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A white 2021 Kia Seltos is parked in front of city buildings for the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage comparison.

Choosing a Kia – Seltos vs Sportage?

With the recent introduction of the 2021 Kia Seltos, Kia now offers four different two-row SUVs to choose from. However, if you are not interested in the subcompact Kia Soul or the hybrid Kia Niro, then that means that the decision comes down to the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage. And choosing between these two vehicles can be quite tricky, given that they occupy virtually the same market niche. With a starting price of $21,990 for the 2021 Kia Seltos against $23,990 for the 2020 Kia Sportage, the two vehicles are not that far apart in cost. And although that price difference does widen a bit in the higher trims, it never becomes so great as to put them in different segments.

Comparing the size and capacity of the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage will reveal that they are almost identical. And although the 2020 Kia Sportage is around an inch or two larger in nearly every dimension, in practice, the differences are virtually unnoticeable. The interiors of both are quite spacious with around 40” of head and legroom for the front and rear seats, and with over 60 cubic feet of volume when their 60/40 split rear seats are folded, you will have no problem using either one to move cargo as well as passengers. All in all, attempting to decide between them based on size is even more futile than distinguishing them on price. So what sets the two Kias apart?

Economy vs Power

A man is loading surf gear into a blue 2020 Kia Sportage at the beach.

The main distinguishing physical difference you will find after comparing the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage is their available engines. Simply put, when you hit the gas, you will feel the price difference and understand why the 2020 Kia Sportage costs a couple of thousand dollars more. The base engine in the 2021 Kia Seltos is a 2.0L with 146 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. And although this engine averages an impressive 29 miles per gallon even with all-wheel drive, it really is not a great choice for a vehicle weighing over 3,000 pounds. However, the 2021 Kia Seltos is also available with a 1.6L turbocharged engine with 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. This transforms the 2021 Kia Seltos into a perfectly acceptable vehicle that still averages 27 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive. The turbocharged engine also comes paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission instead of the IVT found with the base engine, further improving the vehicle’s responsiveness and feel.

Still, even the top engine in the 2021 Kia Seltos is only the equal of the base engine in the 2020 Kia Sportage. This base engine is a 2.4L with 181 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque. However, with its older six-speed automatic transmission, this engine only allows the 2020 Kia Sportage to average 23 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive. So if fuel economy is important to you, then a 2021 Kia Seltos will be the better option even with its top turbocharged engine. However, if you want power, then the 2020 Kia Sportage also comes with a larger 2.0L turbocharged engine of its own. If you select this option, then you will be rewarded with 240 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque – more than enough for solid acceleration even at highway speeds. But in exchange for this power, fuel economy falls to just 21 miles per gallon with all-wheel drive.

Different Feature Sets

When it comes to features, the 2020 Kia Sportage is also generally better equipped. Starting on the outside, you will find that the 2020 Kia Sportage offers luxuries such as power-folding mirrors, a power liftgate, and light-up door handles – none of which are available on the 2021 Kia Seltos. The 2020 Kia Sportage also sports a large panoramic sunroof that extends over both rows of seats and has a power sunshade, while the 2021 Kia Seltos is limited to a smaller power sunroof over the front seats alone. The only exterior feature where the 2021 Kia Seltos takes the lead is in having skid plates standard on every trim. However, the value of this off-road feature is relatively limited.

An interior comparison of the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage again puts the latter in the lead. Standard seating on both SUVs consists of a manually-adjustable six-way driver’s seat and four-way passenger’s seat. But while they can both be upgraded to a ten-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, only the 2020 Kia Sportage offers an eight-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat. The 2020 Kia Sportage is also available with heated and vented front seats and a heated steering wheel, while the 2021 Kia Seltos is limited to heated seats alone. Still, outside of seating, the two Kia models share almost all of the same interior features. Although the lower trims come with standard remote power locks and manual climate control, the upgraded versions of both cars sport keyless entry, push-button start, and automatic climate control. So unless you are aiming for the most fully-equipped versions, it is unlikely that you will feel much of a difference between the interiors of the two vehicles.

The white interior of a 2021 Kia Seltos is shown from the side.

Similar Infotainment

Both the 2021 Kia Seltos and 2020 Kia Sportage come with nearly identical base infotainment systems. These include 8-inch touchscreens and six-speaker audio with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Siri Eyes Free. However, the upgraded systems available in the two vehicles are different. In the top trim of the 2021 Kia Seltos, you will find a larger 10.25-inch screen with built-in navigation, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Bose premium audio with a sound connected mood lamp. In the top two trims of the 2020 Kia Sportage, you will also have the option of navigation and SiriusXM, but the screen size will remain unchanged at 8 inches, and the audio system will be an eight-speaker Harman Kardon premium surround sound setup. Another small difference is that the 2021 Kia Seltos can replace one of its two 12v outlets with a third USB port, while the 2020 Kia Sportage only has two USB ports. Overall, both vehicles offer excellent infotainment systems, and it is unlikely that you will be disappointed with either option, especially in their upgraded configurations.

Advanced Safety Availability

When it comes to advanced safety systems, Kia is one of the best manufacturers around, and both the 2021 Kia Seltos and 2020 Kia Sportage live up to this reputation. Both vehicles are offered with forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high beams. The 2021 Kia Seltos is also available with Kia’s new Safe Exit Assist, which will warn passengers if vehicles are approaching. When fully equipped, these two SUVs are both among the safest vehicles on the road. However, the 2020 Kia Sportage offers all of those features on three of its four trims, and even its base trim is only missing adaptive cruise control. In contrast, the base trim of the 2021 Kia Seltos lacks all advanced safety technologies, and the full suite is only available on its top trim.

So, Which is Better?

In the end, the 2020 Kia Sportage offers more power, more features, and greater availability of advanced safety features. However, that does not mean that you should not consider the 2021 Kia Seltos. When comparing the middle trims of the 2021 Kia Seltos vs 2020 Kia Sportage, the 2021 Kia Seltos is, in many ways, the more compelling package. It’s more efficient engines will mean lower gas bills, and with the turbocharged engine, it does not lack for power. The feature sets on the middle trims of these two SUVs are also rather close, and the 2021 Kia Seltos will give you all the most important safety technologies at a lower price point.