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SUV Comparison: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer vs. 2021 Kia Seltos

SUV Comparison: 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer vs. 2021 Kia Seltos
Autos
Brian Harper: Hey, kid. Have you ever considered this? General Motors, responding to the migration away from small cars to small SUVs, has recently debuted the Buick Encore GX and Chevy Trailblazer twins, executives noting the small crossover segment is exceedingly robust. Of course, GM — not to mention Ford, FCA, and even some of the Asian companies — have, over the past several of years, been reducing its car lines, particularly compact and subcompact models but also medium and large sedans. Want a family-oriented vehicle? Buy a crossover or … what?

So, the proliferation of new crossovers continues at a merry pace. And here we have two, the aforementioned Trailblazer and the Kia Seltos, a pair of “in-betweeners.” And by that, I mean this pair slots in between two pre-existing models within their brands’ product portfolios; the Trailblazer sliding in between the Trax and Equinox, the Seltos between the Niro and Sportage. Like the Mazda CX-30 , Nissan Qashqai, or Hyundai Kona , I guess this makes them small compacts … or large subcompacts. The Seltos and the Trailblazer are close in size and price, and relatively close in power output, though Chevy’s choice of engine configuration is interesting. So, how are you seeing it?

Nick Tragianis: It’s not like Kia needed another crossover — from the boxy Soul to the large-and-in-charge Telluride, its CUV lineup is well-stocked — but it certainly took Kia long enough to play in this segment, didn’t it? Still, the Seltos is a welcome addition to the “in-betweener” segment: it’s spacious, very well equipped, and drives surprisingly well.

SUV Review: 2021 Kia Seltos

Power comes from one of two four-cylinder engines. A 2.0-litre unit (good for 146 horsepower and 132 lb.-ft. of torque) hooked up to a CVT is standard fare, but our SX Turbo tester comes with a 1.6-litre turbo-four rated at 175 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. All-wheel drive is standard on all but the base Seltos.

If those specs sound familiar, it’s because those greasy bits are shared with the Hyundai Kona — but that’s where the similarities end, because the Seltos is actually based on the Indian-market Hyundai Creta. Regardless, like the Kona, the turbocharged Seltos is surprisingly zippy; peak torque is available nice and low at 1,500 rpm, meaning there’s more than enough of a punch for merging and passing on the highway. Bump the Seltos into Sport mode, and throttle response sharpens, the transmission is more willing to hold onto gears, and there’s more weight to the steering. The DCT delivers snappy shifts, but it’s not as smooth as others out there. That said, the turbo’d Seltos definitely errs on the fun side of the segment.

BH: The Trailblazer RS ($35,083 as-tested) has the look of a sporty and fun urban runabout, with more than a few styling cues liberated from the larger Blazer , which in turn borrowed aspects of its design from the Camaro. Coupled with the tester’s bright Oasis Blue paint job, this version of the Trailblazer attracted more than a few admiring glances. Those expecting the Chevy to add some zip under the Trailblazer’s hood, however, will likely be disappointed. All trim levels are powered by turbocharged three-cylinder engines; a 1.2-litre and a CVT for front-wheel-drive versions, and a 1.3L with a nine-speed automatic for the AWDs, including the RS tester.

Sure, 155 hp and 174 lb.-ft. of torque is impressive for the engine’s tiny size — more or less the same output of a regular, normally aspirated four-banger — but it lets you know it’s working hard when heavier acceleration is called for. To be fair, it smooths out nicely at a steady cruising speed, sounding much like most competitors. But a zero-to-100 km/h run takes the better part of 10 seconds, whether or not you push the Sport button — this modifies steering effort and shifting for a supposedly sportier feel and response. If everything else about these two rigs were equal, the fact that the Seltos drivetrain is much smoother and more responsive than the Trailblazer’s would break the tie. But I do think the Kia could be more fuel efficient when it comes to fill-up time.

NT: You sure about that, old dude? Sure, on paper, the Trailblazer’s city rating of 8.9 L/100 kilometres bests the Seltos’ 9.4, but they’re pretty much on par on the highway, the Chevy punching in at 7.8 and the Kia at 7.9. That said, after about a week’s worth of real-world driving — you know, dealing with things like acceleration, stoplights, and traffic — both of these pint-sized CUVs eventually settled around the 8.5 L/100 km mark. I even observed the same when we pitched the ; while the three-cylinder might offer better fuel economy on paper, there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference in the real world — with the notable exception of the four-cylinder delivering better performance.

Oh, and for the record, the Seltos SX ($32,595 as-tested) seems to take anywhere between 6.5 and 7.5 seconds to sprint from rest to 100 km/h, depending on whom you ask (or how good you are with your feet). I’m not sold on the three’s-better-than-four argument, but I will grant the Trailblzer this — the nine-speed automatic is commendably smooth, more so than the Seltos’ DCT at lower speeds.

BH: Well, inside, the Trailblazer’s cabin features a smart-looking, dual-cockpit design with an integrated centre stack. There are easy-to-reach buttons and knobs, plus clear gauges and an eight-inch touchscreen. True, there’s a lot of black plastic throughout, but contrast seat stitching and red anodized trim pieces break up the colour monotony. The centre console provides 3.5 litres of open storage and 4.4 litres under the armrest, as well as dual cup holders. The infotainment even lets you use two Bluetooth-paired phones concurrently, and boasts Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and available SiriusXM with 360L, which features exclusive content like commercial-free music, interviews, shows and performances. One downside is the lack of an integrated navigation system, something we old dudes tend to appreciate. But front-seat legroom and headroom is generous, and even rear-seat legroom is reasonable for most. The Trailblazer features 40/60-split folding second-row seats, which can accommodate objects up to 8.5 feet long.

NT: You know, old dude, if you want nav, you can just plug your phone in and use Apple CarPlay, right? Regardless, on the inside, the Seltos is … good, but not great. The layout is logical, and the infotainment extremely easy to use — on the top-dog SX, a 10.25-inch touchscreen handles infotainment duties and includes Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto, as well as navigation and satellite radio. Beyond that, visibility is great and the Seltos is surprisingly spacious: you have about 753 litres of cargo space with the seats up, and a whopping 1,778 when those seats are folded. That handily bests not only the Trailblazer’s 1,540 litres, but also pretty much everything else in the segment — including the Honda HR-V and Nissan Qashqai — and even comes close to other CUVs a segment above, like the Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5 .

There are some quirks, though. Despite a handful of neat little touches inside the Seltos, like the pattern on the speaker grilles and the mood lighting that pulses along to your music, the all-black motif feels dreary and overall fit and finish leaves a bit to be desired. Plus, the heads-up display setup looks cheap. The Trailblazer’s cabin, despite offering a touch less cargo space, feels much cheerier.

2021 Kia Seltos vs. 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer Nick Tragianis / Driving

BH: I do like the Seltos’ straightforward layout, but I agree that all-black is an uninspired choice, especially in any vehicle that has a decided youthful intent. As to deciding a winner here, two both have pluses and minuses that make it a close contest — except when it comes down to the powertrain. Simply, the Trailblazer needs a higher-output engine, preferably a four-cylinder, to be more competitive in this growing segment . The three-cylinder boasts an impressive amount of technology to get to where it is, but, ultimately, it lacks the zip and the smoothness of the Seltos’ turbo-four. Dynamically, the Kia is a more attractive proposition.

NT: If it weren’t for the turbo-three, the Trailblazer would actually be a pretty solid overall package. It’s a bit pricier as-tested than the Seltos, but you do get some neat Camaro-like design cues outside, great colour choices, a slightly more cheerful interior, and a few more bells and whistles like a panoramic sunroof and a power liftgate. However, the Trailblazer’s turbo-three is a letdown — the insignificant real-world fuel economy difference just isn’t worth the trade-off in refinement and smoothness.

The Seltos is the winner here. Despite some quibbles with the fit-and-finish, it’s much roomier, pretty fun to drive, and costs less. I just wish we could get the good engine on some of the lower end trims; I’d happily give up goodies like leather seats and a bigger touchscreen if it means a turbocharged Seltos EX for well under $30K.
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