I drive a compact SUV – known in the biz as a CUV – so I am primed to like other vehicles in the same category. The Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and, yes, the Kia Seltos are all in the same class as my Mazda CX-5, and they all price out similarly at around $30K. A good group to compare, and as I’m a big fan of the Kia vehicle line, I was delighted to have a chance to drive the brand new 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD for a week through some dicey weather. But I have to say up front that I liked the vehicle overall, but not so much the color.
Let me show you:
Kia calls this color “Starbright Yellow” but it’s just a bit too green for my tastes. Not a serious problem, of course, because there are many other color options for this vehicle, but an occasional swing and a miss with color choices is a way to bring to the fore just how tricky it is to get car colors right. There’s a reason that black, white and silver are the most popular: They’re safe. But Starbright Yellow? Not so much. 🙂
Okay, I know, starting out by complaining about the color is a bit questionable so let’s move forward. In fact there’s a lot to like about this sub-$30K CUV, starting with an entertainment system that featured some options I’ve never seen before to the comfortable seats, terrific highway performance, great styling and solid road handling.
Let’s have a closer look at the dashboard design:
You can see that it’s a pretty typical layout, with the side mirror adjustments and window controls on the driver’s door, a variety of useful shortcut buttons on the steering wheel, and a lot of entertainment options front and center. Below the entertainment cluster are environmental controls, and below that – behind the automatic gear shift – are two compartments, one for storage and another that features a Qi wireless charging platform. Yes, built in to the Seltos, and much appreciated!
The main gauge cluster has a classic, old school appeal:
Notice that there are three drive modes. That’s controlled by the round knob to the left of the gear shift. Also take note of the typical CUV fuel efficiency of 26.8 mpg. Personally in 2021 I would prefer to see vehicles in this class attaining mid-30’s per gallon, especially given that I drive more highway than city miles when I have a vehicle. A hybrid? An EV? Yes, but this is an internal combustion engine, a 1.6L turbo 4-cylinder, actually.
More on the drive experience in a bit. For now, I will say that I found the gauge layout quite functional and appreciated the digital speed readout in the ‘bump’ to the left of the traditional speedometer dial itself.
The entertainment system was, uhm, entertaining, for sure. Confusing and a bit baffling, but it sure has some interesting features!
Does your car have nature sounds on tap? Or a sound mood lighting system? I didn’t think so. Whether a car needs these things and whether it’s safe to have them engaged while actually driving is another story. Suffice to say I was sure startled when I pushed the MEDIA button and ended up hearing the sound of rainfall, even as the hidden LED dashboard lights flashed in syncopation. Curious.
Take a closer look at that row of buttons. Instead of a HOME button, the Kia engineers opted to have the STAR button to access favorites. But you can only actually access those favorites when you have a phone hooked up and connected via Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. Confusing as heck, and there’s also no easy way to get to the screen shown above without tapping a few times to navigate through the home features. To be fair, an owner will probably master the design after a few weeks. Still, while I appreciated the mood lighting and environmental sounds, the button options were definitely frustrating.
The area around the gear shift is loaded with buttons and features too. Seat warmers, 4WD lock, drive mode, there’s more to the Kia Seltos than you may think:
In this photo you can also see the DRIVE MODE knob on the upper left. That lets you step between Normal, Smart and Sport modes, though I didn’t find an appreciable difference in the ride or transmission shift points with this 7-speed quick-shift DCT automatic.
In fact, for a vehicle that boasts a turbocharger, I was frustrated with the drive experience. Consistently, going from first to second gear (coming up to speed on a merge from about 5-10 mph) was slow, far slower than I would have liked. In fact, without letting back on the gas to help the shift occur, I was able to rev the engine fairly high without actually going any faster as it insisted on staying in the low gear. In practice when you do want that burst of power to get up to speed on a merge, the Seltos disappointed. And yes, even in Sport mode it exhibited this behavior.
I asked a friend who is quite knowledgeable about Kia motor design and he was unsurprised by this drive experience, although he had hoped the turbo would offset it. Is this a show stopper for purchase? No. But you will need to learn how to compensate for this quirk if you opted to acquire the Seltos.
With that said, there are a lot of positives with the Kia Seltos too. For example, rear leg room:
Cargo space in the rear hatch was a bit small given the dimensions of the Seltos too, as you can see, but essentially the same as others in this class, certainly about the same as my Mazda CX-5:
Compensating for that, I really like when there’s an included cargo cover to retain privacy and security for whatever you do have in the back of your vehicle. Better yet, it’s not an additional cost add-on. Well played, Kia.
And a special nod to the unique design of their key fob. At first I was worried I’d accidentally push the buttons, but in fact it’s a great design, comfortable in the hand and easy to operate without looking:
At the end of the day, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives with the 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD. The entertainment system design and buttons are just something to get used to and while there’s that hiccup with low speed acceleration, the peppy, responsive drive experience once you are up to speed more than compensates. Definitely one to add to your CUV shortlist for consideration when you’re ready for your next purchase. Just have a close look at all the color options before you opt for Starbright Yellow! 🙂
CONFIGURATION: 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD with the S-Turbo 1.6L 4-Cylinder engine featuring a 7-speed Quick-Shift DCT Automatic transmission. Optional additional packages were the Starbright Yellow color upcharge and carpeted floor mats. BASE MSRP: $27,890.00. AS DRIVEN: $29,485.00.
Disclosure: Kia Motors loaned me the Seltos for a week in return for this writeup. Thanks, Kia!