’t know if this has it, but hill decent works well too.

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