Svelte looks for a hip crowd. Kia has been on a tear lately. Vehicles like the Stinger and the Telluride have managed to elevate the brand from a basic commodity to a desirable trendsetter. What was once unfashionable is now the hippest thing on the block - and Kia is acting quickly to capitalize on the resulting fervor by introducing other enticing products like the subcompact Seltos crossover.

Introduced last year, the Seltos is to the Kia Soul what the Ford Escape is to the new Bronco Sport: the mainstream, conventional cousin to the stylish, extroverted show-stealer. Like the referenced Fords, the two Kia models share powertrains and a platform, but only the Seltos offers all-wheel drive. The Soul is smaller, cheaper, and funkier, while the Seltos justifies its higher price point with more available features, greater interior space, and a ritzier vibe overall.

With plentiful features and optional all-wheel drive, it isn't surprising to learn that the Seltos is gunning for the heart of the subcompact crossover market. It does so with an approach that has become classic Kia: hot styling and great pricing, with an added dose of desirable standard and available features. The combo is a potent one and makes the Seltos one of the better choices in the competitive subcompact segment.

Slow, friendly, pleasant. The majority of Seltos models are powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 146 horsepower without the help of turbocharging. Hooked up to this modest mill is a CVT that does a nice job of adjusting its ratio without any dreaded rubber-band effects common to this transmission design. Don't expect it to be quick - a roughly nine-second 0-60 mph run is par for this powertrain - but as a competent commuter, it will do just fine.

The 175-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder has a bit more gumption, especially down in the low end, but the otherwise impressive setup is hampered by a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. In low-speed city driving, we found it rather recalcitrant; in smoother driving, the transmission raced through to the uppermost cogs. We get the desire for efficiency and low engine speeds at highway velocities, but the gearbox needs to be willing to play from time to time as well. That really isn't the case with this unit, and it leaves us wanting.

Speaking of efficiency, the base Seltos with front-wheel drive and the 2.0-liter engine will return 29 mpg city, 35 highway, and 31 combined. Adding all-wheel drive reduces those figures to 27/31/29 mpg. Those ratings don't outpace the competition, but they don't trail the leaders either. Consider these numbers par for the course for little utes of this size.

We'd love to see a hybrid added into the mix, something already being tried by the Subaru Crosstrek. As this segment trades first on price and then on eco-friendliness, we won't hold our breath for such a development, but it would go a long way in improving those city mpg figures - the sort of driving most common for this type of small crossover.

Roomy, airy, comfy. Open the door to the Seltos and you'll find a straightforward, modern, and well-built interior that follows the same design trends of other, pricier Kias. The low dash and slim, low-set console add a sense of airiness that's missing in some other crossovers. It makes this diminutive runabout feel bigger than its 172-inch length suggests.

The ruse continues to the second row, which boasts 38 inches of legroom. That's actually less than the Kia Soul, despite that model being the smaller of the two, but otherwise, the Seltos is competitive with the segment. The Subaru Crosstrek and Mazda CX-30 offer less legroom, while the Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trailblazer are more spacious.

Behind the second row there's 26.6 cubic feet of cargo space; folding down the back seat opens up a hair over 60 cubes. It is a wide, spacious cargo area that's easy to take full advantage of. The rear seats don't fold entirely flat, but the angle is close enough to horizontal that most owners won't complain.

Most Seltos trims use an 8.0-inch touchscreen for handling infotainment duties. We're fans of the software thanks to its intuitive menu structure and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A 10.3-inch touchscreen is available on the top-tier SX that adds navigation, split-screen capability, and a vehicle-monitoring telematics system. It's a lot of tech for a segment where the list of infotainment features usually begin and end with smartphone compatibility.

Value and competition. A base Seltos begins at $23,665. For that money, you get a fairly basic set of features that are highlighted by the 8.0-touchscreen; otherwise, the cloth seats, manual climate controls and seat adjustments, and dearth of active-safety features outside of automatic emergency braking is pretty standard for the price point. This is the loss-leader that drums up interest - for the pricier, better-equipped trims.

We're more attracted to the EX, which sits in the middle of the lineup. At $26,975, it is a bit more on the expensive side for a cheap, mainstream subcompact crossover, but it gets features like power seats, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, and wireless device charging. There isn't much you'll be missing and it leaves little reason to splurge on the nearly-$30,000 SX.

Compared to the rest of the segment, the Kia finds itself, unusually, in a position where it isn't the cheapest model on offer. If you want a Nissan Kicks, for instance, you can get a loaded one that's similarly equipped to the Seltos EX for around $24,000 - a nearly $3,000 discount. Normally this sort of ploy was perpetrated by Kia; now the brand finds itself priced more in the heart of the market than at the low end. The Crosstrek, CX-30, and Trailblazer all are priced similarly to the Seltos as well.

Does this strip away the value crown from Kia? Not necessarily. Though other entrants such as the Kicks might beat the Seltos on price, the overall value - a holistic perspective on the money spent versus the ownership experience - still leaves the Seltos among the best in this segment. Few crossovers in this segment feel as thoroughly thought-out as this.

Kia Seltos

Final thoughts. The Seltos is yet another winner from Kia, thanks to its excellent blend of features, pricing, and styling. Sure, it doesn't have the fastest powertrain or the most refined dual-clutch gearbox, but as a city runabout, it's a hard choice to beat.

Kia ultimately focused on what buyers of these vehicles want and delivered accordingly. The result is a crossover that fulfills the need of any typical urban, young buyer who might gravitate towards something of this ilk. We call it a job well done.

Check prices for the 2022 Kia Seltos »