Pros: Loads of space; great technology; exuberant acceleration with turbo engine; clever design throughout; strong safety ratings
Cons: Weak base engine with unusual transmission; plenty of hard plastics
Kia Seltos may sound like a prescription drug advertised during Jeopardy! that may cause 3 minutes worth of side effects, but in actuality, it’s a terrific little SUV that’s equal parts sensible and stylish. As a member of the growing midcompact SUV segment, and one of the best available, the 2023 Kia Seltos slots in between smaller and cheaper subcompact models (like Kia’s Soul), and bigger, pricier compact ones (like Kia’s enlarged Sportage). You’d think that might slice the pie too thin, but thanks to smart interior packaging and ample feature content, the Seltos should be the right size and offer more than enough equipment for a price tag that stays well below $30,000.
Now, there are numerous hard plastics throughout the interior that betray its price (especially compared to the new, similarly priced Honda HR-V), but an abundance of interesting design elements and a large central touchscreen help draw the eye away from them. The base engine is also a bit of a sad trombone, but the available turbo delivers truly surprising acceleration that rivals SUVs that can cost $10,000 more. Basically, there’s not much to complain about. The Seltos may not sound like a car you’d boast about buying to your friends, but you totally could.
What's new for 2023?
The S trim levels gain blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, leaving the LX AWD as the only trim without it. Otherwise, the Seltos carries over into 2023 unchanged.
If there's one area where the Seltos betrays its relatively low price, it's the quality of its interior materials. The door sills, dash tops, center console and cargo area are all hard plastic – there's far more throughout than you'll find in the new Honda HR-V and Kia’s bigger and pricier Sportage. To be fair, this isn’t unusual for the segment and Kia's designers cleverly made up for its accountants' dictates by elevating several key areas with upgraded materials and distinctive design elements. The 3D geometric pattern of the speaker grilles, the metal-look passenger grab handle, the sleek silver trim piece surrounding the air vents and starter button, and optional upgrades that include handsome heather-gray upholstery and the dash trim that can be glossy black, bright blue or stitched faux leather.
There's also plenty of user-friendly technology. Standard on the Seltos LX is an easy-to-use 8-inch touchscreen packing standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, while every other trim gets access to the same 10.25-inch touchscreen as pricier Kias, which enhances functionality with its widescreen layout (it’s a $400 option on the S, standard on everything else). We also like the two-tiered storage solution intended for smartphones: the smaller tray above meant to grip and store a phone (it's also a wireless charger in upper trims) and the deeper bin below with two USB ports that can store another phone or whatever you want.
So while Kia pinched pennies in certain areas, it ends up with a net positive by delivering in areas that ultimately matter more.
The Seltos is one of a growing number of what we call midcompact SUVs. On the outside, it's 4 inches shorter in length than Kia's Sportage, which is itself one of the smallest SUVs in its segment. Yet, the Seltos is between 2 and 8 inches longer than various subcompact SUVs.
What really matters, though, is the amount of space you get inside, and the Seltos manages to make the most out of its modest footprint. Its boxier roofline helps in this regard, granting plenty of headroom throughout with an airier overall feeling. Many small crossovers can feel claustrophobic, especially for rear passengers, and have poor rearward visibility. The Seltos is better. The eight-way power driver seat found in the EX and SX trim levels provide an abundance of adjustability and space, while the rear seatbacks recline to an extra-comfy angle. Rear legroom is also sufficient for four adults of above-average height.
Cargo space is very good. There's a generous 26.6 cubic feet back there, which allowed us to secure five suitcases with room to spare. While not best in its midcompact class (the Ford Bronco Sport and VW Taos are bigger), it’s right up there. Its maximum cargo capacity of 62.8 cubic feet is generous as well and speaks to its boxier dimensions that should make hauling bulkier items easier.
The Seltos is available with two engines, which are tied to trim level.
The LX, EX and S are powered by a 2.0-liter inline-four good for 146 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque – a modest amount consistent with subcompact SUVs. The S is the only trim that can be had with front- or all-wheel drive, while every other trim level is AWD only. The base engine is always paired with a continuously variable transmission (dubbed "IVT") that simulates gear ratios. Fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with AWD and 29/35/31 with the FWD S trim.
The S Turbo and SX Turbo have a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four that pumps out 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. That's an amount consistent with bigger, pricier crossovers, and with less weight to lug around, it's consequently quicker. It comes only with all-wheel drive and a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel economy takes a hit at 25/30/27, which is also comparable to those bigger, pricier crossovers.
We have yet to test the Seltos with the base powertrain. We found it to be underpowered in the lighter Kia Forte sedan – which probably isn't a good sign – and the "IVT" transmission to be unusual. It simulates gear ratios during most driving conditions, making it feel normal enough (a bit like the Turbo models' dual-clutch gearbox, actually), but when accelerating hard, it'll hang onto revs as a CVT would before eventually "upshifting" a ratio. It's weird, but again, we haven't tested it in the Seltos.
The Turbo models are a different story. Although many cars boast Normal and Sport driving modes, which, among other things, make the engine feel a bit zestier by tweaking throttle response and transmission shift times, those in the Seltos make it feel like you suddenly dropped in a different engine. Perhaps it's the result of increased boost from the turbocharger in addition to throttle and shifting differences, but the result is a powertrain that legitimately feels exuberant in Sport mode versus merely adequate in Normal. Pretty neat, actually.
The rest of the Seltos driving experience is typical for a Kia: capable, composed but not especially memorable. The ride sops up bigger bumps surprisingly well for an inexpensive crossover, perhaps in part due to 18-inch wheels being the biggest size available. At the same time, its chassis shows poise around corners and we could pleasantly hustle it along a mountain road without it feeling like a hopeless fish out of water. It never transcends into the sporty realm as the Mazda CX-30 does, but that's more a fact than a complaint. There's also a fair bit of road noise inside, another tell-tale sign of its price point.
What other Kia Seltos reviews can I read?
Our first take on the Seltos, including more information about its design and engineering. Also some pictures of it with deer.
We find out how much the Seltos' 26.6-cubic-foot cargo capacity translates to in terms of actual stuff.
Pricing starts at $24,135 for the Seltos LX, which includes all-wheel drive as standard. The Seltos S starts only $50 more and has front-wheel drive standard, but it comes with such an immense amount of extra equipment, it sure seems like the best place to start on your Seltos shopping trip. Among its extras are proximity key and push-button start, remote ignition, extra front and rear USB ports, UVO voice-activated device control, automatic climate control, upgraded exterior trim, roof rails, a cloth/leatherette upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a padded vinyl-wrapped center console armrest. The 10.25-inch touchscreen and integrated navigation are a $400 option. This is on top of the generous content the LX and S share, including 17-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, a six-speaker sound system, 8-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. If you have to all-wheel drive, it's $1,550 extra on the S.
Really, any of these S trim levels are fully representative of the Seltos' functional and fashionable attributes (note the cool blue dash trim in the below left photo), but we also have to admit that the extras gained by the SX and Nightfall Edition (especially their turbo engine) for a perfectly reasonable amount make the Seltos the rare small crossover whose priciest trim levels continue to be a strong value purchase.
All prices below include the $1,295 destination charge. All come standard with all-wheel drive except the S.
Seltos LX: $24,135
Seltos S (FWD): $24,185
Seltos S (AWD): $25,685
Seltos EX: $27,435
Seltos Nightfall Edition: $28,335
Seltos SX: $29,635
Every 2022 Seltos includes standard forward collision warning with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance, a driver inattention warning system and automatic high beams. All but the LX include blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning systems. The SX adds Kia's excellent adaptive cruise control system with steering assistance ("Highway Driving Assist").
The Seltos received four out of five stars for overall and front crash protection in government testing. It got five stars for side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the Seltos a Top Safety Pick for its best-possible ratings in all pertinent categories, save for headlight performance. While the SX trim got the best possible “Good,” all others got a “Poor” for their headlights.