2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD Review - Routine Competence

Fast Facts

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD Fast Facts

1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (175 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 195 lb-ft @ 1,500-4,500 rpm)
Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, all-wheel drive
25 city / 30 highway / 27 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
9.4 city, 7.9 highway, 8.7 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price
$25,490 (U.S) / N/A (Canada)
As Tested
$26,740 (U.S.) / N/A (Canada)
Prices include $1,120 destination charge in the United States and N/A for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can't be directly compared. This trim is not available in Canada.
2021 kia seltos s turbo awd review routine competence

Kia’s little Seltos urban runabout has been getting plaudits from pundits since the first drives took place last year, right before the world shut down.

Those plaudits are well earned. The Seltos isn’t spectacular, but it does what its asked of it. And while we review plenty of cars/utility vehicles/trucks around these parts that do way more than what’s necessary – seriously, the last three reviews are of two utes and a coupe of the high-performance variety – the average vehicle buyer, particularly the one without a large bank account, only really needs a car that does what’s asked of it. Competently.

That’s the Seltos. It won’t turn heads, and it probably won’t impress your friends, unless they care about practicality at a good price. But it’s no depression box. You won’t feel depressed to see it in your driveway.

Let’s start with the styling. Kia’s done what it could to jazz up the basic boxy shape common to subcompact utilities. The headlights curve nicely into the front fenders, the grille and fascia give an air of sport, and the line sweeping up towards the D-pillar does the same. The rear isn’t quite as attractive – creases that seem unnecessary spoil the look – but the Seltos does stand out in the sea of crossovers. Mostly in a good way.

[Get Kia Seltos pricing here!]

Inside, the controls are laid out in a simple manner, with Kia clearly worrying more about function than form, especially in the S trim – which doesn’t have the nicer HVAC system of the SX trim I drove on the first-drive event last year. The ever-annoying floating infotainment screen rears its ugly head here, sadly.

S trims can be had with either the 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes either 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque or the 1.6-liter turbo four that puts out 175 ponies and 195 lb-ft. Kia sent me the latter for evaluation. This version has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive with a center-locking differential.

On the road, the Seltos is just … fine. It has enough power for the urban cut-and-thrust, but it will blow no one’s doors off. The ride is a bit stiff, but still more or less smooth. You do get steering feel that’s a tad light and artificial, but the Seltos still handles well for it is. It’s no corner carver, but it’s engaging enough dynamically to stave off boredom. The suspension is MacPherson strut up front and multilink in the rear, with gas shocks.

The biggest downside is some excess noise – a bit more refinement would be appreciated in this trim. The S turbo just felt a tad less refined the SX I drove in Texas, and the materials felt downmarket, comparatively. If you care about material look and feel, spring for the SX. You’ll have to, anyway, to get certain features, such as automatic climate control.

Or a push-button start – the S Turbo has an actual key. Remember those?

So what features do you get? You get selectable drive modes, automatic stop/start, Kia’s Drivewise driver-aid tech (forward collision-avoidance assist pedestrian, lane-following assist, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, driver-attention warning, high-beam assist), downhill brake control/hill-start assist, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, rearview-camera, USB port, heated front seats, leatherette/cloth combined seating trim, remote keyless entry, tilt/telescope steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth, dual-level cargo floor, 60/40 split-fold reclining rear seats, 17-inch wheels, roof rails, integrated grille LED light bar, LED daytime running lights and taillights, fog lamps, rear spoiler, and heated power sideview mirrors.

Choosing the S Turbo trim gets you the turbo engine (duh), the seven-speed dual clutch auto, 18-inch wheels, AWD, blind-spot collision warning, blind-spot collision-avoidance assist rear, rear cross-traffic collision warning, and rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist. Since the S Turbo is a trim level, this all replaces the S AWD equipment and is included in the base price. The only option on my tester was the carpeted floor mats at $130.

With that option and the $1,120 destination fee, the total out-the-door price was $26,740.

I’d probably spend a couple grand more to bring home an SX Turbo if I was intent on buying the Seltos – the SX has a nicer cabin and offers more content, including nav and satellite radio. Most importantly, it’s a more refined ride.

That said, the S Turbo AWD is perfectly competent, and if you can live without certain features and with a bit of roughness around the edges (but only a bit) – it’s perfectly acceptable.

If competence is all you need, this version of the Seltos fits the bill, and still provides some pizazz. Let those with slightly fatter wallets get the best Seltos. You, the discerning shopper, will be just fine with this one.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

Join the conversation
4 of 40 comments
  • Agroal Agroal on Jan 27, 2021

    The Mazda CX-30 is the best looking overall sub-compact crossover. The interior rivals Audi and other premium brands.

    • See 1 previous
    • Daveo Daveo on Jan 27, 2021

      Those huge plastic wheel arches kill the CX-30 for me.

  • Lightspeed Lightspeed on Jan 28, 2021

    Knowing that kids will grow up riding in the back of these while buried in an iPad, I am glad to have experienced riding in the back of my dad's 1965 Mercury Marauder hardtop with the windows all the way down and putting my arm on the windowsill just like dad was doing from the driver's seat (yes I was sitting up on my knees in order to do that)

  • Kurkosdr Someone should tell the Alfa Romeo people that they are a badge owned by a French company now.The main reason PSA bought FiatChrysler is that PSA has the technology to enter the luxury market but customers don't want a French luxury car for psychological/mindshare reasons. FiatChrysler has the opposite problem: they have lots of still-respected brands but not always the technology to make good cars. Not to say that if FCA has a good platform, it won't be used in a PSA car.In other words, if those Alfa Romeo buds think that they will remain a silo with their own bespoke platforms and exclusive sheet metal, they are in for a shock. This is just the start.
  • Arthur Dailey For the Hornet less expensive interior materials/finishings, decontent just a little, build it in North America and sell it for less and everyone should be happy with both the Dodge and the Alfa.
  • Bunkie I so wanted to love this car back in the day. At the time I owned a GT6+ and I was looking for something more modern. But, as they say, this car had *issues*. The first of which was the very high price premium for the V8. It was a several thousand dollar premium over the TR-7. The second was the absolutely awful fuel economy. That put me off the car and I bought a new RX-7 which, despite the thirsty rotary, still got better mileage and didn’t require premium fuel. I guess I wasn’t the only one who had this reaction because, two years later, I test-drove a leftover that had a $2,000 price cut. I don’t remember being impressed, the RX-7 had spoiled me with how easy it was to own. The TR-8 didn’t feel quick to me and it felt heavy. The first-gen RX was more in line with the idea of a light car that punched above its weight. I parted ways with both the GT6+ and the RX7 and, to this day, I miss them both.
  • Fred Where you going to build it? Even in Texas near Cat Springs they wanted to put up a country club for sport cars. People complained, mostly rich people who had weekend hobby farms. They said the noise would scare their cows. So they ended up in Dickinson, where they were more eager for development of any kind.
  • MaintenanceCosts I like the styling of this car inside and out, but not any of the powertrains. Give it the 4xe powertrain - or, better yet, a version of that powertrain with the 6-cylinder Hurricane - and I'd be very interested.