2021 Mazda CX-30 vs. Kia Seltos: The Lifted 3 Takes on the Shrunken Telluride
Kia’s coming for the small crossover crown, but it has to get through Mazda first.
The 2021 Kia Seltos is the brand’s latest entrant in the SUV octagon. It enters the arena with a full head of steam. Last year Kia delivered a knockout punch in the form of the three-row Telluride. With the recent release of the handsome new K5 sedan, as well as a redesigned Sorento crossover making its way to some countries, it’s safe to say that Kia is on an adventurous roll. The question is, can anyone possibly hinder this South Korean juggernaut?
Well, let us see. It seems that Mazda certainly has a contender in the CX-30. It is now available in Zimbabwe. The hatchback-based CUV gives the Seltos a run for its money—but when it comes to dollars and cents, the Mazda is starting on its metaphorical back foot. The 2020 Mazda CX-30 with Premium package we are using for this comparison is actually more expensive than the Seltos SX that it is up against.
CX-30 Vs. Seltos: The Inside Story
Mazda is slightly more expensive the Kia but the extra cost, however, nets the Mazda a more delectable interior. Its use of higher-quality leather and lack of clutter makes it the preferred place to sit. Seat vinyl in the Seltos is rather rubbery and sticky in the summer heat, and feels a little lower-grade than in the Mazda. Similarly, the graining on the armrest and door cards and dashboard feels a half step back from the Mazda. But if you are looking for budget wheels, the plastics are durable, and they will suffice for your needs.
Yet the Seltos is not without its strengths. Its array of buttons for the climate controls and radio are laid out so logically that it takes mere minutes to get the hang of it all. The Kia’s infotainment system is the now-familiar system that appears in just about every Kia, from the Soul to the Telluride, and it’s less convoluted and requires far less digging through menus than that of the Mazda’s. In addition, even if its interior quality is a step down from the CX-30’s, the Seltos is notably more spacious.
The hip-point is commanding in the Kia. My eye line was at the same height as a woman sitting next to me in traffic in a Dodge Durango. The second row is enormous—a six-footer can sit behind a six-footer, and with cathedral seating, you still have a good view out from every angle. And yet there is a massive parcel area. How does Kia do this?
You find yourself wondering the same thing. The back seat of the Seltos is significantly more spacious than the CX-30’s, but Kia manages to find a way to give occupants ample room without sacrificing luggage space. The Mazda’s luggage compartment is nearly identical to the one in its Mazda 3 hatchback cousin—a mere 20.2 cubic feet of free space behind the rear bench. The Kia, on the other hand, offers a more generous 26.6 cubic feet of storage with the seats up.
CX-30 Vs. Seltos: Power Hour
Interior space and price are not the only places the Seltos pulls ahead of the Mazda. Despite having a smaller engine that makes less power (but slightly more torque), the Kia is actually quicker to 100km/h than the Mazda—7.4 seconds to 8.3. That is probably down to the extra low-end grunt of the Seltos. Its little turbocharged 1.6-liter four-pot makes all 264 Nm of its torque just off idle (at 1,500 rpm), which subsequently makes accelerating and passing a breeze. The Kia’s transmission probably helps some, too; it has a quick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, whereas the Mazda makes do with a conventional six-speed automatic gearbox.
The engine is responsive, torquey, and has minimal lag. The seven-speed DCT is smooth, too. Shifts are quick, timely, and there is not much clunking going on. Hills and inclines are a delightful breeze.
The Mazda makes just 12Nm of torque less than the Kia, but peak torque does not come on until 4,000 rpm, just 2,500 rpm before redline. The naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine is responsive, but it is paired with a transmission that holds it back and does a poor job of keeping the engine in its (relatively narrow) powerband. You regularly find yourself thrashing along at 5,000 rpm in the Mazda thinking, “Hey, where’s my upshift?” This gearbox feels unrefined— as though Mazda rushed it out and forgot to tune it properly. The tall gearing does not help, either. You do not quite know what they did to the 2.5, but it does not feel as lively as it used to. It is adequate for the average consumer, but it works too hard when faced with hills.
Just puttering around town, one might not notice the Mazda’s stressed powerplant. But once you ask it to do more than accelerate away from a junction or a red light, there is no denying the Kia’s engine is better matched to the task of hustling the crossover effectively. And you will want to hustle these two, too, because the CX-30 and Seltos are both surprisingly great to drive.
What the Mazda lacks in power, it makes up for in a sense of directness and solidity. The nose is planted, the whole car feels well balanced, and the CX-30 genuinely likes to turn. But even if the Mazda is fun in the corners, the straight bits of tarmac take too long to cover. We know the CX-30 is getting a turbocharged mill under its hood for 2021, but for now, that strained four-cylinder lets a great chassis down.
CX-30 Vs. Seltos: The Verdict
Luckily, you do not sacrifice much of the Mazda’s athleticism in the Kia. Yes, the Seltos is taller and less nimble than the CX-30, but it does feel planted through bends. Its turbo engine is also well matched to Kia’s occasionally problematic DCT. The Mazda’s ride is the better of the two.. Still, even though the suspension irons out small road imperfections, it is only adequate at soaking up bigger lumps and bumps.
This comparison is between two competent and desirable CUVs, but in the end, it is a case of “(almost) anything that the Mazda does, the Kia does better.” Yes, the CX-30 is slightly better to drive and more athletic on a curvy road, but this is not Best Driver’s SUV, is it? The Seltos nails criteria that the CX-30 fumbles in. At the end of the day, fundamentals such as an easy-to-wrap-your-brain-around infotainment system, easy passing power on the streets and highway, and room inside the cabin and behind the rear bench are more important than driving dynamics. Mazda put up a good fight, but Kia rolls on with more wind in its sails than ever before.
2021 Kia Seltos SX Turbo T-GDI
2020 Mazda CX-30 AWD (Premium)
Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head
I-4, alum block/head
DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
DOHC, 4 valves/cyl
97.1 cu in/1,591 cc
151.8 cu in/2,488 cc
130 Kw @ 6,000 rpm
139Kw @ 6,000 rpm
264 Nm @ 1,500 rpm
252 Nm @ 4,000 rpm
7-speed twin-clutch auto
4.63:1 (1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th), 3.61:1 (3rd, 6th, 7th, R)/2.58:1
SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR
Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; torsion beam, coil springs
BRAKES, F; R
16.0-in vented disc; 15.0-in disc, ABS
11.6-in vented disc; 11.9-in disc, ABS
7.5 x 18-in cast-aluminum
7.0 x 18-in cast-aluminum
235/45R18 94V Kumo Majesty 9 Solus TA91
215/55R18 95H (M+S) Bridgestone Turanza EL440
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT
172.0 x 70.9 x 63.6 in
173.0 x 70.7 x 61.7 in
WEIGHT DIST, F/R
ACCELERATION TO KMH
15.9 sec @ 143kmh
16.3 sec @ 138kmh
BRAKING, 100-0 KMH
0.82 g (avg)
0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT
27.4 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
27.9 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH
6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee
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