The 2021 Kia Seltos is a worthy competitor in the...

The 2021 Kia Seltos is a worthy competitor in the compact SUV class. Credit: TNS/Handout

It’s fitting that Kia’s newest crossover, the Seltos, takes its name from Celtus, the son of Hercules, for certainly Kia finds itself in a position of strength right now.

Kia’s three-row Telluride not only won North American Utility Vehicle of the Year, Motor Trend SUV of the Year, and Car & Driver’s 10 Best, among many others; it’s so popular that Kia dealers have less than a 10-day supply on hand (a 60-day supply is considered normal). Perhaps that’s why Kia executives are calling it the Sell-U-Ride.

Offered in LX, S, EX and SX trim levels, the asymmetrical dashboard orients its controls toward the driver, although they’re still easily accessible for the front seat passenger. A large horizontal hi-res, full-color touchscreen is easy to read, reach and operate. A row of redundant physical buttons underlines the screen, making shortcuts a breeze. The climate control is located beneath that in a row of simple elegant controls. At the base of the center stack is Qi wireless charging, a USB port and space for knick-knacks.

Piano black plastics and a gracefully simple design offset the abundance of hard-grained plastics. Still, it’s a nicely trimmed cabin for the price, and the center stack in particular looks as if it was plucked from a German car rather than a Korean one.

The base Seltos engine is a 2.0-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine that produces 146 horsepower through a continuously variable transmission. A more powerful 1.6-liter turbocharged four is also offered, and generates 175 horsepower with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission.

The test vehicle was a top-of-the-line SX Turbo, with the turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual clutch transmission used in several other Kia models. There’s a hint of turbo lag at initial throttle input, but power comes on quickly in a smooth surge, and throttle response is lively at speed. Coupled with quick steering that has great on-center feel, the Seltos is an easy trucklet to drive smoothly. Emergency braking is impressive.

Despite being an inexpensive crossover, the Seltos shines when the road turns rough, unpaved or curvy. Through the twisting roads of Texas Hill Country, bump absorption was impressive, with no side-to-side rocking or road shock. Even crowned two-lane roads and uneven road surfaces don’t upset the Seltos’ composure. Abrupt maneuvers fail to bring out tire squeal, and the Seltos always proves controllable, with higher cornering limits than you might expect in a mainstream CUV. It’s quite remarkable for this price class, and is a class above in demeanor.

It’s also fun to drive, thanks to an all-wheel drive system that uses torque vectoring to maintain the vehicle’s intended path through corners. There’s also a locking center differential for when the road turns slick, in addition to three selectable driving modes that regulate throttle response, transmission shifts and steering feel.

That said, the number of driver assistance systems depends on trim level, with the LX being deprived of most. Instead, opt for the S, with lane departure warning, lane following assist, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning and automatic high-beams. Nevertheless, my favorite is Leading Vehicle Departure Alert, which alerts you when vehicle ahead has pulled away and you haven’t notice because you’re texting. It works as advertised, flashing a notice in the instrument cluster. But it would be more effective if it also made a sound in conjunction with the on-screen notification, because if you’re busy texting, you won’t notice the screen flashing in front of you.

Even if you’re not texting, you’ll find the Seltos hard to resist.

2021 Kia Seltos

Base price: $27,890

Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder

Power: 195 horsepower, 175 pound-feet of torque

EPA fuel economy estimates: 25 mpg city, 30 highway

Bottom line: Attractive, practical and fun to drive

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