YOSEMITE VALLEY, Calif. — You can learn a lot about a person by going on a road trip with them. Sharing a cramped space for days on end will bring out the best and worst in everyone.
Are they clean or messy; patient or not; tolerant of their companions’ playlist picks or a more discerning musical connoisseur? All of this goes into whether a road trip partnership will be a success or failure. And there’s a similar equation to be balanced with the other member of the road trip crew: the car itself.
A proper road trip requires (ideally, anyway) a few things from an automobile. Decent fuel economy is always nice, as is ample cargo space for both your haul and supplies. Comfortable seats are a must, a decent stereo and convenient storage cubbies for drinks, food, phones, and whatever else must be kept close at hand.
Finally, the car must be a good companion — not too noisy and harsh, and definitely no complaining about the heat. Just smooth acceleration and an enthusiasm for eating up endless miles of American asphalt.
The new 2021 Kia Seltos checks every box.
The review car for my 1700-mile road trip was the top-of-the-line Seltos SX Turbo AWD, weighing in at $29,485 after an extra $345 for the Starbright Yellow paint that was either a rather pleasing shade of dark yellow or an unfortunate sickly green depending on the light. At least it photographs well, which is probably the point.
Even for just under thirty grand, the Seltos SX was totally loaded with useful features: Automatic high beams (which seem silly until you have them, then they‘re essential); adaptive cruise control (ditto); active lane keeping; a large center touchscreen; wireless phone charging; a Bose stereo; and a full safety suite including pedestrian detection, blind-spot monitoring, and rear-cross-traffic alert. The only safety feature it was missing, somewhat weirdly, is automatic windshield wipers — a small complaint, really.
The center console, which is an essential part of road trip kit, is particularly well thought out. There‘s a bin just ahead of the shift knob that‘s the perfect size for both your smartphone and for storing bags of beef jerky or Skittles. Above the bin is a wireless charging pad, which, when combined with the USB cable that‘s required for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, lets you keep two smartphones charged up with ease. There are a pair of decently sized cupholders behind the shift knob, just fore of an armrest and storage bin that‘s perfect for holding a vast quantity of facemasks which you‘ll need to do just about anything these days.
The Seltos is not a particularly large subcompact crossover, which is both good and bad, though it makes excellent use of the space it does have. This is certainly a car meant for a two-person road trip, but there is ample room in the back for kids if you‘re bringing those along. My traveling partner and I preferred to put a cooler on the backseat instead, which was easily reached by either driver or passenger.
The trunk is surprisingly roomy for such a small crossover, easily swallowing up my full-size suitcase plus several weekender duffel bags, a couple of collapsable lawn chairs, and a case of water — all without obscuring visibility through the rear window.
The SX Turbo comes with a 1.6L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, but it produces an easy 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque that is more than enough to keep things moving along. It was no problem to pass slow-moving trucks on the highway or to merge into traffic, and we easily exceeded the 25/30/27 fuel economy ratings. We averaged 30.7 mpg across more than 1,700 mostly-highway miles, which is particularly important in California, which has some of the highest gas prices in the country. And, though it has a turbocharged engine, the Seltos is happy with regular gasoline.
I wish the digital speed indicator on the instrument cluster was a bit bigger, and a sunroof would have been nice — that last feature isn‘t available if you get the black or white roof option. And dual-zone climate control might have been nice, though I wouldn‘t really expect it on a sub-$30,000 car. And to be honest, I can‘t come up with any other complaints.
The Seltos SX, with its small, turbocharged engine and eminently reasonable price, was our perfect vehicular road-trip companion. Quiet, practical, comfortable, and completely overshadowed by the grandeur of America‘s National Parks. Just as it should be.