A few weeks ago, Peter Sagal, writer and NPR host, tweeted that all modern cars are “effectively the same” and I can’t stop thinking about it. Not just ‘cause my job depends on that being untrue, but because it’s such a simple way to think about cars. Too simple, really. And if you think this is true, it could be applied to so much more than cars. Are all foods the same? All clothes? All houses? The list goes on.

Around the same time Peter Sagal tweeted this, I happened to be working on one of my regular monthly assignments, a roundup of the month’s best finance and lease deals. It’s usually a pretty easy, if time-consuming project. This time, though, I actually learned something interesting: the Kia Seltos has two base models.

I’ve seen the Seltos, but haven’t yet driven it. It’s a new subcompact crossover, affordable and equipped with just enough features to make it look like a decent value. It follows the Kia formula and in that way, it should ultimately be a success. Sagal’s tweet wasn’t about the Seltos. Because even though the Seltos is a lot like every other subcompact cute ute with a price tag of $22,000 or so, Seltos offers choices at that price.

This is the first time I can think of a car that offers two sets of specifications at the same base price, and it fascinates me.

The Seltos LX and Seltos S, both at $21,990, include an 8-inch touch screen infotainment system, Bluetooth, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a rearview camera. 

The LX also includes all-wheel drive.

The S keeps front-wheel drive, but adds a ton of active safety and driver assistance features, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking and pedestrian detection, driver attention monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, lane centering assist, and automatic high beams. You can add all-wheel drive for $1,500.

These are.. pretty different! Not different enough to present a fully-formed case against Sagal’s real point, that most people are best off not dwelling over the kind of car they drive, but different enough that it could present a real dilemma for a potential Seltos buyer with a budget that can’t be pushed beyond $22,000. 

It’s too soon to know if Kia is treating this as a short-lived experiment or a long-term strategy, but it could prove interesting for future models. In general, base models don’t sell very well, as most buyers opt for more features (and dealerships are known to avoid stocking base models, so it’s easier to upsell to more profitable models) so it’ll be interesting to see, once there’s a sufficient amount of Seltos sales data, which version of the entry-level Seltos buyers prefer. 

Again, I haven’t yet reviewed the 2021 Kia Seltos myself. I’m hoping to drive the Seltos soon, though when I do, it probably won’t be the S or the LX — we tend to get mid- or top-tier trim levels for reviews, so we write about what the car does have instead of what it doesn’t have.

Do you know of any other vehicles that simultaneously offered two trim levels with different equipment at the same price? I’d love to hear about it.

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