2021 Kia Seltos vs. 2020 Mazda CX-30 Off-Road: Can You Guess Which One Struggled?

The outcome (probably) isn't what you'd expect...or maybe it totally is

The 2021 Kia Seltos and 2020 Mazda CX-30 are two completely new models from their respective automakers to emerge in the ferociously competitive crossover market. While big crossovers like the Kia Telluride took the limelight last year, both Kia and Mazda are looking at the other end of the market, though each is taking on a different design philosophy in doing it. At the end of the day, these are two all-wheel drive crossovers, and automakers are keen to show their vehicles can work both on the road and when the pavement ends. Which one handles the rougher terrain best, though? In this video, Roman and Tommy take both the Seltos and the CX-30 off-road.

Granted, neither Kia nor Mazda market these cars as Rubicon-crushing, trail-bashing overlanders. Automakers have gotten in the habit of marketing these crossovers as adventure-style vehicles, so they should be able to take more punishment than, say, their hatchback equivalents — namely the Mazda3 and the Kia Soul.

For its part, the 2021 Kia Seltos takes on a more aggressive look than the Mazda CX-30. It also has a more exciting-sounding powertrain on paper in this $29,000 SX Turbo model, as well. Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine with 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. It comes mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission — the only model in the Seltos lineup to do so — and has standard all-wheel drive. Its 7.3 inches of ground clearance is a bit of a hindrance off-road, but that does offer it a slight edge over the Mazda. Inside, top-end models get an 8.0-inch touchscreen display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, heated seats, and a wide range of standard driver assistance tech.

Unlike the CX-30, the Kia Seltos also gives the driver the option to lock the center differential with a specific button, which should help its case off-road.

The Mazda CX-30 is a sharp-looking crossover, but can it handle itself well off-road?

The CX-30 takes a different approach

On the other hand, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 takes the redesigned Mazda3 and reshapes it to run with the crossover crowd. It slots between the smaller CX-3 and larger CX-5, though its underpinnings are shared directly with its hatchback sibling. That means you still get a naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine with 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission remains the only available option, though you can get it in any trim with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive for an extra $1,400. This all-wheel drive Premium Package runs around $31,000 with Mazda’s destination fee.

But which is better off-road?

If you hadn’t guessed it before watching the video, neither performed particularly well off-road. The Mazda CX-30’s miserly 6.9 inches of ground clearance is great for aerodynamics, but not for traversing rough terrain. The Kia Seltos does have slightly more clearance and its approach and departure angles aren’t terrible, but we suffered the same outcome as we did in the Hyundai Kona.

On both the Kona and the Seltos’ outings, that seven-speed dual-clutch transmission overheated. It’s a snappy enough gearbox in normal road use, but when you need to slowly feed a consistent amount of power, it definitely had to work hard to make any progress.

That’s not to say either crossover is absolutely terrible. Serious off-roading is about having the right tool for the job, and these are meant more to get you where you need to go if you need to get on the other side of a muddy county road, as we did in the Mazda CX-30 below, or you need to get around in the snow. For most normal use, both cars will suit you well.