On the Road 4/17: 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD

2021 Seltos
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2021 Seltos

By Peter Perrotta

Back in 2003, when I was a fledgling Honda car salesman, Honda introduced a radical new boxy-styled SUV model called the Element.

It was designed to appeal to active lifestyle Gen X’ers who enjoyed camping, hiking, skiing, skateboarding, rock climbing or anything else that might muddy up your car.

It had washable seats, urethane floors – so you could hose it down – removable back seats and an attachable camper you could zip into the tailgate so you could sleep in it.

The problem was, despite the cool commercials depicting hip music and edgy scenes, it never quite caught on with that Gen X crowd. By 2011, Honda laid the Element to rest.
Fast forward to today.

Kia, an increasingly popular South Korean car maker, is introducing an all new model – the 2021 Kia Seltos – designed to appeal to the active millennial crowd and youthful, tech-savvy buyers as well.

I recently test drove the neat looking, sub-compact, SUV crossover for one week and came away quite impressed – overall – with this new model. While not flawless, there is a lot to like in this new model Kia will now sandwich between the boxy Sole and stylish Sportage.

The big question, though, remains to be seen. Will this new model attract the demographic buyer Kia is looking to capture? Or, will it go the way of the swing and miss Element.

Obviously, it’s too soon to tell.

However, if recent success for Kia is any judge, it may well hit a home run with this vehicle, or at least maybe a triple.

In 2020, Kia introduced the highly sought after and critically acclaimed Telluride, a full- sized SUV. This vehicle has been a smash hit, so far. It is sold out at most dealerships and is even commanding over sticker prices in some regions.

Will the Seltos be Kia’s next hot car?

Possibly. But first, we have to figure out what a Seltos is.

The Seltos gets its name from the son of the Roman mythological God Hercules, who was named Celtos, who later became the father of the Celtics.

As the legend goes, Celtos’ mother was a princess named Celtine, who Hercules encountered while herding cattle on her father’s farm.

The Seltos, which is currently available at your local Kia dealerships, is offered in 6 different models: the entry level LX 2.0 liter AWD; S 2.0 liter FWD; S 2.0 liter AWD; EX 2.0 liter AWD; S 1.6 liter turbo AWD and the SX 1.6 liter turbo AWD.

I tested the top-of-the line SX 1.6 turbo AWD that carries a base price of $27,890. The entry level LX 2.0 liter AWD has a base price of $21,900.

The final MSRP sticker price of my tester came in at $29,485 – added options included $345 for the Starbright Yellow/ black roof paint; $130 for carpeted floor mats and $1,120 for destination and delivery.

The models featuring the 2.0 liter, 4 cylinder engine produce 146 horsepower at 132 pound feet of torque. My tester’s 1.6 liter, 4 cylinder turbo engine put out 175 horsepower at 195 pound feet of torque.

The 2.0 liter engines get the Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) , which are similar to the CVT (continuously variable transmission) in that they have one continuous gear.

The 1.6 liter turbo engines are married with a more traditional, 7-speed, dual clutch transmission.

Some of the early reviews of the SX Turbo Seltos have criticized the performance of the engine, transmission combination saying that it produces an uneven upshifting and downshifting feel.

I can’t say that I totally agree with these critiques. What, I did find was that this Seltos is no speed burner, if that’s what you are looking for.

I found that the 1.6 liter turbo supplied adequate power for aggressive lane changes and highway passings, but it didn’t blow me away with its firepower.

It has three drive mode selections – that control the powertrain, drivetrain and steering – normal, smart and sport. You get a rather average drive in the normal mode, so I found myself reaching for the sport mode choice on most drives.

I was more impressed with the handling and steering. The Seltos is a utility player, able to adapt to smooth highway driving, city driving or off-road adventures – it has a locking differential – rather easily. The steering is precise and the ride quality is impressive.

The Seltos is comfortable, as well. There is plenty of room, front and back.
Moreover, with the second row seats folded down, it had an impressive amount of cargo room. I was easily able to load my bike in and out without much struggle at all.

The EPA fuel economy ratings for this vehicle are 27 miles per gallon (MPG) overall – 25 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway.

The average annual fuel cost is estimated at $1,500. It uses about 3.7 gallons of fuel per every 100 miles driven.

This vehicle has not been crash test rated for the government’s 5-star safety ratings yet.
Stylistically, I feel this Seltos has the potential to be a winner. It has an aggressive edgy stance and looks like its ready to rumble.

“This is a pretty cool looking car, Dad,” my 21-year-old son said when he first saw it.

The interior of the SX Turbo is nicely designed and it comes chock full of standard features.

Standard features include: 8-inch touch screen infotainment system with navigation, Android auto and Apple carplay; a Bose premium audio system; heated front seats; 10-way power driver’s front seat; 18-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, fog lamps; Kia Drivewise, driver assist technology package and a lot more.

If you are looking into a sub-compact, crossover SUV – while it’s a crowded field these days – one would be remiss not to consider this brand new Seltos.

Peter Perrotta’s On The Road column appears weekly. Comments or questions are welcome. You can reach him by email at peter@capitalmotorcars.com.