2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD Review - Routine Competence

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
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.

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]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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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)

  • Daniel J Alabama is a right to work state so I'd be interested in how this plays out. If a plant in Alabama unionized, there are many workers who's still oppose joining and can work.
  • ToolGuy This guest was pretty interesting.
  • NJRide So this is an average age of car to be junked now and of course this is a lower end (and now semi-orphaned) product. But street examples seem to still be worth 2500? So are cars getting junked only coming in because of a traumatic repair? If not it seems a lot of cars being junked that would still possibly worth more than scrap.Also Murilee I remember your Taurus article way back what is the king of the junkyard in 2024?
  • AMcA I applaud Toyota for getting away from the TRD performance name. TuRD. This is another great example of "if they'd just thought to preview the name with a 13 year old boy."
  • Jeff Does this really surprise anyone? How about the shoes and the clothes you wear. Anything you can think of that is either directly made in China or has components made in China likely has some slave labor involved. The very smart phone, tablet, and laptop you are using probably has some component in it that is either mined or made by slave labor. Not endorsing slave labor just trying to be real.