SUV battle: Kia Seltos takes on Mitsubishi ASX — which is better?
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They both have four wheels, five doors, and a keen desire to whisk the kids to soccer on a Saturday morning. But despite being similar on the surface, the newly launched Kia Seltos and Mitsubishi ASX are two very different vehicles.
Each is fresh to the Kiwi market, but only one — the Seltos — is actually new under the skin. The ASX on the other hand, while looking admittedly handsome in its restyled ‘Dynamic Shield’ suit, is effectively a nine-year-old car on an updated 13-year-old platform that’s just had its fourth big face-lift.
In essence then, these two depict a pair of very different motoring philosophies. But does newer always mean better?
Before we dive headfirst into things there’s an elephant in the room to address — one of these SUVs is a base model, and the other is its brand’s respective flagship.
Regular Driven readers will be familiar with this particular Seltos; a bargain basement LX variant. It was a cover car last month, and we showered it with plenty of praise at the time.
The ASX it comes up against, on the other hand, is a range-topping 2WD VRX, which means a few things. It gets a larger 2.4-litre MIVEC four-cylinder petrol engine making 125kW/226Nm (13kW/26Nm more than Mitsubishi’s standard 2.0-litre petrol) and a paddle-shift CVT. The interior gets a healthy dosage of extra kit, too, including a panoramic glass roof, leather, push-button start, and better audio.
And as you’d expect it’s more expensive too, coming in at $41,090 to the Seltos’ mere $25,990.
So, for the sake of comparison we’ll reference the entry-level ASX LS where applicable. It starts at a competitive $29,990 (a special offer for the time being), and does a good job of harassing the little Seltos LX in terms of standard equipment.
It gets the same smart 18in wheels and 8in touchscreen as the VRX, plus climate control, automatic rain-sensing wipers, and LED headlamps. The Seltos also gets an 8in touchscreen, but gets stuck with manual aircon, halogen headlamps, and a dinky wheel and tyre set.
That touchscreen is one of the big points of change with the refreshed ASX. It replaces an antiquated 7in system, and includes updated CarPlay/Android Auto. Its menu layout is easy to use and the touch-based hard buttons and volume/tuning knobs work well, although its reverse camera undoes some of that work by being one of the most pixelated in class. Kia's infotainment is better dressed, and is fitted with a better camera to boot.
As usual, aesthetics aren't exactly a science. In terms of shiny painted exteriors, the ASX seemed the more conventionally attractive in the flesh. Those 'Thor's hammer' taillights, the four fog lights either side of the grille ... Mitsubishi's designers have produced the best visual update to the ASX yet.
Not that the Seltos is unattractive by any stretch, but it's certainly the more risky looker. The black plastic rear bumper that goes all the way up to the tailgate and the fussy nose will have their critics.
It's a different story inside, though.
The ASX's flash new infotainment system is wrapped in a very familiar looking dashboard. While the Mitsubishi's externals are exceedingly good at masking the SUV's age, the cabin styling leaves little in doubt. Material quality is competent; although the oddly patched circle in front of the gear lever (where ordinarily a four-wheel drive button sits) is a little awkward.
There's more hard plastics abound in the Kia, but its interior is also much more youthful — if maybe a little grey. The presence of some cheaper materials is counteracted by things like the premium-feeling rocker switches on the steering wheel and funky looking polygonist speaker grills.
With exception to the old-school aircon set-up, each of the Kia's buttons and dials feels satisfying to use and very well cobbled together. Higher-spec models undo some of those gripes about materials, too, with the addition of more soft-touch surfaces.
The Kia also claims a few points back with regards to safety tech. Autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection and lane-keep assist are standard in all models, whereas neither is equipped in the cheapest ASX (making do with electronic brake distribution instead).
Although the two engines in these testers cover opposing ends of the spec spectrum, they have some similarities. For one, they're both solid performers. Despite minor figures on paper the 110kW/180Nm Seltos 2.0-litre is surprisingly sprightly.
The ASX's 2.4 meanwhile is relatively quiet and smooth in general operation. Economy figures of 6.8L/100km (Seltos) and 7.9L/100km (ASX) are claimed. Curiously Mitsubishi's smaller 2.0-litre option only musters 7.6L/100km.
The differences lay in the pairing's CVTs. The Kia's transmission feels the more alert and smooth of the two, reacting better to sudden jolts of acceleration and the unpredictable on-and-off of Auckland motorway traffic. Mitsubishi's unit by contrast takes longer to rummage around for its ideal 'gear'.
The pairing also ride and handle well, as you'd expect from vehicles that are a stone's throw from being hatchbacks. However, there are little curiosities on each side if you look hard enough. The Seltos, for example, rides a little firmer than you'd expect. Ride quality isn't an issue in the more tastefully sprung Mitsubishi, but it's steering is a different story.
It's fine at low speed, but if you're moving at suburban speeds the ASX's steering has a tendency to feel heavy off centre; lightening up through the quarter turn before getting heavy again. It's mild, but the non-linear feel became an ongoing bugbear as our time went by.
Despite these differences, up to this point things are actually neck and neck between the Seltos and ASX. The latter has the arguably prettier exterior, slightly better cabin materials, and rides New Zealand's bumps a bit smoother. The better equipped, better driving Seltos only really emerges on top when we get to the element at the crux of both these vehicles; practicality.
The entry-level ASX's 393L of boot space with the seats up and 1193L with the seats folded down (reduced to 1143L in top spec models thanks to an extra sub-woofer) is dwarfed by the Seltos' 468L/1428L figures.
It too loses some space in higher trims (433L/1393L), this time because of a full-size spare wheel. The rear space isn't just bigger on paper, either. It also features a wider opening, less intrusive rear wheel arches, and the added practicality in the LX of a false floor.
What's perhaps more likely to get tested with both of these crossovers are the rear seats, in there the more modern Seltos packs an edge too.
The aperture to get in is much larger, making ingress and egress a breeze. The seats all round are more contoured and sculpted and the transmission hump is smaller for the fifth passenger's feet to negotiate. Without the VRX's panoramic roof headroom would be roughly the same, but the Kia packs more knee and leg room.
Even with its aged underpinnings the ASX puts on a competitive front. While it was outclassed here, the fact that it's still a compelling rival to the rest of the segment (and a probable best-seller in waiting) is testament to its consistency and dependability.
But in the end the Seltos is a predictable winner. Kia's efforts with interior design and equipment levels are top notch, and the amount of space it serves up continues to impress. It jumped straight into New Zealand's top five best selling vehicles last month. We can see why.
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