With so many contenders in the subcompact SUV class, it takes a lot to stand out. The 2021 Kia Seltos is a newcomer that’s potent, aggressively styled, and offers good value. A finalist in the 2021 MotorTrend SUV of the Year race, the new Seltos has a lot to offer. But is it enough to beat the latest and very impressive Subaru Crosstrek Sport?
The team at MotorTrend decided to match up the 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo AWD, its highest trim, against the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport to see who did it better.
The 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo
The all-new 2021 Kia Seltos is a little smaller than the Subaru Crosstrek. It’s shorter and looks more like a regular SUV than the Crosstrek. The Seltos shares a platform with other popular vehicles like the Kia Soul and the Hyundai Kona.
The Seltos offers two drivetrains. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 146 hp. It’s mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The LX models feature all-wheel drive standard. The S models have more comfort features but are standard front-wheel drive with AWD as a $1,600 option.
The Seltos EX model builds on the S trim and adds creature comforts, more tech and safety features, and a sunroof. The Seltos S Turbo models basically just get a turbocharged engine.
The Seltos SX Turbo gets a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that gets 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque according to the MT team. It’s paired with a standard seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with AWD. The Seltos also comes equipped with a suite of driver-assists and premium infotainment features.
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport
Built on the modular Subaru Global Platform that’s used for Impreza sedans along with three-row Ascent models, the Subaru Crosstrek has a longer wheelbase and greater overall length.
There are three powertrains available for Crosstrek. The standard is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that gets 152 hp. Hybrid models get a gas-electric combo that gets 148 hp. The new Crosstrek Sport models get a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gets 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque.
All but the Crosstrek Sport gets a six-speed manual transmission. Crosstrek Sport models can only get a CVT. All models are AWD standard. 2021 Crosstrek models got updated styling cues, an update for the X-Mode off-road software, and the EyeSight safety suite of features.
How does the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport win?
The 2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo and the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport have a lot in common. But there are also some crucial differences.
In testing, the MT team found the Seltos barely edged out the Crosstrek on braking and handling. Going from 60 to 0 mph, the Seltos SX Turbo needed 117 feet to stop. The Crosstrek needed 124 feet. The Seltos also out-performed the Crosstrek on a figure-eight testing course faster than Crosstrek.
While the Seltos starts offer quicker than the Crosstrek, its transmission and torque are more ideal for city speeds. The Crosstrek with greater power has the advantage as it can easily handle city and highway navigation.
The MT team explains that while the turbocharged Seltos is a champ when you push it to the limit, that’s not how you’ll be driving it each day. At city and highway speeds, they found its performance to be lackluster and slow to respond. Under stop-and-go conditions, the transmission frustrated them even more with rough and slow shifts.
The Subaru Crosstrek Sport name is a little misleading. The Crosstrek offers a better ride than the Seltos. It offers a better balance than the Seltos and offers a quality driving experience. The team thinks the suspension’s fine-tuning and balanced chassis has a lot to do with it.
The team found the cabin of the Seltos to be bigger on paper but said it feels smaller for passengers. The materials used for the interior aren’t the same quality as what Subaru used for almost the same sticker price.
In the end, the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek Sport wins. With a superior ride quality, great efficiency, and refinement, it’s the better SUV.