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2020 Mazda CX-30 Test Drive Review
Mazda's second try at building a compact crossover SUV is better than its first. But the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30 also underscores the inherent disadvantages of choosing a crossover over a car.
Based on the Mazda3 platform, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 compact crossover offers two distinct advantages over the car on which it is based. The first is extra ground clearance for navigating snowstorms and light-difficulty trails. The second is easier entry and exit because the CX-30 sits higher off the ground. In exchange for these benefits, the CX-30 dilutes the brilliant design and driving dynamics for which the Mazda3 is revered. But it still looks and drives better than most of its competition.
Look and Feel
At some point during the 2020 Mazda CX-30's gestation, there was a meeting. During that meeting, attendees discussed the thick gray plastic covering the CX-30's lower perimeter. A decision was made. It was wrong.
Reduce the excessive cladding by half, and it would be hard to fault the CX-30's styling. As it stands, the overdone SUV costume simply serves to make even the 18-inch wheels look too small, and the CX-30 appears to be in a state perpetual full suspension extension, as though it is sitting on a hydraulic lift in a service center waiting for a tire rotation.
Let's hope Mazda isn't planning to apply a similar treatment to its other SUVs.
Otherwise, the CX-30's design is terrific. And that's especially true of the interior, which looks and feels luxurious as long as you keep your eyes and hands above the midpoint of the cabin's height. Below that, hard plastic is the rule, but given what you pay, you need to expect it.
Speaking of paying, 2020 Mazda CX-30 prices start at $21,900. Spending another $2,000 for Select trim is worth the upgrade if for no other reason than it installs dark tinted rear privacy glass and 18-inch wheels that can help to fill out the gaping visual holes in each of the CX-30's fenders. Preferred trim is $26,200, and Premium trim is $28,200. For each, all-wheel drive (AWD) is a $1,400 upgrade, and as of this writing, the destination charge costs $1,100.
Our test vehicle was a CX-30 Premium AWD with extra-cost Soul Red Crystal paint, a navigation system, a cargo mat, and a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror. It tallied up to $32,120, including the destination charge.
Mazda's smooth and refined 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine powers the CX-30, providing 186 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. These figures are more than competitive, but the CX-30 is relatively heavy at 3,408 pounds, as tested. It also doesn't offer a turbocharged engine option, which would improve performance at altitude.
Fortunately, the 6-speed sport automatic transmission is an excellent transmission that knows how to make the most of the available motive force. With Premium trim, it includes a set of paddle shifters, which by their existence make a false promise of greater driving pleasure. The transmission powers the CX-30's front wheels unless you specify the optional AWD system, which includes an off-road traction assist system.
Mazda says the CX-30 supplies 8 inches of ground clearance. That's less than a Jeep Compass Trailhawk or Subaru Crosstrek, but more than most small crossover SUVs. Still, you're going to want to limit off-roading excursions to paths often traveled.
Satisfaction with the Mazda CX-30's driving dynamics is directly related to whatever you've benchmarked in terms of experience. Compared to the sporty Mazda3 on which it is based, the CX-30 feels slower and sloppier. Compared to the majority of other small SUVs, it feels speedy and sprightly.
With 2.5 extra inches of ground clearance and 153 pounds of added weight compared to a Mazda3 Premium AWD hatchback, our CX-30 Premium AWD test vehicle's inherently higher center of gravity took a toll on handling. And the torsion beam axle rear suspension it inherits from the Mazda3 certainly doesn't help. On anything but a straight, smooth road, the CX-30 suffers from exaggerated ride motions and body lean despite its sophisticated G-Vectoring Control Plus technology, which is charged with reducing such unpleasantries.
In comparison to a car, such observations are almost always true of any SUV. They sit higher, they have taller centers of gravity, and the combination results in deterioration of the ride and handling. Measured against other small crossovers, however, the Mazda CX-30 ranks closer to the top of its class for driving dynamics. Perhaps only the Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, and Subaru Crosstrek can match or exceed it in terms of smiles per mile.
Fortunately, the CX-30's steering, braking, and communication with the driver remain sharp, ensuring that during the typical kinds of driving most people engage in most of the time, this Mazda supports the automaker's "feel alive" brand messaging. But if you really want to feel alive, the Mazda3 is the better pathway to success.
It's also a better pathway to saving money at the pump. While the EPA says you can expect to average fuel economy of 27 mpg in combined driving with a CX-30 AWD, I extracted no better than 23.9 mpg on my testing loop.
Plus, the AWD model's gas tank is smaller by nearly a gallon, at 12.7 gallons compared to 13.5. Based on my experience, that puts the real-world driving range at just over 300 miles, and only if you drain the tank completely.
Form and Function
In addition to its blizzard-battling ground clearance, the other primary benefit of choosing a Mazda CX-30 over a Mazda3 is the ease of entry and exit. Because it sits so high off of the ground, getting in and getting out is a simpler and more comfortable exercise.
Once you're settled inside, and after you've taken note of how upscale and elegant the interior looks and feels, you'll find a comfortable if snug and intimate driving environment. Soft padding covers the center console and door armrests, as well as the front upper door panels, improving comfort. The driving position is excellent, and Mazda provides large, simple analog gauges for quick reference.
Cloth seating is standard in the base Mazda CX-30. Simulated leather comes in Select and Preferred trim levels, while Premium trim offers genuine leather. With Preferred and Premium trim, the driver's seat supplies 8-way power adjustment and both front seats are heated. Ventilated seats would be nice to have with Premium trim, especially given how Mazda's air conditioning typically struggles to combat summertime temperatures.
As is true of many small SUVs, the CX-30's rear seat is cramped with little legroom. Younger children and shorter adults will be happiest with this seating assignment.
Cargo space isn't generous, either, at 20.2 cubic feet behind the back seat and 45.2 cubic feet with the back seat folded down. The first measurement is essentially identical to a Mazda3 Hatchback, while the second one is actually smaller than what the car offers. Both numbers amount to less than what you'll find in many of the CX-30's competitors, and really puts the CX-30 closer to the subcompact segment.
In terms of technology, you could say the Mazda CX-30 supplies everything you need and nothing you don't. And that's not a criticism. However, it would be nice if the infotainment system had a shallower learning curve.
Using an 8.8-inch static display that is deftly melted into the dashboard design, Mazda purposely avoids employing a touchscreen to improve driver focus and attention on the road ahead. The only problem with this approach is that the controls' center console, steering wheel, and voice commands aren't always easy to use, and the way the system operates isn't always intuitive.
So, let's summarize thusly: limit your fiddling with the system while you're driving.
Standard equipment includes Bluetooth calling and music streaming, text messaging support, HD Radio, a Pandora internet radio app, and Mazda Connected Services with a free 3-year trial subscription. WiFi service is available with Mazda Connected Services, along with remote engine starting, a car finder function, and more.
In order to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, you need to choose Select trim, representing yet another good reason to avoid the base version of this crossover SUV. Satellite radio is standard with Preferred and Premium trims, and these versions of the CX-30 also offer a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system with Centerpoint 2 and AudioPilot technologies. Additionally, the CX-30 Premium includes a head-up display.
Safety is a clear benefit of choosing a Mazda CX-30. From its generous list of standard advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS) to its impressive crash-test ratings, you cannot go wrong with this Mazda if safety is a top concern.
Every CX-30 is equipped with plenty of safety features, starting with adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go technology, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane-keeping assistance. A reversing camera, a driver monitoring system, and automatic high-beam LED headlights are also a part of the standard equipment list, along with rain-sensing automatic wipers and, as a part of Mazda Connected Services, a 911 automatic emergency notification system.
If you needed yet another reason to upgrade from base to Select trim, it adds a blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning system to the SUV. Beyond these features, the only remaining safety upgrade is found with Premium trim, a set of adaptive front lights that help to see around curves and corners at night.
All of this technology operates in a fairly seamless manner, rarely drawing undue attention from the driver or passengers. You can also adjust sensitivity levels, turn certain functions on or off, and otherwise tailor the ADAS functionality to personal preferences. In particular, I like the subtle steering wheel vibration associated with the lane departure warning system, which encourages rather than discourages use.
If a collision proves unavoidable, rest easy knowing the Mazda CX-30 gets high marks for crashworthiness. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) assigns the CX-30 a 5-star rating in every crash test, combined with a 4-star rollover resistance rating.
Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the little Mazda SUV a Top Safety Pick rating with Premium trim, which has the best headlights. If you don't mind the Poor rating for the standard headlights, other versions of the CX-30 earn top marks in all other IIHS safety assessments.
While the Mazda CX-30 cannot match some competitors for ownership benefits that range from free maintenance to exceptionally long warranty programs, you certainly do feel like you're getting more than you paid for.
Credit the SUVs styling, interior design, and materials for this sense of value, as well as the generous list of safety technologies and excellent crash-test scores. The Mazda CX-30's overall refinement and sophistication also factor into the equation, from its remarkably quiet cabin to its communicative steering and suspension.
Overall, there is much to like about a 2020 Mazda CX-30, the silly high-waisted "mom jeans" plastic cladding notwithstanding.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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