Roomy, nimble, and electronically sophisticated, the 2024 Kia Seltos is an altogether pleasant runabout that does battle in an ultra-competitive niche of affordable and fuel-efficient compact SUVs.
If the adage to wait for a few years after a vehicle's introduction holds true, the time might be ripe to buy a Seltos, named, by the way, for either Hercules' son or the god of the hunt in Celtic mythology, depending on your DNA preference. The Seltos, Kia's second-best seller globally behind the Sportage, was introduced in South Korea in 2018 and hit these shores in 2021.
Sharing its bones with Hyundai's Kona, the Seltos is classified as a subcompact SUV but its chief claim to fame is that it is a Goldilocks small SUV. It slots narrowly between the Soul and compact Sportage and giving it plenty of interior room.
For 2024, Kia designers sharpened the edges inside out, giving the little SUV a well-groomed demeanor. Our tester came in a funky-yet-appealing shade Kia calls Valais green. Bee-bopping into the church parking lot, Beautiful Blonde Bride and I felt altogether Bourgeoisie, which is a word our children would use if they knew what it meant.
"You and Mom are so booodzhie."
"What's that mean?"
(Forehead in palm emoji)
As good as it is, the Seltos at times gives ground to stalwarts such as the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid, Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid, Honda HR-V, and Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Prices are right
Pricing is a crucial factor in this segment, and the Seltos is competitive, ranging from around $22,000 to $30,000, depending on trim levels, engine choice, and optional features. The Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid and Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid, start at a slightly higher price point of around $27,000 to $30,000 but will save $1,000 to $1,500 in fuel costs over five years, according to the EPA. The Honda HR-V starts similarly at around $22,000 but can also go upwards of $28,000 with added features. The Chevrolet Trailblazer offers an affordable entry point, starting at around $20,000.
Interior space is vital when considering subcompact SUVs, which spend most of their lives hauling kids, groceries, and soccer balls.
The Corolla Cross is the class leader, with 112.3 ft3 of interior volume. The Trailblazer comes in second with 102.2, Crosstrek is third with 100.9, the HR-V has 100.1, and the Seltos finishes last at 98.6.
The Seltos' interior is nicely assembled but suffers from a surplus of hard plastics, as do all the competitors. Still, there are comfortable seats and generous headroom and legroom for passengers.
The Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid provides decent space, both for passengers and cargo, with its rear seats boasting a 60/40 split-folding function.
The Honda HR-V excels in its "Magic Seat" system, which allows for multiple rear seat configurations, enhancing versatility.
Ride and handling
In terms of ride quality and handling, the Kia Seltos offers a balanced experience. Its suspension provides a comfortable ride over most road surfaces, though road imperfections and tire noise can be intrusive. Handling is superbly responsive, allowing us to shoot for new elapsed-time records zipping through roundabouts.
On a twisting mountain road or a down challenging Forest Service trail, our choice is the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid. Light and responsive, yet nicely weighted by its center-mounted battery, the Crosstrek Hybrid feels like a near-luxury GT car, offering a stable and composed ride, particularly with its all-wheel-drive system.
The Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid provides a smooth and comfortable ride, catering well to daily commutes. The Honda HR-V offers supple ride quality but may not be as engaging to drive as some competitors. The Chevrolet Trailblazer also delivers a comfortable ride, though its handling can be slightly less refined compared to the others.
In the realm of driver-assist technologies, all the mentioned models come equipped with a suite of advanced safety features to varying degrees.
Kia is one of the best in the business: Lane-keep stops the car from wandering, and stop-start dynamic cruise control makes light work of traffic jams. Kia's "Drive Wise" package includes features like lane departure warning and forward collision avoidance.
Subaru's EyeSight system is also superb and is highly regarded for its comprehensive safety features, including adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
Toyota equips the Corolla Cross Hybrid with its Toyota Safety Sense suite, offering similar advanced safety features. Honda's suite of safety technologies, known as Honda Sensing, is available in the HR-V, providing features like collision mitigation braking and road departure mitigation.
Chevrolet equips the Trailblazer with the Chevy Safety Assist package, which includes automatic emergency braking and lane keep assist.
Fuel costs, too
When it comes to fuel efficiency, hybrid models take the lead.
The Crosstrek Hybrid, Corolla Cross Hybrid, and even the HR-V, to a lesser extent, offer commendable fuel economy. The Crosstrek Hybrid boasts an EPA-estimated combined fuel economy of around 35-40 mpg, with an estimated annual fuel cost of $850. The Corolla Cross Hybrid follows suit with an estimated combined fuel economy of 40-45 mpg and a similar annual fuel cost.
The Honda HR-V achieves approximately 28-34 mpg combined, resulting in an annual fuel cost of around $1,000.
The Kia Seltos and Chevrolet Trailblazer provide decent fuel economy ranging from 26 to 31 mpg combined, leading to an annual fuel cost of approximately $1,150. The Seltos comes with two engine choices, a 2.0-L naturally aspirated four that delivers 29 mpg in AWD configuration. Most critics say that engine has disappointing performance.
Our tester came with a 1.6-L turbocharged four which we found delightful around town and entering expressways. We averaged around 26 mpg, which we consider unacceptable in today's climate.
To continue to burn fuel needlessly is a lot like the folks standing on the high side of a ship that is about to sink feeling lucky that they aren't on the side with the hole.
Toyota and Honda are known for their reliable vehicles, and the Corolla Cross and HR-V are no exceptions. Subaru and Kia have had some issues in recent years, but not with these models. Seltos, Crosstrek Hybrid, and Corolla Cross Hybrid are no exceptions. These models are likely to have fewer issues and require fewer repairs over time, contributing to lower ownership costs.
The two hybrid models are most likely to have the lowest long-term repair costs. Consumer Reports this week published its list of vehicles most likely to reach 200,000, and six of the top seven were hybrids. This is because the electric motor in a hybrid is much simpler than an internal combustion engine and the electric motor takes over a huge share of the gas engine's workload.
Chevrolet's Trailblazer is relatively new, and while it shares some components with other GM vehicles, its long-term reliability is still to be fully established.
Kia's reputation for industry-leading warranties shines with the Seltos. It offers a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty. Caveat Emptor: these are not transferrable to the second owner.
Crosstrek Hybrid includes an 8-year/100,000-mile hybrid system warranty, along with Subaru's standard warranties. Toyota, known for its reliability, backs the Corolla Cross Hybrid with a 10-year/150,000-mile hybrid component warranty.
Honda's warranty package for the HR-V is competitive but falls short of the extended coverage offered by its competitors. Chevrolet, however, provides a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty for the Trailblazer, which is respectable but not as extensive as some rivals.
With the median price of a new car now surpassing $41,000, it's nice to know buyers still have safe and fuel-efficient choices for 25% less. Crunch all the numbers, including resale value, and hybrid buyers will come out thousands of dollars ahead.