Is it a sporty crossover? Is it a tall hatchback? However you want to view it, the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 is a compelling new entry that delivers the sort of engaging driving experience and premium cabin environment you get in the company's 3 hatchback, but with the higher seating position of a crossover. Basically, if that Mazda3 had a child with the bigger CX-5, this is pretty much what you'd get, and we have to say it's a pretty good kid.
In terms of size, the CX-30 fits into a niche of in-betweener SUVs that slots between compact models like the CX-5 (plus the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, etc.) and sub-compact ones like the Mazda CX-3 (plus the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, etc.). If you don't have small children, and the car seats and strollers that come with them, it's a size that should make sense. The price is compelling too, especially when you consider the CX-30's high-end cabin and just how terrific it is to drive. With its tautly tuned chassis, communicative steering and sharp throttle response, the best words to describe it are "budget Porsche."
Now, we should note that the Mazda3 is even better to drive and pretty much offers the same cabin space, design and quality. We also think it looks better. Nevertheless, people like sitting up high, and the CX-30 definitely satisfies that requirement.
The Mazda CX-30 is an all-new model.
Like the Mazda3 with which it shares so much, the CX-30's cabin makes you go "wow" considering its price and the vehicles with which it competes. Whatever trim level you're considering, the key to this wow factor is how Mazda's new dash design scheme removes visual clutter by reducing switchgear and effectively hiding air vents and door handles. It's then augmented by standard two- or three-tone color schemes – cars with cloth or leatherette vinyl upholstery are accented with black and blue dash/door trim, while those with leather get black and brown. For a car in the $20,000-$30,000 range, it looks and feels special.
It's also of a high quality and quite functional. The steering wheel, which looks sensational, is an absolute treat to hold and has intelligently designed buttons/switches for the infotainment and cruise controls. There's considerable center console space, including a configurable under-armrest bin, and a decently sized forward bin for a smartphone. Mazda's tech interface, which is a liability in the CX-3 and CX-5, is substantially more advanced in the CX-30. The dashtop screen is large and easy to see. The knob that controls it is big, ergonomically placed on the center console, and like BMW's iDrive controller, can rotate through menus or move up/down, left/right among icons. This latter feature is key for using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. While selecting their icons is easier with a touchscreen, wheeling through playlists or contacts is easier with a knob. Give and take, then.
The CX-30 is an unusual size. It's roughly as low (61.7 inches) and wide (70.7) as a subcompact SUV like the Hyundai Kona, but its length (173 inches) falls in between those and larger compact models like Mazda's own CX-5 (179.1). It's perhaps closest to other in-betweeners like the Nissan Rogue Sport and Kia Seltos, but it could also be considered a taller version of the Mazda3 Hatchback – not unlike the relationship between Subaru's Crosstrek and Impreza.
Inside, you'll find rear headroom that's comparable to all of the above crossovers and appreciably more than in the Mazda 3. Legroom is a bit better than most subcompact models, but that's not saying much. Two tall passengers will be able to sit front-to-back on the passenger side, but not on the driver-side. Fitting a rear-facing child seat in the middle will be a squeeze.
Cargo space with the rear seat raised is 20.2 cubic-feet, which is a bit better than most sub-compact models. It's virtually identical to the Mazda 3 hatchback, but in our testing, we found the CX-30's extra height allowed it to swallow an additional suitcase. Its suitcase count was similar to a Subaru Crosstrek and superior to a pair of small luxury models, the BMW X2 and Audi Q3. We could also fit a golf bag diagonally across the cargo area.
Every 2020 CX-30 comes with a 2.5-liter inline-four that produces 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, and you have a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. Typically, having only six gears (versus eight, nine or a CVT with infinite ratios), results in lower fuel economy, but Mazda's engineering wizards managed to make their smart-shifting six-speeder achieve 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. AWD lowers the numbers to 25/32/27. That's basically the same as the Nissan Rogue Sport, which has a CVT and only 141 hp.
If you want to feel what a car is doing through the steering wheel, throttle pedal and through the seat of your pants, the Mazda CX-30 is exactly the type of small crossover you're looking for. Its taller stature means it loses some of the agility provided by the lower Mazda3, but the primary control efforts and feedback are just as exceptional. When it comes to providing an engaging driving experience, no SUV comes remotely close in the CX-30's price range. There's even a case to be made that it provides more driving fun than a BMW X2.
Of course, the CX-30 can't match a BMW's engine, and we do admit that offering the CX-5's turbocharged engine upgrade would make the CX-30 even better. Still, the engine it has is more powerful than most competitors, boasts terrific throttle response and is paired with one of the smartest transmissions around. It always knows exactly which of its six gears to select at any given time, and when Sport mode is selected, it quickly downshifts when braking into a corner like the sport-tuned transmissions of luxury brands do. It also doesn't clumsily hang onto revs when accelerating thereafter. As a bonus, the Premium trim adds paddle shifters then let you have some extra fun if you're so inclined.
Our first taste of the CX-30 features more in-depth information about its design and engineering.