First Drive: 2021 Kia Seltos Shows Good Things Come in Small Packages

New Seltos is a practical SUV, but there are some shortcomings

2020 Kia Seltos front driving

Update: Since this first drive was originally published in February 2020, we finished testing the Seltos.

See the complete Kia Seltos road test.

Kia adds another SUV choice to the mix with its new Seltos. At the time of this writing, we’ve driven the Seltos we bought over a thousand miles, shuffling it through the hands of Consumer Reports' auto engineers and editors, to gather our early impressions.

The Seltos slots between the Soul and the Sportage, where it competes with the Chevrolet TraxFord EcoSportHonda HR-VMazda CX-30Nissan Rogue Sport, and Subaru Crosstrek.

Both front- and all-wheel drive are offered as is the case with its sister vehicle, the Hyundai Kona.

Two engine choices are available: LX and EX trims get a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission that’s good for 146 hp. A turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 175-hp is optional on the S and standard on the SX.

Buyers need to trade up to the higher trims to get important safety gear, such as forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection.

After logging 2,000 break-in miles on the all-wheel-drive Seltos S model we purchased, it was run through more than 50 testsat our 327-acre Auto Test Center and out on the road. These tests included evaluations of acceleration, braking, fuel economy, handling, headlights, and controls.

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What we bought: 2021 Kia Seltos S AWD
Powertrain: 146-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine; continuously variable transmission; all-wheel drive
MSRP: $23,490
Options: $210 (floor mats, cargo tray)
Destination fee: $1,120
Total cost: $24,820

CR’s Take

Overall, the Seltos is good for tooling around town, but it is not an ideal long-distance highway runner. It works well in urban scenarios, where responsive handling and its small size are appreciated. But the stiff ride and noisy cabin become tiring on trips.

The Seltos makes for a nice first car, since it’s versatile yet not too expensive. The MSRP starts at $21,990 for the LX with AWD. We bought the next-higher trim, S, which starts at $23,490. (Destination charges added $1,120.) This version brings some nice trim updates, heated front seats, roof rails, upgraded lights, and several key safety features. Combined, these added features help make the Seltos easier to live with. 

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