By on January 26, 2021

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD

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.

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD

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.

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD

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.

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD

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.

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD

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.

2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD


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]

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40 Comments on “2021 Kia Seltos S Turbo AWD Review – Routine Competence...”

  • avatar

    This is the most damning with faint praise review I’ve ever read.

    • 0 avatar

      So the car is good, not brilliant. That’s what a lot of people out there are looking for. Granted, they aren’t the types who comment on Internet blogs, where brilliance is absolutely demanded just to be barely acceptable. Then again, those customers are willing to buy new from a dealer. Unlike blog commenters who demand their piece of brilliance be three years old so someone else takes the depreciation hit.

      • 0 avatar

        He said “fine” and “competent” and “acceptable”. It seems like some of Kia’s other recent offerings are better and get much closer to “brilliance”.

        “Then again, those customers are willing to buy new from a dealer”

        Lol. Ok bud. What’s in my garage right now?

        • 0 avatar

          Maybe. But some segments allow cars to shine more than others. The K5 shines but over the decades cars in that segment have managed to stand out from time to time. But in the Seltos’ segment, which are the standouts? Maybe the CX-30 but how many people are buying that? The Crosstrek may be better but does it represent “brilliance?”

      • 0 avatar
        CKNSLS Sierra SLT


        Your post is very accurate. You forgot to mention the “commenters” also demand every vehicle should come with an option for a manual transmission, and be “body on frame” like a Crown Vic or other dinosaur, that nobody would buy outside of these blogs. Kind of a limited market.

      • 0 avatar

        Or internet commenter rules are that the discounts have to be deep to buy a car new. It could be exactly every thing you want, but the manufacturer had to lose a ton of money for the privilege of selling the car. Internet commenter is then incensed that the manufacturer no longer builds what they want.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      Syke sums it up below. This is a great car for the commuter. For those of us who want something really special, not so much. But does your non-car-loving neighbor care?

      I also was disappointed that the S Turbo felt so downmarket compared to the SX Turbo. I’d definitely spend the $2-$3K more on the SX Turbo.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      And certainly, I would recommend the Seltos to people shopping in this class. It’s not a bad vehicle. It’s good in many ways. But “good” is relative. If you want luxury or performance, look elsewhere. If you want utility with some sport, a vehicle that does things well without being spectacular, Seltos fits the bill.

  • avatar

    It’s a baby Telluride!

    • 0 avatar

      No one knows what a Selto is, but apparently, if you buy a Kia, you get at least two of them.
      I don’t see any reason to pick this vehicle over anything else in its price range. Maybe Kia will have particularly good financing available, or nicer-than-average paint colors. It looks kind of like a blob – useful, but with very little personality.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I like the Seltos from a distance, but my one gripe is the fuel economy. 30 MPG highway can be found in larger vehicles, and doesn’t seem like progress compared to the CUVs of 2011.

    As for the Seltos, I think I’d go for the cheaper 2-liter version ($26k seems high for this box), or consider the Hyundai Venue or Nissan Kicks instead.

    And I’m not sure why Kia is selling the Seltos and the Soul side-by-side.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      The same reason Chevrolet sold the Cavalier and Corsica side-by-side in the 90s. The crossover market is big enough to support multiple products in the same basic size segment. As it stands, the Seltos (along with the Rogue Sport, Trailblazer and Encore GX) are part of a recent so-called subcompact-plus crossover segment, and so are marginally larger than subcompact crossovers like the Soul. And it can also be had with AWD.

  • avatar

    Anyone else wildly put off by it not having a push button start? I know how dumb I sound but a key? Really?

  • avatar

    “You won’t feel depressed to see it in your driveway.”

    I would if I had to look at that ugly front end every day.

  • avatar

    “You won’t feel depressed to see it in your driveway.”

    A driveway and a car this small are mutually exclusive.

  • avatar

    I’ve looked at this but as is becoming typical, anything better than the base trims forces you into AWD, which I don’t need or want, and the color and feature selections are also limiting.

  • avatar

    Tell you what, it looks different to other crossovers and not in a hideous, Cadillac way, so that’s a plus. The LED front light signature really stands out at night.

    I do like the front, though the back is a bit Encore-y. But consider this, it’s easily better than all three of the BDB candidates yesterday, for the same money.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    OK, so I am throwing this out to the B&B. I intend on replacing one of my vehicles between now and the end of March when its lease expires.

    This will be a pre-retirement vehicle and retirement vehicle.
    Used primarily for me to commute until such time as I stop working.
    After that as a grocery getter, runaround etc.

    Must haves according to my wife, no manual, heated seats, 6 way adjustable driver seat, high seating position and ability to carry a grandchild and their seat etc.

    If I purchase rather than lease expect to keep it for a minimum of 10 years.
    And I am still concerned about the long term reliability of CVTs.
    And I do not want to spend more than $30k Canadian tax in.

    So what have I considered? Honda CR-V, too expensive ? Honda HR-V, terrible reviews. Chevy Trax, terrible reviews. Toyota RAV-4, too expensive? Mazda CX-30, is the back too cramped? Subaru Crosstrek. Kia Seltos. Kia Soul. Kia Niro (too expensive?). Hyundai Kona. And of all things a Dodge Grand Caravan.

    The Caravan actually ticks all of my ‘want’ boxes. And it is big enough and heavy enough to use as our primary vehicle instead of being the secondary vehicle. But having previously had multiple Caravans, I have worries about their longterm reliability and maintenance requirements.

    So what do you all think?

    • 0 avatar
      Arthur Dailey

      Recommendations/input please?
      And if I was leasing, hands down my first choice would be a Nissan Rogue. Lots of room, relatively quiet and good pricing.

      • 0 avatar

        Interesting post. I am at a similar research point, except I am already retired, and my wife is not concerned about backseat space for a grandkid (or anyone else). Looking for a second vehicle to replace my 2010 Venza for every day errands, cargo capacity, maybe a longish trip from time to time. Nimble handling for city/in town driving. Prefer AWD for those times I absolutely have to drive in crappy weather. My main car for trips is a 2015 Sonata that is a great road car and should last for another 4 years doing just that.

        After a lot of research, I originally arrived at the following options: Seltos, CX-30, Kona, Crosstrek. Any of these would be in the $25,000 to $27,000 range, comparably spec’d. Each vehicle has pros and cons. Went back and forth on it for about a month, with no clear conclusion.

        However, am now strongly considering a CX-5 Touring with a package that adds the extras I want, and spec price is just at $30K. For a couple $K extra, this would give me a vehicle that could do double duty as a daily driver and a trip vehicle when necessary. When the pandemic eases a bit, I plan to get serious about checking out my options, particularly the CX-5. Not sure if this is helpful or not, but your question sounds a lot like my thought process.

      • 0 avatar

        We’re all different, so our preferences will be different. I test-drove a Rogue about 5-6 years ago, found it to be about the most boring car I’ve ever driven. I believe it has a CVT, as well.

        My daughter bought a Kia Niro about a year ago. It’s a lot of car for the money, and as a hybrid it gets great gas mileage. Hatchback, so very practical. When I share the back seat with my granddaughter in her car sea, it’s still pretty roomy.

        I can’t speak to how it’s priced in Canada, but I’d say it’s well worth a look.

    • 0 avatar

      The Soul, Seltos, and Crosstrek do not offer conventional automatics. It is either manual, CVT, or DCT.

      Anyway, my thoughts:
      1. Encore (this might as well be named the Buick Retirement Grocery Runabout)
      2. CX-30 (no turbo, conventional 6A, nice materials but you might find the ergonomics kind of weird)
      3. Kona 2.0L (does have a conventional auto for now but feels a bit cheaper than the Mazda or Buick)

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        @Ajla: Thanks that is exactly the type of feedback/comments/information that I am hoping for.

        1) Isn’t the Buick just another lousy Trax but with a better interior?
        2) Are DCTs more robust and long lived than CVTs?
        3) Are all CVT’s made of glass or just older Jatcos?
        4) The Dodge pentastar powertrain has earned good reports but is the rest of the Caravan including the electrics and water pumps still prone to premature problems?

        Strange so many complain about ‘political’ postings here but you post something political and get multiple replies. Post a legitimate auto question and ……. crickets.

        And we wonder why we see ‘clickbait’ or political columns?

        • 0 avatar

          1) I’ve never driven a Trax but although they do share the same platform and drivetrain the Encore has active noise cancellation, laminated glass, and additional sound deadening material in the headliner/structure. The Buick also rides a little higher and has different suspension components. And a nicer interior.

          2) I’d say if you are worried about CVT longevity then avoid “budget” DCTs as well.

          3) Only Nissan has really been using CVTs long enough to get a decent amount of data. Personally, I didn’t care for Subaru’s CVT behavior but thought Toyota’s latest “direct-shift CVT” was great. Unfortunately, you’d have to go to a Corolla XSE to get it and the features you want. But it is a sedan and near the top of your budget.

          4) I’d think on the Caravan the key is to go more basic. Avoid the power doors, and power folding seats and 4-zone climate control, etc. That’s the stuff that seems to cause heartache.

    • 0 avatar

      Tesla 3 or Y.

    • 0 avatar

      While my car was being serviced, I had a loaner VW Tiguan for a week and came away impressed. The “S” base model is a bit basic, but it ticks all of your boxes and has a large, square cargo area in the back. The back seat is also roomy for its class. I was easily getting 30mpg on the highway (this is the FWD trim), the 8-speed automatic was very smooth, the ride was firm but not harsh, simple gauges (no distractions) and infotainment, and rode high enough to give you the SUV look. This normally isn’t the class of car I go towards, but it was good enough for me to recommend it to my sister and brother-in-law who are looking for something to replace their leased Audi in a few months.

      But there’s the elephant in the room. Why did I have a loaner after just getting a new car? Total wiper system failure at 1,800 miles. Downpour + sudden wiper system failure on the interstate = sheer terror. It must happen enough to where the message screen on my dash lit up and read the failure message! One week of waiting for an entire new wiper system (sensor and motor) to be ordered and installed. There are the VAG gremlins that always seem to lurk, but that being said, with all of the tech crammed into even the cheapest cars, not many cars are considered perfect these days.

      It also came with Giti Tires – a brand I had never heard of until I did some research on them – not sure how good they are in terms of long-term quality.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        Thanks to all, so far and please I would appreciate more comments/suggestions. @amwhalbi and I appear to share the same approach and requirements.

        Normally I would relish the opportunity to ‘car shop’ But being in a ‘health compromised’ situation I would rather not. Which would seem to constrain my purchase to ‘what I know’.

        I have previously purchased/leased/acquired over 3 dozen vehicles without test driving them. But after renting a Kia Optima which I could not drive due to the position of the head rest, I would now not purchase vehicle without first at least taking it for a quick ‘spin’.

        If leasing the reason that I would select a Rogue is a) the back seat and hatch have perhaps class leading size, b) the front seats are extremely comfortable, c) the ride is acceptably smooth and quiet, d) the fuel consumption is very good, e) it is priced ‘better’ than its other Japanese competitors, and f) surprisingly the service department/dealer has been very easy to deal with.

        However the reason I would lease rather than purchase a Rogue is the Jatco CVT. Is that still an issue? I will never tow with it. Will probably never load it to maximum capacity. Will rarely drive it in stop and go ‘rush hour’ traffic and certainly will never ‘race’ it. The majority of its miles will be on the highway in ‘eco’ mode. And it would be maintained according to the manufacturer’s schedule. So would a Jatco CVT be prone to premature failure with that type of use.

        After having transmissions fail in 3 Grand Caravans and a Grand Cherokee, I am somewhat ‘gun shy’ regarding transmission failure. To such an extent that a previously ordered a MT sedan which I recently traded after just under 10 years and over 220,000kms (140,000 miles?) and whose original clutch still felt and worked ‘like new’.

      • 0 avatar

        I had never heard of Giti tires. Wikipedia, however, informs us that:

        “In February 2016, Giti was named Automotive Supplier of the Year and Hardlines Supplier of the Year by Walmart USA.”

        Hey, if Walmart likes them, then they must be good enough for Volkswagen!

  • avatar

    I don’t believe I would want the potential major liability of a DCT and/or turbo *in a car like this.* A conventional automatic and natural aspiration (along with port-injection) would be more sensible – unless you’re just leasing for 3 years and don’t care about long-term maintenance and repair costs.

  • avatar

    One of the better looking ones in the segment, but always annoys me when there’s one behind me and I see the LED bright white daytime running lights and the yellow-ish halogen headlights below it. Super cheap looking and tacky.

  • avatar

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

    • 0 avatar

      The answer to the question “what should I buy” goes beyond a list of features. Everyone’s preferences in a vehicle are so personal that no one can tell them which vehicle is best.
      Best advice: put in a few hours on the Internet researching cars in your price range that have the features you want. Check Edmunds for owner’s reviews. Look up reliability rankings on Consumer Reports.
      Then buy the one that the dealership has in stock because your wife likes the color.

    • 0 avatar

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

  • avatar

    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)

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