Kia’s flagship Seltos compact SUV takes on Mazda’s top-trim CX-30 crossover in a battle of $40K-something high-riders.
The Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30 are great examples of two distinct approaches to compact-SUV design.
Whereas the Korean Seltos aims for a more conventional, upright-body look and shares little visually with the platform-sharing Cerato small car, the Japanese CX-30 takes the ‘crossover’ route to look more like a jacked-up, body-cladded Mazda 3 hatchback.
Styling alone will influence which vehicle some buyers will lean towards, and so far in 2020 both are proving to be equally popular.
As always, CarAdvice is here to delve into the substance to help those shoppers more focused on finding the best overall package of value, practicality, performance and driving manners.
For this comparison, we have the Kia and Mazda in their poshest forms – the Seltos GT-Line and the CX-30 G25 Astina – so we will also discover whether they justify price tags in excess of $40,000.
Pricing and features
The Kia Seltos range starts from $25,690, with the bells-and-whistles GT-Line priced from $41,100 before on-road charges, or with an ongoing $42,990 drive-away offer.
Apart from having the most features, the GT-Line also brings a turbocharged drivetrain and part-time all-wheel-drive system shared only with the one-variant-down Sport Plus DCT.
For the closest price parity, we have a front-wheel-drive CX-30 Astina that costs from $41,490. Mazda charges another $2000 for an Astina with all-wheel drive.
The Astina’s 2.5-litre normally aspirated four-cylinder is the most powerful of three engines in the CX-30 line-up (though the Astina X20 – featuring Mazda’s new, more fuel-efficient Skyactiv-X engine – is the most expensive model priced from $46,490).
Although there’s only a $390 gap between the RRPs of the Seltos GT-Line and CX-30 Astina FWD, this increases to $2639 when comparing drive-away base prices. The Seltos GT-Line's national $42,990 drive-away deal (currently with no end date), or $43,525 with premium paint, undercuts the CX-30 Astina FWD costs $45,629 all up (or $46,139 if you opt for one of the premium paints, such as Soul Red Crystal, Polymetal Grey or Machine Grey).
As you would expect from two mainstream compact SUVs positioned at the vertiginous end of the pricing spectrum, there are healthily stacked equipment lists.
LEDs prevail when it comes to exterior lighting – headlights, tail-lights and daytime running lights. The Seltos’s fog lights also use light-emitting diodes.
Each model sits on 18-inch alloy wheels and features a sunroof, auto-dimming rear-view mirror (frameless in the Mazda’s case), rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, and heated steering wheel. (The Kia loses its sunroof if the two-tone exterior paint is selected.)
The Kia’s front seats also feature ventilation, and there’s tinted glass for the rear and rear-side windows. Both front seats provide electric adjustment, too, whereas only the CX-30’s driver seat is powered.
The Mazda comes with paddle-shift levers and side mirrors with auto dimming and tilt function on the passenger side (to help reversing).
Infotainment and technology
The Kia Seltos GT-Line lays claim to the biggest infotainment display in the segment with its 10.25-inch screen. There’s a good interface to go with it: good touch response; tidy graphics; and a choice (via a swipe) between homepage presentations, which can be multiple small function icons or a trio of navigation/media/clock tiles.
A row of physical shortcut buttons beneath adds to the intuitive operation. The navigation is versatile, too – allowing for places (such as petrol stations) or shops (such as Coles or Woolworths) to be inputted, not just addresses. (When we entered ‘petrol station’ into the search, though, the system didn’t recognise our location and missed the Caltex servo, literally just down the road.)
Wireless charging, smartphone integration and a Bose audio complete a very strong infotainment package for the Seltos GT-Line.
The Mazda Connect system in the CX-30 can’t quite match it. There’s no inductive charging tray for smartphones and, although Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, the lack of touchscreen functionality will feel counterintuitive to digitally-savvy owners.
On more minor notes, the homepage looks quite plain – just a list of function categories – and the voice command system is quite fussy, requiring very specific navigation instructions, for example.
In the positives column, the 8.8-inch display size is notably bigger than Mazda’s previous offerings, while pairing a phone to a Mazda is no longer a painfully slow process.
There’s also much to commend about the rotary controller dial/joystick, which is not only tactile but continues to make operation of the infotainment interface easy with minimal distraction. It’s surrounded by a handful of key shortcut buttons and there’s a smaller knob for volume, on/off and tracking forwards/backwards.
Although both models employ a Bose audio system, the Mazda’s version – which includes 12 speakers to the Kia’s eight – provides better clarity and more sound-adjustment options. There’s still a nice bass to the Kia’s version, though.
Each vehicle presents the driver with a mostly analogue instrument display with a middle digital section. Drivers can cycle through various information displays via a steering wheel button, though both feel a bit underdone – missing the opportunity for a secondary map display, for example, which would free up the central displays when guidance is being used.
For safety tech, each vehicle is equipped with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, fatigue alert and low tyre pressure warning.
The CX-30 Astina has a longer list, adding useful driver aids in the form of more advanced, adaptive LED headlights (which include auto high beam), speed-limit notification, and front cross-traffic alert to help when pulling out of T-junctions or driveways (MY21 Seltos will gain this feature). There’s also a 360-degree camera and a warning system designed to prevent a door being opened into oncoming traffic.
And while both autonomous emergency braking systems can detect pedestrians and cyclists, Mazda’s version works for reverse parking as well as in conjunction with the rear cross-traffic alert.
One distinctive feature for the Seltos is Driver Attention Alert Plus, which – as with Subaru’s EyeSight system – let the driver know when the vehicle ahead has started moving off.
Just 2.5cm separates the lengths of the Seltos (4370mm) and CX-30 (4395mm) – with the same distance separating wheelbases (2630mm for Seltos, 2655mm for CX30) – yet jump inside the respective models and the Mazda feels like it comes from a segment below the Kia.
Its cabin feels narrower and shorter, and rear leg room is relatively cramped compared with the roomy back seat of the Seltos. Same applies to head room: generous in the Kia, limited in the Mazda, where taller passengers will sense the close proximity of where the roof curves into the door frames.
Although the CX-30’s rear knee space is a clear improvement over the CX-3 baby SUV, it’s surprising Mazda hasn’t created a more family-friendly cabin over the Mazda 3 small car on which the model is heavily based. The 3 hatchback, in fact, is slightly longer in both length and wheelbase.
Child seats are easily accommodated, including ISOFIX anchor points on the outer seats, though fitting a baby capsule to the left outboard seat of the Mazda limits leg space for the front passenger (if they’re 5ft 9in or taller, their knees will be touching the glovebox).
The Seltos’s taller side windows give rear occupants a better view out, too.
Common to both rear seats are a centre armrest with cupholders, vents, door pockets (best for bottles), and a storage pouch on the front-passenger seatback. The Seltos’s rear bench is the comfiest, including better under-thigh support.
Neither SUV provides a sliding back seat for extra cabin versatility.
The CX-30’s cabin punches back on perceived quality. If the Mazda’s cabin feels a segment below in size, it looks a class above in presentation.
Although essentially a copy and paste of the Mazda 3’s interior with extremely subtle design differences, it’s a positive when that car sets the current cabin benchmark for the mainstream small-car class – and worthy of mixing it with compact luxury vehicles.
There’s an extensive array of soft, tactile materials covering the dash and doors, subtle but effective use of gloss-black inserts, and it all comes together in a stylish and cohesive way.
The Mazda’s leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear lever feel more premium than the ‘leather look’ Kia applies to the same items.
The CX-30 Astina’s seats are also trimmed predominantly in leather (white or black, with some ‘Maztec’ trim), whereas the Seltos’s ‘Premium’ seats are artificial leather (not that it’s easy to tell between the real and the fake).
A wide, 8.8-inch infotainment display nestles low in the top of the dash, so it’s inconspicuous when you’re focused on the road yet large enough and legible enough when needed.
A smart-looking, circular centre console controller for the infotainment system adds to the classy vibe, though it also scores highly for the way it makes selecting functions easy while driving along.
There are other little touches that still add the Mazda’s premium feel. The CX-30’s doors are more convincing in the way they shut, its electric windows are all one-touch operation (only the Kia’s driver’s window opens and closes with a single button press), and there’s full keyless access, whereas the Kia requires a button to be pressed on the door handle.
The Seltos’s cabin plastics are on a much more basic level even in this top-spec GT-Line, and the headlining quality isn’t great. There’s quite a dark ambience, too – not helped by the loss of the standard sunroof that has to be sacrificed for the black contrast roof, or the lack of a brighter optional interior trim that would better match our test car’s relatively flamboyant ‘Starlight’ yellow paint.
There’s more light in the Seltos’s rear seat, though, thanks to its bigger side windows.
A functional dash design at least epitomises faultless cabin ergonomics, and the large infotainment display is quite literally a centrepiece.
The Seltos also presses home its big practicality advantage in the boot. A quoted luggage capacity of 433L is one of the biggest in the compact-SUV segment, and the width and length make for a highly useable space.
A level loading lip and boot floor are convenient for heavier, bulkier items as well. There’s also a full-size spare wheel under the floor.
The CX-30’s 317L boot is smaller than you’ll find in many small cars. Its volume is closer to the 264L of the CX-3 than it is the 442L of the company’s CX-5 mid-sized SUV.
Mazda claims there’s another 105L under the boot floor – which might be the case if you’re pouring milk in there. Otherwise, there’s no genuine or dedicated storage space, only a space-saver spare wheel.
The Seltos GT-Line’s 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo is an engine found in higher-spec Kias (and Hyundais), producing 130kW at 6000rpm and 265Nm between 1500 and 4500rpm.
It works well as a flagship engine because it gives the Seltos a turn of pace it doesn’t have when fitted with the non-turbo, 110kW 2.0-litre four-cylinder (which doesn't produce its maximum torque of 180Nm until 4500rpm). Or make that more performance than the vast majority of its rivals.
Credit must also go to Kia’s seven-speed dual-clutch auto, which ensures the Seltos always feels on its toes – ready to accelerate as soon as the driver flexes their own toes.
It’s not quite as slick and quick as a Volkswagen ‘DSG’ dual-clutch auto, though it is much better at getting a vehicle away from junctions quickly with barely any hesitation.
The result is great drivability around town and on country roads. A Sport mode is also available via a centre console dial, yet it’s almost irrelevant such is the Normal setting’s excellent response.
The engine isn’t particularly refined, though – sounding buzzy at lower speeds and a bit droney at higher speeds. It’s emphasised when driven back-to-back with the Mazda CX-30’s impressively hushed 2.5-litre four-cylinder.
Relying on engine capacity rather than turbocharged assistance, however, the CX-30 Astina's 2.5-litre – with 139kW at 6000rpm and 252Nm at 4000rpm – lacks the flexibility of the Seltos GT-Line’s four-cylinder.
While the Mazda feels responsive on a light throttle when only incremental increases in momentum are required, the engine needs to be cajoled for more urgent acceleration or tackling steeper hills.
The engine feels flatter in the relatively heavy CX-30 Astina FWD compared with a 3 Astina hatchback that is nearly 100kg lighter (1478kg v 1380kg). And although the Seltos GT-Line has a similar kerb weight, at 1470kg, the Kia’s performance makes it feel like a much lighter vehicle.
The Mazda’s six-speed auto does its best to cope with the engine’s dearth of low-rev torque, and its shifts in general driving are smooth and subtle.
The Kia’s all-wheel-drive system is a part-timer that bring the rear wheels into play only when the front wheels are struggling for purchase (as is the case if you opt for the AWD CX-30 Astina).
The Seltos GT-Line’s stronger performance arguably makes it the more useful system, where it provides good traction off the line and out of corners.
In dry testing, we never felt we were missing all-wheel drive from the CX-30.
In addition to saving $2000 over the AWD Astina, opting for the FWD Astina saves a little bit of fuel – 6.6L/100km v 6.8L/100km based on official figures.
The AWD Seltos carries a bigger bowser penalty over FWD, non-turbo variants – 7.6L/100km v 6.8L/100km.
Neither compact SUV impressed with indicated consumption on test, with the Mazda registering 8.9L/100km to the Kia’s 9.2L/100km despite a decent stint on the freeway. Separate testing of the two in suburban driving had consumption hovering in the low to mid 8.0s. The Kia’s performance more than compensates for that difference.
Both can run on regular unleaded.
On the road
The Seltos feels every inch the conventional, boxy SUV with its high seating positions and tall windows. There’s excellent vision out, whether you’re sitting in the front seats or outer-rear seats.
There’s a firmness to the ride, though while the suspension will let you know when you’re travelling across lateral joins, it generally avoids becoming significantly upset by other surface irregularities.
The Kumho Ecsta tyres fitted to our GT-Line become noisier on coarser surfaces, though the level of intrusiveness changes little between low and high speed. It contributes to a trifecta of road noises on the freeway, where tyre rumble is joined by a drone from the engine and wind noise around the windscreen.
The Mazda makes for more relaxing long-distance transport, where its cabin is not only more isolated from external and internal noises, but also provides the more supple freeway ride.
Both vehicles have radar cruise control that works at variable speeds. The Kia’s includes a ‘Lane Following’ function that allows for temporary autonomous steering.
The value of the technology is questionable, though. It operates for about a minute before a visual warning tells the driver to place their hands back on the steering wheel, before emitting an audible warning and then eventually switching the assistance off, regardless of where the driver’s hands are.
Hold the steering wheel and the Seltos is horrible to steer, the system intruding with constant adjustments even when the lane markings are being followed as accurately as possible. Fortunately, the driver ‘aid’ can be switched off via a steering wheel button.
A shallower glasshouse means all-round visibility isn’t as good as experienced in the Seltos, though the CX-30’s design does improve over-the-should vision compared with the Mazda 3 hatch.
The CX-30 has the better steering in this comparison – buttery-smooth immediately off centre and with a light-ish weighting that suits a compact, urban-focused vehicle.
The Kia’s steering is more direct, but it’s also a bit heavier and doesn’t track as linearly when turned. Would the average Seltos buyer notice? Probably not.
They would notice that, on a winding country road, the Seltos exhibits noticeable body roll through corners – and certainly more than the CX-30 that in this situation benefits from its inherently lower centre of gravity.
The Mazda generally feels the more composed vehicle, especially when the road asks for regular directional changes.
The CX-30 Astina’s premium aspirations are just spoilt by an urban ride that switches between fussiness and crashiness depending on the quality of the road surface. We recall better, if still not perfect, suspension comfort from both a CX-30 G20 Touring and a 3 Astina that use same-size (18-inch) wheels.
In a way, we’re comparing apples with pears here, because only one vehicle here offers a conventional SUV body style… And a genuinely high seating position.
If your heart is set more on the CX-30’s high-hatchback design more than an elevated driver’s seat, though, the Mazda performs the pseudo-luxury compact crossover role with strong conviction, urban ride quality aside.
It needs to, mind you, as compact SUVs from established luxury brands – albeit in entry-level guise – are not that far out of reach of the CX-30 Astina’s price. These include the Audi Q2/Q3, BMW X1/X2, Lexus UX and Volvo XC40.
Or for another perspective, for this money you could have a well-equipped Toyota RAV4 Hybrid from the segment above.
Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend the CX-30 Astina over the equivalent Mazda 3 hatchback that is $4000 cheaper with the same equipment and barely any less practical. Even standard all-wheel drive for the SUV would help in this respect.
Buyers will also pay more for a Seltos GT-Line than a Cerato GT hatch that is also a touch bigger than its SUV relative and not far off its boot capacity. But the Seltos better justifies its premium over its five-door twin with a dozen or so extra features plus an all-wheel-drive system.
The Seltos GT-Line can’t match the CX-30 Astina’s impressive refinement or more premium presentation, but it leads on price, performance and practicality.
And as ‘utility’ is literally an SUV’s middle name, the Kia Seltos is our pick of this pair of high-end mainstream compact sports utility vehicles.
Counterpoint: Justin Narayan
The crux of this comparison comes down to which is the better SUV. However, hear me out, as I explain why my preference isn’t the better ‘traditional’ SUV.
After back-to-backs with both cars, I felt that the Mazda offers more in terms of general control weighting and chassis calibration. It remains a relatively fun-to-drive vehicle, with excellent steering that keeps you in tune with the experience.
Also too, its ride quality can be more relaxed in certain situations, such as covering ground at speed on country roads. Mazda usually follows recipes that make cars inspiring to drive, and the CX-30 is definitely from that cookbook.
If you’re going to be visiting parts of regional Australia during the school holiday period, or even covering ground on faster-paced roads more frequently, I’d opt for the CX-30. Compared to the Seltos, it best tackles these conditions.
Where the Mazda feels enjoyable and involving, the Kia feels somewhat devoid of such things. The relationship between its quick steering and somewhat undercooked damping feels slightly juxtaposed, as in, they’re not paired well together. Its ride can also become crashy, despite feeling quite firm and taut initially.
I do understand these two cars are not performance vehicles, but still, the confidence one gets in the Mazda is worth its weight in gold, even if those situations are far and few inbetween.
Where the Mazda will continue to reward you everyday, is in the cabin. Here it is ahead of the Kia, and not only in terms of the basics such as materials and quality.
Inclusions such as the excellent rotary dial for the infotainment screen make on-the-go interaction with the CX-30 far easier and less distracting than in the Kia. General noise, vibration and harshness levels are also lower in the CX-30 than the Seltos.
It’s a more serene place to be, and more comfortable too, if looking at things selfishly.
Yes, I understand the boot is slightly smaller, and also that its second row is not as bright and airy as the Seltos, but these are fair trades to make for the selfishness of the driver (AKA, you).
I’m sure children will not notice the differences in the second row, which leaves you to enjoy the better on-road experience that the CX-30 has to offer.
If all-wheel drive is a must for you, and you care more about how you feel as opposed to how slightly worse-off your passengers may be, the CX-30 is worth the cost increase over the Seltos.
However, I’m going to be a bit cheeky here. If I were to pick between the two, in my circumstances, I’d opt for the front-wheel-drive CX-30 Astina. This then closes the gap to the all-wheel-drive Seltos in terms of price, and does away with something I’d likely not need in my situation.