Not the most exciting or the most capable, but always a nice place to be
They try so hard. These days automakers churn out all kinds of subcompact crossovers in an attempt to pander to your attitudes and lifestyle. Whether you want to project active outdoorsiness, sporty flair, or funky individuality, there’s a micro-SUV for you.
Stare long enough, though, and the options can seem a bit contrived. Drive them, and you’ll find they might not have the performance to back up their facade.
Mazda doesn’t try with the CX-30—it simply does. The brand’s newest small crossover, built to slot between the CX-3 and CX-5, is as light on pretense as it is in backroad-carving and trail-bashing ability. But that’s for the better, as we found out living with the all-wheel-drive CX-30 Premium package. Instead, it’s an attractive and pleasant little car, one that lets you decide what to make of it.
If the CX-30 looks like a lifted Mazda3 Hatchback, that’s because it essentially is. The vehicles share the same basic architecture, aside from altered suspension componentry that gives the CX-30 6.9 inches of ground clearance, 1.4 inches greater than the Mazda3 hatch. The body, too, is unique, with a 61.7-inch roof height, which is about 5 inches taller than its hatchback counterpart, but at 173.0 inches long, it’s 2.6 inches more compact. Cargo volume measures 20.2 cubic feet behind the second row, just 0.1 more than the Mazda3 hatch. Oddly, though, it has 1.9 fewer cubic feet when the second row is folded down.
Like the Mazda3, style is a CX-30 selling point. Its interpretation of Mazda’s kodo design language looks excellent. Elegant, flowing body panels are dispersed by just enough creased and pointed details. Prominent black cladding along the lower body might ape some of its toughness-seeking competitors, but it’s easy to look past as you appreciate the sheetmetal’s contours.
Outside visibility is a drawback to those looks. The CX-30’s high beltline and large D-pillars conspire to make some considerable blind spots. Fortunately, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is on its list of standard safety features.
Behind the black mesh grille is a 2.5-liter naturally aspirated I-4 shared with the Mazda3. It produces 186 hp and an equal amount of torque, claimed by Mazda to be class-leading. At the test track we measured a 7.8-second 0–60 run, behind the all-wheel-drive Hyundai Kona Ultimate’s 6.6-second sprint but way ahead of the Nissan Rogue Sport’s 9.8-second stroll. In the real world, power feels adequate, not enough to excite yet sufficient to zip around and execute passes.
Road test editor Chris Walton noted “quick and very smooth” shifts from the six-speed automatic transmission during acceleration tests, which is mostly the case on the road, too. Besides occasional fumbles at lower speeds, it’s totally innocuous. Six ratios seems limited in this era of eight-speed and higher transmissions, but pure quantity aside, it’s a nonissue. The paddle shifters are surprisingly responsive, if manual gear selection is your thing.
With confident firmness and plenty of feel, the CX-30’s brakes are well calibrated. They bite almost immediately but aren’t overly grabby. In most situations, there’s great linearity and modulation. However, Walton noticed that in panic stops the “normally firm pedal goes squishy.” Nonetheless, we recorded consistent 60–0 stopping distances, ranging only 1 foot beyond a 119-foot best. That betters the Toyota CH-R XLE’s 122 feet and trounces the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk’s 133.
Excellent steering is a Mazda hallmark, and that’s no different in the CX-30. Tiny inputs to the wheel result in directional changes; there’s almost no numbness. It’s almost too accurate—this responsiveness provides a sense of control, but freeway cruising can become taxing as you constantly make minute adjustments to stay straight ahead. Lane keep assist is standard, but its intervention is so minimal that you’ll only notice it if you drift across the line.
Around the figure-eight handling course, testing director Kim Reynolds found the CX-30 “surprisingly nice,” as it feels “light and nimble on its feet.” Its result of 27.4 seconds at 0.62 g is more like what we’d expect from subcompact crossovers a price bracket above.
Let’s be clear, though: The CX-30 isn’t all that sporty. Yes, it’s reactive and agile, but it doesn’t have the eagerness and excitement of a sports car. That’s due to the somewhat relaxed power delivery, and it’s not very balanced, either. Reynolds said it “turns in sweetly and corners with good authority,” yet it nevertheless understeers. Unlike a sports car, it doesn’t goad you to push it harder.
The same goes for off-roading. It’ll do it if it must, but the CX-30 is far from trail-tuned. Ruts and dips in a simple dirt road start to overwhelm its suspension—approach real terrain and features with caution. The available all-wheel drive certainly helps and gives more confidence for driving through wet or slick weather. Still, don’t let the off-road mode fool you that the CX-30 is ready for rock crawling.
So where are you supposed to drive the CX-30? Everywhere else—and there, it’s great. On city streets its compact dimensions and nimble handling help it squeeze through gaps. On congested highways, standard adaptive cruise control takes the annoyance out of creeping along. When it’s time to park, the CX-30’s short overhangs, tilt-down side mirrors, and clear backup camera make it a breeze. All the while it’s very comfortable, with suspension that smooths the road without feeling soft or floaty, though it can bounce out of larger decompressions.
Not to mention, the whole time you’re immersed in its fabulous interior. Mazda absolutely leads the segment, designing cabins that would suit vehicles far more expensive. Everything looks and feels upscale, with abundant soft-touch surfaces and solid-feeling buttons. The seats are padded just enough to further insulate you from harshness while not feeling overly plush. A high-resolution 7.0-inch digital gauge display and an 8.8-inch infotainment screen are standard, both strategically placed within your line of sight. Although the infotainment isn’t touch controlled, its dial makes the system easy to navigate. Two USB ports and smartphone connectivity are standard. At speed the cabin is quiet, with almost no wind noise but a bit of tire roar. Nonetheless the rich, immersive optional 12-speaker audio system will drown it out.
Mazda’s latest subcompact SUV is a success. The CX-30 isn’t the most exciting or capable vehicle in the class, but it’s not trying for that. Instead, it’s always a nice place to be, an attribute that competitors more sporty or rugged don’t always have. It’s refreshing to find a vehicle that doesn’t try to box you into a predefined image but still manages to be stylish and distinctive. Between its enjoyable drive and coddling interior, it’s easy to look forward to pressing the CX-30’s starter button and getting where you need to go.
|2020 Mazda CX-30 AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$31,965|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.5L/186-hp/186-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,356 lb (60/40%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||173.0 x 70.7 x 61.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.8 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.0 sec @ 88.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||119 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.4 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||25/32/27 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||135/105 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.70 lb/mile|