2021 Kia Seltos rolls style and value into a subcompact package

Ronan Glon

When Kia unveiled the Seltos, a pocket-sized crossover aimed at young buyers, it didn't reveal whether we'd see the model in the United States. The wait is over, and the American-spec variant of the soft-roader made its debut next to the updated Kia Niro at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Named after Celtos, the son of Hercules, the Seltos falls in line with Kia's recent design language without aping styling cues from a bigger model. Flanked by swept-back headlights, the upright grille flows into a hood that's surprisingly tall and long considering the car's relatively small dimensions. The Seltos was developed with urban use in mind, but it can tackle light off-roading thanks in part to an angled front bumper that increases its approach angle, and 7.2 inches of ground clearance.

Kia explained it paid special attention to the materials the passengers see and touch, and it made the cabin as spacious as possible. It promised an abundance of cargo space, though it didn't provide specific figures, and noted every trim level comes with reclining rear seats.

Buyers have a pair of four-cylinder engines to choose from. The entry-level unit is a naturally-aspirated, 2.0-liter that delivers 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) come standard, and all-wheel drive is available at an extra cost. Motorists seeking more power can move up the trim level hierarchy to unlock a 1.6-liter turbocharged to 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It's also offered with front- or all-wheel drive, but it channels its power to the driven wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.

While Hercules' lineage allegedly includes several Spartans, the Seltos is anything but. It comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, and it's the first Kia offered with an optional, eight-speaker surround-sound system sourced from Bosch. Fully loaded, it features a blind spot monitoring system with a collision avoidance function, forward collision monitoring with avoidance assist, highway driving assist, adaptive cruise control, rear occupant alert, plus lane-keeping and lane-following technologies that help it stay in its lane, among other electronic driving aids. 

Scheduled to go on sale during the first quarter of 2020, the Seltos will slot between the Soul and the Sportage in Kia's growing range of soft-roaders. The lineup will consist of five trim levels named LX, EX, S 2.0L, S 1.6T, and SX, respectively. Full pricing hasn't been announced yet, but Kia noted the all-wheel drive variant of the LX and the front-wheel drive S will both start under $22,000.

[slideshow id='2187138']

Kia welcomed the Seltos to its range by showing a pair of concepts named X-Line Trail Attack and X-Line Urban, respectively, alongside the regular-production model. Both capitalizing on the growing popularity of off-roaders with a custom-built look that would have fit right in at the SEMA show

The South Korean company quickly stressed both concepts were designed and built to serve as auto show eye candy, not to preview upcoming additions to the Seltos family. And, oddly, it also pointed out it originally didn't plan to turn the GT and Telluride concepts into production models, yet both are in its portfolio as of 2019. In other words: stay tuned if you like what you see.