The impressive new Seltos takes on the popular stalwart Qashqai in this flagship small-SUV twin test.
It certainly seems as if the well-documented wait for the Kia Seltos has been truly worth it, with the latecomer to the small-SUV playground rating in the low eights thus far in singular review.
Time, then, for the Korean upstart’s mettle to be tested against one of the most popular players in the segment, the Nissan Qashqai.
Both of our test cars are flagship versions, and both land in your driveway for similar money. The Seltos here in GT-Line AWD form wants for $41,990 drive-away, and the Qashqai counters with its front-driven Ti variant listing for $37,990, but separated by only a couple of hundred bucks once you add on-roads.
There is, however, a marked difference in age. While the Seltos is a brand-spanking-new nameplate in the Kia fold, this more familiar generation of the Qashqai first lobbed in 2013 and arrives here in facelifted form introduced in 2017.
That said, the top-shelf Ti version is quite new – re-added to the local line-up in mid-2018 after a brief hiatus – making the UK-made Nissan a fresh enough prospect with which to benchmark the Korean newcomer against.
Features and equipment
Outside, both SUVs fit full LED lighting with dusk-sensing headlights, power-folding mirrors, privacy glass and rain-sensing wipers, though the Qashqai is the sole contender with adaptive headlight function, a panoramic glass roof and 19-inch wheels (the Kia fits 18s).
The Nissan’s ‘signature’ Vivid Blue and the Kia’s two-tone Starbright Yellow with Cherry Black roof are both standard colour schemes, though other hues can cost an extra $595 for the former and $520 for the latter.
Inside, the most conspicuous difference is nappa leather accents in the Qashqai, whereas the Kia fits fake stuff. That said, the Kia's pews have more adjustment parameters (10 and eight), and fit heating and cooling functionality, whereas the six-way Nissan seats just heat.
The Kia turns the tables with displays and infotainment, offering a head-up display plus a huge 10.25-inch HD touchscreen – the largest in the class – compared with the small 7.0-inch low-def arrangement in the Qashqai.
Both feature proprietary sat-nav and DAB audio, though only the Korean SUV offers Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone mirroring and inductive charging. However, the Nissan alone fits a 360-degree camera system.
The Seltos also adds LED reading lights and has the most comprehensive ‘mood’ lighting of the pair, though each gets a self-dimming mirror. The Nissan gets dual-zone climate control up front but no rear vents, while the Kia does a single-zone but has rear ventilation.
In terms of device connectivity, the Kia gets a 12V and dual USB charger ports up front and a single USB in row two, whereas the Nissan fits a sole USB outlet and dual 12V power.
At the time of writing, only the Nissan had been ANCAP-rated (five stars, 2017 dated), though the Kia certainly looks to tick the right active-safety boxes.
Each SUV features AEB, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, active lane keeping (steering assistance for the Kia, mild braking assistance for the Nissan), blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. Both cars fit front and rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise-control systems, the Nissan added steering assistance when parking for those who need it.
In short, both are fully loaded and comparing features lists sheds little light. However, assessing how well the various features work might help to further split the pair.
Size-wise, there’s nothing in it. Both measure precisely 4.37m in length and 1.8m in width. And while the Kia is two centimetres taller (1615mm plays 1595mm) to the top of the roof rails, that doesn’t guarantee any extra interior space in the cabin through additional ceiling height.
Sure enough, the Seltos (433L) has a scant three-litre advantage over the Qashqai (430L) in boot space when measured as a five-seater. But drop both SUVs’ split-fold rear seats and suddenly the Nissan offers the dominant load volume of 1598L against the Kia’s 1393L, an advantage of over 200L.
However, the Kia is smartly packaged and maximises cabin space better. It has more length from the dash to the rear seat backs, and seems roomier and airier by all measures.
Its more adult-oriented second row is superior, not merely due to the more generous knee and elbow room, but because it’s lighter, less claustrophobic, and unlike the featureless Nissan it has SUV essentials such as air vents and device power (the single USB port).
That said, the Qashqai has the comfier seats, especially in the first row, and the nappa leather (appointed) trim is much nicer and more supple than the fake stuff in the Kia, which is more hardy than luxurious, and holds a lot of heat if the SUV’s been sitting in the sun.
Conspicuously, the Kia is much slicker and more contemporary in cabin design than the ageing Nissan, with neater and clearer execution, and vastly superior displays and infotainment. Sure, the Qashqai has that 360-degree camera system, but it becomes almost redundant displayed inside the grainy, tiny 7.0-inch touchscreen.
For clarity, logical control placement, material presentation and upmarket feel, the Kia is by far the more impressive effort.
There’s more effort injected into the Korean, right down to the love-it-or-loathe-it ‘disco lighting’ effect in the mood lighting to accompany music. By comparison, the dim glow of two small strips in the centre console that’s Nissan’s concession to mood lighting is pure afterthought.
Bar seating, it’s the Kia for the win in the cabin by a country mile.
Let’s not beat around bushy things: the Kia takes an emphatic powertrain win.
Both the Qashqai and Seltos fit 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engines, CVT autos and front drive.
In Nissan’s case, it’s a meagre 106kW and 200Nm on offer as fitted to the base ST model, so fitting the same powertrain to the flagship Ti seems a bit of a cop-out, particularly when healthier engine and drive options are offered by the company in other markets.
Kia uses the above powertrain format for low-grade Seltos variants, but higher-spec versions such as the GT-Line (tested here) and Sport+ use a more powerful 130kW turbo 1.6-litre four backed by a more advanced seven-speed dual-clutch auto and all-wheel drive. The turbo unit affords a more potent 265Nm of torque in a far broader and more useable 1500–4500rpm spread, whereas the Qashqai needs a lofty 4400rpm to hit peak torque.
By the seat of the pants, the Kia is much more responsive and certifiably quicker. And that’s in D for Drive. Knock the transmission controller over to S for Sport and it markedly sharpens its reflexes. Both mode calibrations are perhaps the best this scribe has sampled to date for a sub-2.0-litre turbo and DCT combination – possibly even better than the ‘family’ units used by Volkswagen Audi Group. Yes, the Kia is that good.
Both run on a minimum 91RON fuel grade, and while the Seltos’s advertised combined fuel consumption figure of 7.6L/100km is higher than its rival’s 6.9L claim, there’s negligible difference in real-world driving. Why? Because the Nissan works a helluva lot harder and noisier once you load up these SUVs with loved ones, point them up hills, or wish to get a move on.
In fact, we got to also sample the base Kia Seltos S, with its 110kW/180Nm base 2.0-litre/CVT/FWD combination, during this twin test. And I reckon it too has the measure of the comparable Nissan powertrain in terms of flexibility and drivability.
On the road
Because of its powertrain advantage, the Kia feels keener and lighter on its rubber feet, despite the fact that, at 1470kg, it lugs around 51 more kilograms of kerb weight than the Nissan.
In fact, the inherent nimbleness of the Seltos makes it feel like a smaller SUV, despite the fact it physically isn’t, and the combination of excellent outward vision, the eager powertrain and crisp chassis makes it an easier car to punt.
It may well have something to do with the Seltos being twinned with smaller Hyundai Kona underpinnings, and the Qashqai sharing its platform fundamentals with the larger X-Trail, which makes the latter feel more ponderous on the road. It’s more softly set in body control, more roly and less connected to the tarmac, more aloof in steering, and meandering in general nature.
Its slightly lumbering driving experience embodies the SUV cliché (for its otherwise small size), though this in itself is something of a characteristic drawcard for some buyers. By contrast, the lighter, crisper and more nimble nature of the Kia will surely appeal more to other tastes.
That said, the Kia rides better. It transmits fewer small vibrations into the cabin and copes with larger hits, such as speed bumps and potholes, with more discipline than the Nissan.
Part of the Korean benefit is the smaller 18-inch rolling stock compared to the Qashqai’s 19s, though most of it is really better spring and damper suspension rates for Aussie conditions. For the record, both competitors fit independent multi-link rear ends.
The Nissan does boast driver-assistance smarts such as Intelligent Engine Braking and Intelligent Ride Control – both auto braking-based systems – though it’s very tricky to discern what benefit they actually bring to everyday driving from behind the wheel.
Despite having a more elaborate 360-degree camera system to the Kia’s regular rear-view design, the latter’s much larger and clearer ‘guided’ arrangement makes it easier to reverse park. And at 10.6m, the Seltos also boasts a turning circle around a half-metre tighter than the Qashqai (11.2m).
For its part, one big attraction to the Nissan is just how quiet it is on the road. There’s a real serenity to how it blocks out ambient and road noise. That said, the Kia is also impressive, free of clunks and rattles, and generally premium in manner.
Where the Qashqai betters the Seltos on-road is in its transparent and unobtrusive use of active safety systems. The bugbears with the latter are twofold. Firstly, it’s constantly ‘binging’ and ‘bonging’ alerts of unspecific nature, and you’re never quite sure if it’s telling you to slow down or warning you of traffic in your blind spots.
Secondly, and most frustratingly, its active lane keeping is overreactive, especially at low (sub-60km/h) speeds where rival systems are sensible enough to disengage. You turn it off and it seems to rearm itself without warrant. How you’re forever fighting the Kia’s steering is clumsy to the point of being infuriating.
Kia’s long been the campaigner for excellent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty terms, though at the time of writing Nissan is offering similarly lengthy surety across its Qashqai range (five years as standard).
Both SUVs are covered by capped-price servicing with 12-month/10,000km intervals, with the Nissan ($290.20) more affordable than the Kia ($405) per basic service when averaged out over five years.
With its comprehensive features list, solid build, superb seating and quiet on-road nature, it’s easy to see why the Qashqai is a popular small-SUV choice. But it’s starting to really feel its age in a number of areas, and by measure of its segment entering 2020, it’s a little too average and underdone in a good many areas.
The fresh-faced Kia is more impressive in enough areas to take a resounding victory in this twin test. It’s more cleverly packaged, friendlier accommodation all round, measuredly slicker and more contemporary with in-cabin tech, has a more sophisticated and more powerful powertrain that’s better executed, and is both easier and more fun to drive.
Is the Seltos GT-Line a segment game changer? Not really. But it’s just about as good as anything out there for the money by delivering well in so many areas, and with so few things to take issue about.
The Seltos might’ve been a long time coming, but it seems well worth the wait.