2021 Kia Seltos First Drive - Its Venue Is Kona

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2021 kia seltos first drive its venue is kona

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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2 of 41 comments
  • HotPotato HotPotato on Feb 19, 2020

    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).

  • Probert Probert on Feb 22, 2020

    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.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.