2021 Kia Seltos

Performance


2021 Kia Seltos Performance Review

Scorecard

Performance: 7.4

The 2021 Seltos gets great fuel economy, but neither of its available engines provide swift acceleration. The optional turbo engine provides more oomph, but it's paired with an unrefined dual-clutch automatic transmission. Handling receives mixed reviews.

  • The Seltos is as quiet and smooth as anything else in the segment, but the powertrain could be improved. The Seltos can feel gutless in certain driving situations thanks to an engine that doesn't come alive until the middle of its rev range and a transmission that's always a couple of gears too high." -- CNET
  • "Regardless of engine, the Seltos has a compliant and confident ride. While its size makes it a star in the city, we wouldn’t hesitate to take it on a longer trip." -- Kelley Blue Book
  • "When the roads get twistier, the Seltos behaves less like the Soul that inspired it and more like the crossover that it is. It exhibits more perceptible body roll in the corners, and its tires are clearly intended to foster efficiency rather than sporty dynamics. This may read like a lukewarm appraisal, but we actually found the Seltos quite pleasant to drive." -- Autoblog

Acceleration and Power

The Seltos comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) is standard. Acceleration is smooth from a stop, and the CVT feels efficient and refined. However, the Seltos can struggle to get up to higher speeds.

The optional engine is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 175 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It's mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. While more powerful, this combination suffers from an inconsistent and hesitant transmission.

With the base engine and front-wheel drive, the Seltos gets an EPA-estimated 29 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway, which are excellent figures for a subcompact SUV. With the base engine and all-wheel drive, the Seltos gets 27 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. Models with the turbocharged engine return 25/30 mpg city/highway.

  • While the lower-power option isn't slow necessarily, it does run out of grunt noticeably sooner on the freeway, particular when it comes time to overtaking another car. The more powerful choice is the right one for us, even though the peppier powertrain isn't as smooth at low speeds, and shifts seem to be a little slower than you would expect from a dual-clutch transmission." -- Automobile Magazine
  • The turbo lags a beat or two from a start, then kicks in with force faster than you can back off. And the seven-speed had occasional lapses on downshifts, sometimes hesitating even at partial throttle and, when pressed harder, pulling two pronounced downshifts to find the appropriate gear. … The base powertrain might better suit many buyers." -- Cars.com
  • While Kia's dual-clutch automatic still doesn't operate as crisply as some examples, it calls little attention to itself and generally does an admirable job of making the most of the 1.6-liter's output. However, we did notice an occasional clunky shift at stop-and-go speeds." -- Car and Driver

Handling and Braking

Steering response and ride quality are a bit of a mixed bag with the Seltos. Some critics think this Kia provides a good amount of steering feedback, while others say the steering is dull. Also, the Seltos can ride a little stiffly.

  • "Steering and handling in the Seltos are also mildly disappointing. …The steering wheel is poorly weighted, and there isn't any real feedback for the driver. What's more, body lean as you go around a turn is more pronounced." -- Edmunds
  • "Cornering grip is perfectly reasonable for a small crossover SUV like the Seltos and the suspension keeps excessive body roll at bay, even when you get spirited on a curvy road. And, critically, steering is appropriately weighted and delivers consistent and precise motions. Braking performance satisfies, as well." -- Autoweek
  • The first thing I noticed is how well the steering was weighted on the SX 1.6-liter turbo. There's such responsive feedback and balance that the Seltos can challenge Mazda for the best-handling small SUV title. … Unfortunately, only the 1.6-liter has that steering feeling. We had a chance to briefly drive the base 2.0-liter and didn't notice the same kind of balance, feedback, or weight that we saw on the SX 1.6." -- Motor Trend

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