We get it, the tag SUV sounds way more appealing and purer than a crossover.
Engine: 1.6L I4 Turbo
Output: 175 hp, 195 lb-ft
Transmission: 7DCT, AWD
US fuel economy (MPG): 25/30/27
CAN fuel economy (L/100KM): 9.4 / 7.9/ 8.7
Starting Price (USD): $23,110 (inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (USD): $29,710 (est, inc. dest.)
Starting Price (CAD): $24,790 (inc. dest.)
As-Tested Price (CAD): $34,390 (inc. dest.)
A pure-bred German Shepherd will always be worth bragging about compared to a retriever/shepherd mix no matter how cute it looks. The Kia Seltos is one such crossover. It comes with AWD and despite its compact size, looks like a proper two-box SUV.
But things take a different turn when you move up the model lineup to the Turbos. The one we got for the test was the 2021 Kia Seltos Turbo SX, the top trim on the Seltos lineup. It is the sportier trim with a more powerful engine, a different suspension setup, more exclusive features and a more striking color scheme. Historically, when most manufacturers insisting on building sporty SUVs, it doesn’t go as planned. But I had faith in Kia to get it right. Was I wrong?
Same Same But Different…
The 2021 Kia Seltos Turbo is the second Seltos we’ve had over the last couple of months, and though the cabin is a familiar place to be, there are a few key differences. The biggest difference is the 10.25-inch infotainment screen which sits in the middle of the center dash. The giant screen (relative to the segment) offers crisp visuals with great resolution. The touch operation is smooth and responsive, and the physical buttons help in operation while on the move.
But the UI of the UVO system, while almost infinitely customizable is also far from intuitive. The learning curve was quite sharp for me. But it is something a buyer will eventually get used to and quite enjoy. Plus, the Bose sound system strums the right strings for the audiophile.
While the EX we had last month only came with heated seats up front, the SX Turbo also adds ventilation to the mix. In addition, the EX featured a healthy dose of piano black finishes all over the cabin to give it a premium feel. The Turbo attempts to take it a notch further with stitching on soft-feel plastic but comes across as spartan in look and feel. Still a step up from the EX but not quite there yet. Combine that with the artificial leather upholstery and you get the feeling that you are sitting in something built to a budget. Attempting to punch above its weight is a tightrope walk and unfortunately, the Seltos doesn’t quite get it right.
But Still Same…
Thankfully, its lofty aspirations don’t hamper the in-cabin comfort of the Seltos. It remains constant irrespective of the trim you choose. The front seats are comfortable and ergonomically sound. The wife preferred Kia’s perches to larger and more expensive crossovers. And that is as large a compliment as any. The rear bench’s seat-backs feel too flat but the under-thigh support is great. Add to that the headroom at your disposal and the flat seat-back becomes much less bothersome.
With 54.7 inches of shoulder width, you could fit three average-sized adults in the back, but for short journeys only. You also get 26.6 cu-ft of cargo space with the rear bench up which is enough to fit luggage for a weekend getaway and a child stroller along with it. With the rear bench down, the capacity increases to 62.8 cu-ft which is possibly enough to move an apartment.
More Power But At What Cost?
The 1.6 Turbo/DCT pairing is fairly abundant across the Kia lineup but seems to be in its element in the Seltos. The compact dimensions complement the powertrain quite well. The 175 hp of max power is never inadequate and the 195 lb-ft of peak torque is always on tap. It’s available from just 1,500 rpm and eliminates the need to floor the throttle every time you need to make quick getaways from the lights or overtake a semi on the freeway. At tick-over though, especially right after ignition, the engine sounds clattery and almost like its having a convulsion. But it settles down rather quickly.
The seven-speed DCT supplies power to all four wheels and feels responsive. It never feels bogged down or even surprised no matter how much you play with the throttle. Even with manual overrides the shifts are quick and make for fast progress.
City manners are the aforementioned cost of all the performance and quick-footed demeanor. The SX Turbo feels quite wooden and agitated around town. With the suspension stiffened, you feel almost every undulation you hit. The larger ones jolt you every time while the smaller ones will also make themselves heard if not always felt. And your wife will think you are looking for potholes to hit.
In the tradeoff, you get improved highway stability. Quick progress on the freeway is one of the turbo’s biggest draws but it feels out of its element in the city where it will invariably spend most of its time. Plus, it rides on larger 18-inch wheels which cause a fair amount of tire roar as wheel wells lack extra sound insulation.
This is only the opinion of a single man, but if Kia had paired the chassis setup of the 2.0 EX to the powertrain of the SX, the Seltos would have been an almost unbeatable package. The impeccable almost riding-on-a-cloud like ride quality of the 2.0 EX was its most defining future. Changing that is like asking Jimmy Page to play the drums, he will pull it off but it’s not what he’s known for.
As for the fuel economy, the SX Turbo returned 27 mpg overall (8.7 L/100 km) but it did include a fair amount of heavy-footed driving. Maintain a light right foot and you will extract a fuel economy close to the claimed figure of 29 mpg (8.1).
Pocket and Safety
As the fully decked out trim of the Seltos, the SX turbo starts from $29,010 (CAD $34,390). In terms of safety it is the only trim that comes with Kia’s Smart Cruise Control with stop and go functionality. It is also the only one to get safe exit and highway drive assist and quite strangely, the auto-dimming rear-view mirror.
This is apart from the blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert which is available from the EX trim onwards and the auto headlamp assist, lane following assist, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, all of which are standard S trim onwards.
Verdict: 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo Review
Starting from $29,010, the Seltos SX Turbo isn’t exactly cheap but you also get a lot of car for your money. Plus, it is loaded to the brim with convenience features, some of which, like the ventilated seats, are not available with the competition. It ticks all the right boxes on paper which includes engine, power, and space. It delivers on all fronts too.
But it doesn’t quite come together as a complete package. If ride comfort is your primary requirement then we strongly suggest the 2.0 EX which starts from $26,410 ($29,390 CAD). But if you are big on features as well, you will miss out on the larger 10.25-inch screen and Bose speakers, not to mention some desirable safety features which are exclusive to the SX trim.
The Seltos makes you choose between ride comfort and features which shouldn’t be the case. The SX Turbo only makes sense if you have a lot of freeway miles to munch on a daily basis. If you want a pliant city ride then the 2.0 EX is your best option and if you want features and a pliant ride, then it’s best you look elsewhere.
Become an AutoGuide insider. Get the latest from the automotive world first by subscribing to our newsletter here.