Mazda has delivered in the super-competitive compact crossover market.
Up until very recently, Mazda's SUV lineup consists of the CX-3 subcompact crossover, the CX-5 compact crossover, and the CX-9 mid-size SUV. So when the Japanese automaker decided to make yet another small crossover, you'd assume it would have opted to call it the CX-4. However, the Chinese market has a model by that name that is closer to a station wagon than a crossover SUV.
Thus, the CX-30 was born. According to Mazda, the new model exists alongside the CX-3 aimed at the US market and, more specifically, single people or young couples starting a family.
Mazda has taken its Kodo: Soul of Motion exterior design language and painstakingly evolved it while also fitting an impressive interior. Underneath the bodywork, the CX-30 rolls on the same chassis as the fourth-generation Mazda 3 with which it shares very similar dimensions. In that respect, you could think of it as a taller Mazda 3. We recently spent some time with Mazda's latest offering, and came away suitably impressed.
The attention to detail Mazda has put into maturing and elevating the Kodo design language for the CX-30 is striking at first glance and gets even more interesting as you look closer. The S shadow you see down the side of the first image above is no happy accident. Everything is purposeful from that shadow that moves around with the car to the front end that's designed to look like it's in motion even when standing still.
The CX-30 is offered in seven colors, including Mazda's signature shades of Soul Red, Machine Gray Metallic, and Snowflake White Pearl Mica.
Power is dutifully supplied by Mazda's four-cylinder Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter engine that we've met before in the Mazda6. This isn't the turbocharged version, but it does make 186 horsepower in the CX-30 along with a healthy 186 lb-ft of torque. The single-engine option allows Mazda to claim best in class for the compact crossover segment as a base engine, but it's not the most powerful available. The power that is available is then controlled by a Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission.
All-wheel-drive models get Mazda's new off-road traction assist feature to help when things get slippery under the tires. Front-wheel drive is standard along with G-Vectoring Control Plus, and Mazda's i-Activ all-wheel-drive system is available on all trim levels. We don't have EPA figures for MPG yet but expect them to be around the same, if not better, than the Mazda CX-3.
The theme of attention to detail works its way systematically through the interior from the consistent tactile feel of the switches to the driving position and noise reduction. The first impression when climbing in is that Mazda has incrementally stepped up its aesthetic game for the CX-30, but those details in the switches and making sure all the lights throughout the car are of consistent warmth and color are what gives the interior a truly upmarket feel.
In regards to the driving position, Mazda has placed emphasis on physical comfort as well as minimizing distractions through the counter-intuitive strategy of moving the central display screen farther away from the driver's eyes. The theory is that it shortens the amount of time it takes for the human eye to go from long focus to short focus. What is, in theory, a fraction of a second makes a real difference in reality, and we found that it also makes checking things like navigation less tiring on a long drive.
The CX-30 boasts more rear passenger space than the CX-3 and is more than adequate for young kids and even teenagers.
With a small crossover, the trick is to balance cabin space, passenger space, and cargo space. Making that harder is the sporty body design Mazda has aimed for. To that end, Mazda has done well and, in the images, you can see luggage and equipment bags for two journalists on a two night trip in Southern California stored in the back and room for more. For a day to day family vehicle, there's plenty of room, and attention has gone into making it useable with a low loading height.
While the CX-30 looks sporty and is fun to drive, the engine isn't a zinger. It doesn't feel underpowered, and there's no trouble getting up to speed on the freeway, but we can't describe the CX-30 as zippy. The chassis does a lovely job of staying flat while soaking up the bumps, and part of that is in how Mazda has reversed its strategy of using harder tires and softer bushings. The idea is that the tires soak up the smaller bumps before they reach the chassis. It works to a fair degree, and there's no real loss of grip when pushing the CX-30 around.
Our trip with the CX-30 started in San Diego, California in the morning and ended in Palm Springs in the evening. That meant we got everything Southern California has to offer from city streets through worn freeways to long winding roads into the mountains. The CX-30 made everything easy and remained composed all the way through the landscape and freakishly heavy rain.
The biggest takeaway was in how fresh we were at the end of a long day driving, even though we navigated some treacherous freeway sections and even more treacherous mountain roads where visibility dropped at one point to just 50 feet. A comfortable driving position with logical and easy access to all the controls took all the stress out of driving and allowed us to concentrate on the road ahead. That experience mixed with low noise and vibration from the outside world turned a journey that could have been stressful at times into a pleasant ride through two cities and desert mountains.
While you could load up the trim level on the CX-30 to Premium with all-wheel-drive and pay $29,600 with a $1,045 destination charge, the CX-30 is set to start at $21,900 before destination. Standard features include an 8.8-inch center display with Mazda Connect, an eight-speaker sound system with HD Radio, automatic on/off LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers that we tested thoroughly on our drive, push-button start, remote entry, LED taillights and running lights, 16-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, and Mazda's i-Activsense safety system. The safety features include Driver Attention Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist, Smart Brake Support, and High Beam Control.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto show up in the Select trim level, along with 18-inch alloy wheels and, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and Mazda advanced keyless entry, leather steering wheel and shift knob, leatherette seats, dual-zone automatic, climate control, rear air conditioning vents and a rear armrest with cupholders. Select trim costs $23,900 and stepping up to Preferred costs $26,200.
Select adds a Bose audio system, gloss finish speaker grille, shark fin antenna, heated front seats, eight-way power and memory driver's seat with lumbar support, memory position door mirrors, and a black gloss finish for the front grille.
Premium tacks on windshield-projected active driving display, leather seats, a power liftgate, power moonroof, adaptive front lighting system, roof rails, paddle shifters, cylinder deactivation, and LED signature illumination headlights and taillights.
The subcompact crossover is a tough nut to crack in more ways than small hatchbacks are. Just by being a crossover, a vehicle is declaring its practicality in a world of tight constraints and tolerances. Looking carefully at the CX-30 and driving it, you can get a real appreciation of the laser focus Mazda has put into the project and the importance Mazda sees in the segment. There's a niche within a niche Mazda is tapping into by not being the cheapest in the mix but hitting on the premium feel that challenges the German brands with quality and pricing.
There's a genuine value for money in the CX-30 and little compromise in the bridge to premium brand's offerings. It falls down on power for those that want a genuinely sporty ride, but the power available is useable, and it's not a defining quality in the segment. The defining qualities are practicality and drivability and, considering the size, the CX-30 delivers and looks good while doing so.