The compact/subcompact CUV segment – and yes, as we’ll soon see, these two and others like it are a little tough to categorize - is a hot one right now. SUVs and crossovers were already hot, but as soon as manufacturers discovered a way to get AWD systems compact enough that they could fit in the smaller blueprint of these vehicles, wee utility models gained even more steam.
Canadians in particular appreciate the peace of mind that comes with having all-wheel drive, so they were willing to get larger vehicles if that’s what was required. Of course, they also wanted efficiency, so if that meant having a slightly smaller engine to play with, so be it.
Vehicles like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Kia Seltos – two of the segment’s latest all-new entries - demonstrate that you can have the best of both worlds: the efficiency of a compact shape and turbocharged powertrain, but the capabilities of an AWD platform, with less of an impact on interior room than one might think.
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer
With the larger Blazer arriving for 2020, it seemed only natural that the Trailblazer might return as well. So while its arrival may not be entirely surprising, the fact that it’s actually the smaller of the two vehicles is a little more so.
After all, recall that the Trailblazer used to be either a larger or higher-spec trim of the Blazer. Things are a little different this time around; the Trailblazer is smaller and starts at a much lower base MSRP ($23,798) than the Blazer ($37,198).
Big styling upgrade
Recall, furthermore, that the last Trailblazer – especially in three-row EXT form – wasn’t exactly a looker. The basic model looked a little like the designers had taken a wax version of the larger Tahoe, let it melt in the sun – just a little – and thought “That’s it. Job done.” The EXT, meanwhile, looked as if it was designed with nary a nod to proportions at all; it had a weirdly tall roofline and its longer wheelbase somehow made it look like they’d sawed a Trailblazer in half, hastily welded in some larger body panels and shipped it off. It was like one of those horrible hack-job limousine conversions you may have seen on various “ugly cars are us”-style Facebook groups.
This new Trailblazer suffers from none of that. It’s edgy-looking with creases and cuts in all the right places, has sharp corners and rides on proper-looking wheels, especially in RS form as seen here. I love the black with contrast colour red roof, I love the subtle roof spoiler and I don’t even mind the headlights, which are of the previous-gen Jeep Cherokee school of design whereby the DRLs actually sit above the headlights, on the hood’s leading edge. Frankly, the Trailblaer is a cool-looking thing and aside from the plasticky, cheap-looking roof rails, this is a stylistic home run, just what Chevy needed.
The smaller, the better?
Power-wise, there are two engine choices - though that does depend on whether you want FWD or AWD. The former gets a 1.2L turbo three – count ‘em, three – cylinder engine good for 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. The latter versions come with a 1.3L turbo 3 good for 155 hp and 174 lb-ft of torque, and that was what our tester had under the hood.
This engine is responsive and punchy, responding well to throttle inputs and the 9-speed automatic transmission actually does well to keep pace with the engine and you don’t have the constant, annoying gear shuffling you sometimes get when so many gears are paired with such a small engine. (FWD editions get a CVT automatic and while that may be the efficient way to go, it isn’t going to be the most involving, or the quietest). Either way, while the response from tip-in is pretty good, that tiny little engine eventually does run out of breath and highway passing can be a little frantic as a result.
In 1.3L form, though, this is a quick little people-mover and at the end of the day, that’s going to speak volumes.
These type of crossovers are aimed at a younger buying group, and so the Trailblazer gets the requisite splashes of colour and trim to brighten up the interior a little, for instance red bezels on the gauges, red contrast stitching and even some faux red-tinted brushed aluminum around the vents and at the base of the centre stack. It does display a little more flash than what’s seen inside the Seltos.
The big takeaway for me, though, is that even though this is somewhere in the compact/subcompact CUV segment, the interior is roomy enough both front and back to accommodate four adults with little drama. You can thank the high roof for that.
Of course, all the requisite interior tech is here, like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 7-speaker Bose audio with 8-inch touchscreen, WiFi hotspot, wireless charging and even leatherette seating.
2021 Kia Seltos
South Korean automaker Kia has come with a very able competitor to the Trailblazer in the segment, although one that aims a little higher up the maturity ladder than does the Chevy.
Like no other
Indeed, you won’t mistake this Kia and its “Tiger Nose” front end for anything else, and the headlight treatment is perhaps even stranger than what’s displayed by the Trailblazer. Unlike the Chevy, the lights that align with the top of the grille are the headlights and the items below that are the turn signals – they look distinctive to be sure but it should be known that the IIHS found them not quite adequate enough for the Seltos to earn its top safety pick award.
Overall, the front end, rear fascia and stance of the model help differentiate the Seltos from the Trailblazer; it is the more mature-looking vehicle.
A techy but not sparkly interior
At first glance the Seltos’ interior is a buttoned-down affair. There are no red highlights as seen in the Trailblazer and there’s very little in the way of flash and dash when it comes to accents, making for a monochromatic look. However, a closer look at the spots that most draw occupants’ attention shows that there is a whole heck of a lot to like here. The gauge cluster features a massive seven-inch TFT display that even the newer, more expensive K5 GT-Line doesn’t get. It makes the equivalent in the Trailblazer look positively juvenile by comparison.
It gets complimented on the top-spec SX version we tested by a 10.25-inch main infotainment display (an 8-inch screen is standard on lower trims) that gets a very neat party trick in the way you can select from six different “sounds of nature” themes. And we’re not talking “themes” that just change the look of the UI and that’s it; these are here to actually make you feel better by pumping relaxing audio through the excellent 8-speaker Bose system. You can choose the relaxing sound of crashing waves, a lively forest and its buzzes and bird chirps and even the calming din of a coffee shop, among others (there are six in total).
What’s the point of all this? Well, I wondered that as well until I found myself on a long drive, not really wanting to listen to either music (both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are supported) or the drone of talk radio. I was grateful for the third option, and the rainy-day theme scratched me right where I itched. Talk about a feature you never thought you needed!
If you want to liven things up, the bezels around the speakers will “dance” with your music, though I found this feature tacky when I first experienced it in the Seltos’ Soul sibling, and that hasn’t changed much here. Luckily, it can be deactivated.
Now that’s what I call turbocharging
While the Trailblazer gets two turbo’d plants, the Seltos gets both a 1.6L turbo and a 2.0L naturally-aspirated Atkinson Cycle four-banger. The turbo motor makes more power than the Chevy’s 1.3L, while the Kia’s 2.0 L splits the difference between the two.
The turbo four in the Kia, though, is a real humdinger of an engine that’s good for 175 hp and 196 lb-ft of torque. If you thought the Trailblazer was quick on tip-in, the Seltos leaves it behind here and continues to do so as speeds increase, all backed up by a quick-shifting seven speed dual-clutch transmission. You won’t feel quite the same drop in power at higher speeds that you do in the Chevy, which once again points to the Kia perhaps being the more well-rounded vehicle. It does feel a little more jittery over smaller bumps than does the Trailblazer, however, which can lead to a few squirrely moments.
Like the Trailblazer, the Seltos feels way roomier than its exterior looks suggest; in fact, both of these vehicles have almost the exact same room both front and rear, so that’s not what’s going to win over potential buyers for either vehicle. The Seltos’ rear window is a little smaller than that of the Trailblazer, however, so the view out back is a little better in the Chevrolet.
Advantage Chevrolet Blazer
The Trailblazer’s styling really is a sight to behold. It’s aggressive without being overly so or too cheap-looking. And it shows what Chevrolet can do on the design front when their designers are given some more rope.
Advantage Kia Seltos
That infotainment system is quite clever, but the real winner for the Seltos is its engine, which offers great power delivery, awesome response at almost any speed and power enough to provide a real feeling of athleticism.
The big takeaway from both of these is just how much room there is inside both for occupants and their cargo. It’s hard to believe that crossovers like this can provide all that AWD gear and still have headroom enough for most adults, and not look like they’re towering awkwardly above everything else.
At the end of the day, both of these are great choices in the segment. Both have great interior room, powertrains that are punchy enough for the average driver and of course, very capable AWD systems. At a push, the Seltos’ power – especially in turbo form – and infotainment system give it a slight edge, although you do save over $2,000 when it comes to the base MSRP of the Seltos SX and the Trailblazer RS, so the latter wins some points back there. Our suggestion? Try them both.
2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS
Cost of entry
We like less
Runs out of puff at higher speeds
Infotainment a little bland-looking
2021 Kia Seltos SX
Powerful turbo motor
Generous cargo capacity
We like less
Looks not for everyone
|...||2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS||2021 Kia Seltos SX|
|Transmission||9-speed auto||7-speed auto|
|Fuel consumtion (city)||8.9L/100 km||9.4L/100 km|
|Fuel consumtion (hwy)||7.8L/100 km||7.9L/100 km|
|Output||155 hp||175 hp|
|Torque||174 lb-ft||186 lb-ft|
|Cargo space||716 l / 1540 l||752 l / 1778 l|
|Fuel Tank||50 l||50 l|
|Length||4407 mm||4370 mm|
|Width||1808 mm||1800 mm|
|Height||1669 mm||1630 mm|
|Wheelbase||2639 mm||2630 mm|
|Warranty||5 yr/100,000 km||5 yr/100,000 km|
|Pricing as tested||$36,978||$32,845|