2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD: An all-wheel-drive Almost-Soul?

Price: $29,485 as tested. Special paint, $345; carpeted floor mats, $130.

Marketer’s pitch: “Made to do more.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “spacious interior, sweet optional 10.3-inch infotainment, spry handling,” but not the “firm ride, seven-speed automatic hesitant at low speeds, driver-assistance features not standard.”

Reality: Maybe a Soul mate.

What’s new: The whole thing is new for 2021. This entry gives Kia a small, Soul-sized all-wheel-drive option.

It’s a growing segment. Last week, Buick asked us to spend close to $35,000 for a slightly expanded Encore GX. So how does the new Kia unit compare?

Up to speed: Acceleration is peppy, getting to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, according to Motor Trend. That’s pretty good for the class of vehicle, but the Seltos didn’t offer the kind of lively hillclimbing and other driving power that seemed more evident in the Encore GX.

The SX Turbo is powered by a 175-horsepower 1.6-liter turbo four that makes 195 pound-feet of torque. (A 2.0-liter four pushing 146 horses with a CVT is standard.)

Transmission: The seven-speed dual-clutch balks as much in the Seltos as it has in other Kias. Standing starts in stop-and-go traffic can be a little rough.

Sport mode clears it up. But there it holds gears a long time; I found shift mode with Sport turned on was the best match.

But I’m still troubled by all the jolts, while starting out and even while shifting in the other modes. It felt like I was driving a stick, if I were 16 and thought I could figure out how to drive a stick. (True story.)

On the road: The Seltos handles nicely on the curves, especially in Sport mode. It’s Kia fun — not a lot of zig, but it slips around the curves and really goes where you point it. But like small Kia boxes (I’m glaring at you, Soul), the Seltos provides far too much information about each highway seam and bumpy stretch.

And, in fact, the Soul has gotten much better at this portion of the exam — Sturgis Kid 3.0 now has her own 2020 model — so the Seltos is more like the old Soul.

The interior of the 2021 Kia Seltos lands somewhere between the funky Soul and the Spartan Niro.
Kia
The interior of the 2021 Kia Seltos lands somewhere between the funky Soul and the Spartan Niro.

Driver’s Seat: Kia offers really nice touches on the dashboard and in the gauges. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat couldn’t keep her hands off the glovebox area, running them over it every time she sat down. The stitching and design are attractive, not quite as nice as the Soul but not as boring as the Niro.

The Driver’s Seat in the SX Turbo is comfortable and not too snug. Ebony screens and trims are a nice touch at this price point. The speedometer also featured a nice digital speed readout.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat room is OK, and the seat is comfortable, but headroom and legroom are a bit more snug than the Soul.

The Sofino black leather interior provides a feel as nice and attractive as the dashboard and the rest of the interior. And despite the snug fit, the rear seat provides comfort, another bonus in this low-end price point.

Cargo space is 62.8 with the rear seat folding, and 26.6 with the seat up, so fairly Soul-sized.

Play some tunes: I’m with Car and Driver — I’m impressed by the 10.3-inch touchscreen, which is almost Lexus level.

The Bose Premium audio provides a really nice sound experience, about an A-.

The Seltos benefits from the usual Kia interface. Knobs control volume and tuning, while everything else is in the touchscreen. Buttons across the bottom allow you to leap from mode to mode without confusion.

Keeping warm and cool: Buttons allow you to choose where the air blows and how fast. A dial controls temperature.

Vents are horizontal in the middle and sculpted on the outboard. Not great for directing airflow.

Night shift: Lights are subtle but helpful. Never did get the Seltos out in the dark though.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 24 mpg in the usual range of socially distant testing. Feed the Seltos whatever.

Where it’s built: Gwangju, South Korea

How it’s built: Consumer Reports foresees a reliability rating of 3 out of 5.

In the end: This is a fun little vehicle, but the shaky transmission really gives both Mr. Driver’s Seat and the Seltos some hesitation.