Kia Seltos 2019 sport+ (awd), Mitsubishi ASX 2019 exceed (2wd)

2020 Mitsubishi ASX Exceed v Kia Seltos Sport+ comparison

Best-seller versus newest contender

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Small SUVs account for 13 per cent of new cars sold in Australia this year. The Mitsubishi ASX is the most popular, with around 20,000 of them finding homes.

While not the most modern car out there – it dates back almost a decade – Mitsubishi has continually made tweaks to keep it competitive. A new nose design and a better centre touchscreen just premiered, as if to highlight the point.

Razor-sharp real-world campaign pricing hasn't hurt either, nor has its solid reputation among fleet buyers such as rental companies.

The other competitor here is the latest to join this rapidly expanding segment. Kia dragged its heels getting an SUV smaller than the Sportage to market, but the Seltos has been worth waiting for because it is impressing everyone.

So, here we have a battle between the bestseller and the new kid on the block, with high hopes pinned to its squared-off shoulders.

Pricing and specs

The top-of-the-range ASX Exceed tested here is $32,990 before on-road costs, or $35,740 drive-away.

The Seltos Sport+ tested here is second-from-top below the GT-Line, because it lines up on price with the flagship ASX. It comes as a front- or all-wheel drive, with the latter tested here costing $34,990 before on-roads or $36,490 drive-away. For those on a tighter budget, the Sport + with a less-powerful engine and FWD is $32,990 drive-away.

Both get a rear camera and sensors, proximity key fob, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing wipers, roof rails, and rear privacy glass. Inside, both get climate control, digital radio, satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Both also get active safety tech such as autonomous emergency braking that detects cars and pedestrians (the Kia's also detects cyclists), blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure alert, and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Mitsubishi alone gets 18-inch wheels (the Kia has 17s), LED headlights, a glass sunroof, and heated leather seats.

But the Kia alone has a full-sized spare wheel, front parking sensors, lane-keeping assist with steering intervention, active cruise control, and a larger centre screen.

Kia Seltos Sport+ Mitsubishi ASX Exceed
Wheels 17-inch, full spare18-inch, temp spare
Proximity key YesYes
Headlights Dusk-sensing halogenDusk-sensing LED
Privacy glass YesYes
Rain-sensing wipers YesYes
Glass roof NoYes
AEBYesYes
Blind-spot monitorYesYes
Rear cross-traffic alertYes Yes
Lane-departure warningYesYes
Reversing camera YesYes
Cruise control type ActivePassive
Seats Cloth/fake leatherLeather, heated
Touchscreen 10.25-inch8.0-inch
Apple CarPlay/Android Auto Yes/YesYes/Yes
Satellite navigation YesYes
Digital radio YesYes

Cabins

The ASX's interior switchgear and some plastic touchpoints feel dated, and I was unable to orient the reach/rake steering column's location, and the (hard-wearing leather) seat height, in the ideal way to be perfectly comfortable.

There's no digital speedo in the instruments, and the Rockford Fosgate decal stuck onto the screen, and the sub unit in the boot, look a bit naff.

But to Mitsubishi's credit, it has gone out of its way to modernise an aged interior by installing an almost-square touchscreen (which just fits into a fascia never designed for it) with navigation and speed-sign recognition. You also get smartphone mirroring and DAB+, meaning its connectivity is up to speed for today's customers. The rear camera is high-resolution enough and has guidelines.

The driving position is high up, which is what people buy small SUVs for, and the large side windows and fixed glass roof render the interior nice and airy. Said roof does impinge on head room a bit for those over 190cm, however.

Rear-seat foot and knee room proved sufficient for me, though head room was again a little tight, and there are no vents and USB points.

Boot space is a solid 393L, and with the seats all in use the boot measures 735mm long and 1000mm between the wheel arches. The back seats fold down to give you 1143L. That subwoofer in the boot does rob you of some space.

To the Kia. Its cloth and fake leather seats, and lack of a sunroof, mean it immediately lacks the impact of the ASX. The cheap blank cover where the head-up display sits in a higher-grade GT-Line looks a bit half-arsed, but its more contemporary overall design wins you over quickly.

The wheel is nicer in the hand, the wavy speaker covers and contrasting materials look and feel a bit premium, as do the gear shifter and damped buttons. The digital trip readout offers more information, and the digital climate-control layout looks great. The Kia also offers more interior storage options.

The Seltos's all-important infotainment screen is quite neatly integrated, and its larger surface area is obviously better at conveying information.

As in the Mitsubishi, rear occupants in this spec grade miss out on rear vents and USB points, but they do get more head room and leg room. It's the most practical small SUV alongside Honda's Tardis-like HR-V.

The boot is also larger, offering 433L of storage expanding to 1393L with those back seats folded. Impressively, Kia also fits a standard full-sized alloy spare wheel and Kumho tyre under the cargo floor.

Kia Seltos Sport+ Mitsubishi ASX Exceed
Length 4370mm4365mm
Width 1800mm1810mm
Height 1615mm1640mm
Wheelbase 2630mm2670mm
Boot space 433L393L

Drivetrains

Entry-grade ASXs have a 110kW/197Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine, but the updated Exceed has a more powerful 2.4-litre unit making 123kW and 222Nm.

The company claims combined-cycle fuel consumption of 7.9 litres per 100km. The transmission is a CVT and the layout is front-wheel drive (FWD).

Mitsubishi rightly feels that the demand for all-wheel drive (AWD) is limited, though the related and similarly sized Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross does come with a 1.5-litre turbo engine and AWD drivetrain option.

Kia's Seltos Sport+ can be had with a 110kW/180Nm 2.0-litre petrol engine and FWD, but here we have the 1.6-litre turbo model with 130kW and 265Nm and on-demand AWD.

While the naturally aspirated/FWD Seltos models use a CVT, this one has a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Kia claims fuel consumption of 7.6L/100km.

Both models will run on 91RON regular fuel, rather than more expensive 95RON premium.

The Mitsubishi's engine is less refined than the Kia's under heavy acceleration, partially because you won't access its peak torque until the engine speed hits 4100rpm, whereas the Kia's engine gives it to you from 1500rpm. Around town it's more subdued, with a relatively responsive and quiet CVT by the standards of others, and sufficient poke to dart into gaps.

Being a naturally aspirated engine, the one big benefit it has is zero turbo-spooling lag, meaning it responds instantaneously. But on the flip side, it runs out of puff earlier than the Kia.

To the Kia. While 130kW and 265Nm aren't powerhouse numbers, they're high for this segment. Moreover, the powertrain is well polished and nicely calibrated by the seat of the pants.

Urban performance is polite in D for drive, with little hesitation off the mark or on the move. Then you shift the transmission controller to the right, activating the Sport mode, and there’s a lift in response thanks to a remapped throttle.

Furthermore, the transmission doesn't endlessly hold onto low gears like some iterations of Volkswagen's DSG.

Speaking about the transmission, like most DCTs it occasionally hesitates before sinking into gear, but for the most part it's smooth around town and responsive when being driven dynamically. It harnesses the engine's outputs well.

Kia Seltos Sport+ Mitsubishi ASX Exceed
Engine 1.6-litre turbo petrol2.4-litre N/A petrol
Power 130kW (@6000rpm)123kW (@6000rpm)
265Nm (@1500–4500rpm)222Nm (@4100rpm)
Transmission Seven-speed dual-clutchCVT automatic
Fuel consumption claim 7.6L/100km 91RON7.9L/100km 91RON
Braked towing capacity1250kg1300kg
Drive type On-demand AWDFWD

Ride and handling

The ASX is happiest in urban driving. The suspension is pliant and capable of smoothing over patchwork and potholed roads at low speeds, and aided in this endeavour by the 55-series Bridgestone Ecopia tyres.

The light steering and big side windows make parking simple, and doddling around is never a chore provided that the seating position is acceptable.

Both cars here have compact 10.6m turning circles, and offer a more 'commanding' view of the world around you than a small hatchback like a Corolla does.

On open roads at higher speeds, the ASX becomes a little less composed. The steering also becomes a little too resistant from centre, and the rack 'communicates' mid-corner hits through your hands.

In terms of active safety, you get a helpful blind-spot monitoring system that illuminates the side mirrors, and a system that warns you audibly when you cross a road line without indicating. The AEB system also detects pedestrians and other cars.

Like all Kias, the Seltos gets a bespoke Australia-specific suspension tune developed in Sydney. Traditionally, Korean-market tunes are a little softer and floatier than our rougher roads demand. It's good to drive by class standards, both comfortable and cushy around town, but agile and tied-down in more dynamic driving.

Despite being a taller crossover body, it steers and handles on twisty roads much like a traditional hatchback. The suspension's control over undulating roads is also impressive, never hitting the bump stops but offering plenty of absorption.

The active safety suite is more expansive than the ASX's, offering AEB that can also detects cyclists, and a lane-departure alert system that can steer the car back between road lines if needed. It actually works fantastically well.

The AWD system has a lock mode for slippery surfaces, and certainly adds an extra layer of surety and stability on gravel, grass or snow. For urban commuters it is harder to justify, though we will note that the 2.0-litre engine in the FWD Seltos offers far lower outputs.

Kia Seltos Sport+Mitsubishi ASX Exceed
Front suspensionMacPherson strutMacPherson strut
Rear suspensionMulti-linkMulti-link
Weight1470kg1390kg
Ground clearance177mm205mm
Tyres215/55R17225/55R18
Turning circle10.6m10.6m

Some running costs

The ASX comes standard with Mitsubishi's five-year warranty, but at the time of writing there was a campaign deal offering seven years of cover.

Service intervals are annual or 15,000km, and it's very affordable to maintain. Each of the first three visits is capped at $199, and right now the company is offering two years for free.

Kia's standard warranty is seven years with no distance limit, which is market-leading and good for resale value.

One downside of the punchy turbo engine is its shorter servicing intervals of every 10,000km, and the greater cost of each visit. The first three services cost $282, $473, and $346 apiece.

The 2.0-litre Seltos has 15,000km intervals and is cheaper per visit.

Kia Seltos Sport+Mitsubishi ASX Exceed
Standard warranty7 years/unlimited5 years/100,000km
Servicing intervals Annual/10,000kmAnnual/15,000km
Cost of first three services $1101 $597

VERDICT

It's not hard to see why the ASX remains so popular. The fact that its design has some miles under its belt only proves to private buyers, and fleets in general, that it's likely to give them few issues.

It's still a handsome and bigger-than-average city crossover with plenty of equipment for a sharp price and low running costs. The updated design and touchscreen add a new veneer, too.

However, the Kia Seltos is a superior car in almost every way, with the exception of its servicing costs and reduced scope for discounts. It drives well, offers AWD and a punchier engine, has a more sophisticated and spacious interior, extra active safety features, and is still reasonably priced.

I'd be inclined to call this Kia the class leader, in fact. While the Mitsubishi is entirely respectable transport, the Seltos is that and more.

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