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2021 Mazda CX-30 Test Drive Review

When it comes to the new 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo, the sum is greater than its handful of extra parts.

7.5 /10
Overall Score

Blurring the lines between mainstream and luxury brands, the new 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo pairs effortless acceleration and engaging driving dynamics with a premium design and impressive technologies. Despite its substantial boost in power, this small crossover SUV isn’t about hardcore performance. Rather, it’s about delivering equal parts confidence, capability, style, and satisfaction, and at a price that stops where the traditional luxury brands are just getting started.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

If you like black wheels and you cannot lie, well, then you’re going to like the new 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo. Between the Turbo’s exclusive shiny black 18-inch rollers, shiny black grille, shiny black side mirror housings, and thick matte black body cladding, it appears as though a black Sharpie 44 Magnum was having its way with the CX-30 Turbo before calmer minds put a halt to the carnage.

When it comes to all of the lower body cladding, Mazda’s official explanation is that it gives the CX-30 Turbo a light and agile appearance, like the body is floating over the wheels. Yes, that is the effect, as though the CX-30 is cresting a sharp hill at speed and the suspension is fully extended. Except it looks like this all of the time.

Whether you like the effect or not, there’s no denying that Mazda’s approach makes the CX-30 look like something other than the Mazda Mazda3 hatchback on which it is based. Though the styling themes between the two models are similar, the CX-30 is higher off the ground both perceptually and in reality.

You realize this the moment you open the door to slide into—rather than drop down into—the CX-30. Once you’re situated in the driver’s seat, you’ll notice how the cabin looks just like the Mazda3’s. This is not a bad thing. Quality materials, complementary tones and textures, and stitched chocolate brown surfaces give every Mazda CX-30 Turbo an upscale vibe.

Changes to the cabin are limited to a chrome accent around the engine start button and a standard frameless rearview mirror. Stick with the standard specification, and the SUV offers a choice between black and Griege leatherette upholstery, the latter exactly what it sounds like—a grayish beige (or a beige-ish gray). Black or white leather is standard with Premium and Premium Plus trim.

Prices for the new 2021 CX-30 Turbo range from about $31,000 to around $35,000. Our Snowflake White Pearl Mica test vehicle had Premium Plus trim, Black leather, and a rear bumper guard, bringing the price to $35,745 including a destination charge of $1,175.


7/ 10

Aside from adding its turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine under the hood, Mazda makes a handful of changes to the CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s six-speed automatic transmission, standard i-Activ all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, front suspension tuning, and G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC-Plus) technology.

The engine makes between 227 and 250 horsepower, depending on the octane rating of the fuel you feed it. Run it on regular, and you’ll be getting the 227 ponies. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because torque measures 310 pound-feet at 2,000 rpm or 320 lb-ft at 2,500 rpm. In other words, acceleration is going to feel pretty much the same at lower engine speeds.

As far as fuel economy goes, the CX-30 Turbo’s official EPA rating is 25 mpg in combined driving. We averaged 24.1 mpg. Based on that average and the SUV’s 12.7-gallon fuel tank, the maximum driving range is just over 305 miles. Put another way, you’re going to be stopping for gas. A lot.

Talk with Mazda engineer Jay Chen, and it’s clear the company has spent a bunch of time studying acceleration g-force, which measures what people feel while they’re behind the wheel. Rather than calibrate the CX-30 Turbo to deliver the fastest acceleration time to 60 mph, Chen says Mazda tunes its vehicles to supply more power and response than most people will need most of the time. This approach, in turn, leads to greater driving satisfaction.

On the road, what you feel from the CX-30 Turbo is effortless acceleration regardless of the situation. There are hints of torque steer when you step hard on the accelerator from a stop or when exiting a corner or a curve, as you might expect with up to 320 lb-ft of torque flowing through the drivetrain. The revised GVC-Plus technology helps to manage this, and the i-Activ AWD monitors weight transfer, acceleration, and cornering g-force to actively distribute up to half of the engine’s power to the rear wheels, where a more robust rear differential mount can handle 300% more torque than a standard CX-30.

Mazda engineer Dave Coleman also admits that, depending on the situation, the software might limit torque delivery to the front wheels simply because there is so much of it. If that recalls the gone-but-not-forgotten Mazdaspeed 3, yes, the theory is similar. But compared to that frenetic hot hatch, the Mazda CX-30 Turbo is less Zoom Zoom and more Feel Alive.

The distinction resides in how the vehicle drives. Modern Mazdas are not meant to deliver a raw and visceral dynamic. In keeping with the automaker’s move into premium territory, its cars and SUVs are all grown up and sophisticated. Yes, they’re still enjoyable to drive, but the source of that pleasure is less obvious, lending today’s Mazda lineup greater subtlety and sophistication.

Given the CX-30 Turbo’s close kinship with the Mazda3 Turbo, comparisons are difficult to avoid when you’ve driven both cars on the same roads – albeit not back-to-back.

To its detriment, the CX-30’s added height, weight, and tire sidewall section width make it less pleasurable to drive – and Mazda’s slight stiffening of the front suspension to account for some of the added bulk doesn’t solve this. Put simply, the CX-30 Turbo doesn’t handle as well as the Mazda3. To a driving enthusiast, this is an unacceptable trade-off, unless you have a regular hankering to head well off of the highway.

When driving in the dirt is desirable, the CX-30’s 2.5 inches of extra ground clearance more than compensate for any reduction in on-pavement performance. Plus, the CX-30 Turbo comes with an Off-Road mode, which puts i-Activ on standby and ready to lock up the center coupling to ensure maximum transfer of power to the rear wheels when necessary.

Feeling confident after hearing Mazda explain its Off-Road mode, and following days of rain, we headed down a muddy path and promptly encountered a maze of deep ruts and puddles. Knowing this trail well, and realizing just how deep and swampy the path ahead would be, we prudently pulled a three-point turn and headed back whence we came on the CX-30 Turbo’s all-season tires.

Later, we pulled onto the dirt shoulder of a country road. From a standstill, we mashed the accelerator pedal to the floor and the CX-30 Turbo’s i-Activ AWD instantly sent power to the rear wheels to give the little SUV remarkable traction and response as we aimed it back onto the pavement. With some front-drive-based AWD systems, you can feel a delay before the power heads to the rear axle. Here, in this situation, the delay proved imperceptible.

If you know what you’re looking for, you can tell that the CX-30 Turbo uses a simple torsion-beam rear suspension design. To Mazda’s credit, the majority of the time you can’t feel a difference, and that’s also true of the Mazda3. But, as we accelerated down an on-ramp onto a highway, the SUV passed over a dip on just the right side of the lane, but both sides of the CX-30’s rear end reacted to it, giving the SUV a more pronounced bounce than expected.

Nevertheless, the CX-30 is a clear cut above the small SUVs from mainstream brands and is nearly as rewarding to drive as the best luxury alternatives.

Form and Function

7/ 10

In addition to being easy to get into and out of, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is exceptionally comfortable for the driver. Thanks to eight-way power adjustment, impressive long-distance support, and Mazda’s driver-focused interior layout and control positioning, the CX-30 Turbo feels like a perfectly natural fit.

Both front seats are also heated, and a heated steering wheel is standard with Premium and Premium Plus trim. Ventilated seats are not available, though, a necessity if Mazda wants people to consider it a credible premium SUV alternative. It would help to have a wider range of adjustment for the front passenger’s seat, too. The seat itself is comfortable, just not easy to tailor to preferences as the one the driver enjoys.

Though Mazda arranges all of the controls around the driver for an intimate setting, the cabin’s organic shapes and overall minimalism contribute to a sense of spaciousness. This openness, combined with high-quality materials and switchgear, can make the CX-30 Turbo look and feel like a larger SUV from the driver’s seat.

But the CX-30 Turbo is actually a small SUV, and that’s evident when you load adults into the back seat. Cramped accommodations await, though it’s worth noting that the front seatbacks are just as soft and densely padded as the CX-30’s front center and door panel armrests. So, grown-ups can tolerate it for a short while, in part because Mazda equips the CX-30 Turbo with rear-seat air conditioning vents.

Storage space is generous for a vehicle of this size, but Mazda locates the optional wireless smartphone charger at the bottom of the center console storage bin beneath the center armrest. This location forces a choice. Use the center console for storage, or use it for wireless phone charging. It cannot serve both purposes.

Raise the rear liftgate and the CX-30 Turbo presents 20.2 cubic feet of cargo space. That’s essentially identical to the Mazda3 hatchback, which supplies 20.1 cubic feet of volume. Fold the seats down and the CX-30 offers 45.2 cubic feet, which is less than the Mazda3 hatchback’s 47.1 cubic feet.

Tech Level

8/ 10

Artfully poised atop the Mazda CX-30 Turbo’s dashboard, an 8.8-inch infotainment-system display offers two panels of data to the driver. It is not a touchscreen. Instead, the driver operates the system using physical controls on the center console and steering wheel, or specific voice commands requiring prescribed pathways to success.

With enough time and acclimation, you get used to how the Mazda Connect infotainment system works. A natural voice recognition system would reduce distraction, and would make the Mazda CX-30 more competitive within the entry-luxury SUV club it aspires to join. But the voice control technology is helpful when walking the driver through the required prompts, though glancing back and forth between the road and the 8.8-inch display undercuts Mazda’s reasoning for not offering a touchscreen.

Furthermore, standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring provide access to the digital assistants you already know and love. But there must be an easier way to cycle through your radio station favorites. Maybe we’re missing something obvious when setting Mazda Connect up, but the process of changing between favorite stations – pushing on the center console knob to call up a menu, twisting it to select Favorites, pushing it again to choose Favorites, twisting it again to the desired station, and then pushing it again to choose a station – is seriously aggravating.

All CX-30 Turbos have three free years of Mazda Connected Services including remote engine starting and a vehicle finder function, with a separate trial period for the 4G LTE WiFi hotspot service. You can enjoy it for free for six months or 2GB use of data.

With Premium and Premium Plus trim, the Mazda CX-30 includes SiriusXM satellite radio, a navigation system, and a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system. This is an impressive set of components, and it sounds great in part because Mazda says it was able to work with Bose early in this interior’s design phase to ensure proper speaker placement.

Premium and Premium Plus trim also equips the CX-30 with an Active Driving Display (a head-up display). It shows the driver a range of useful data projected onto the windshield, including when another vehicle is in the SUV’s blind spots. This is brilliant because you don’t need to look away from the road ahead before signaling a lane change in order to know if the maneuver will be a safe one or not.


9/ 10

The Mazda CX-30 Turbo might be small, but it is mighty, and for an important reason other than its engine. This SUV earned a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the 2020 calendar year (2021 ratings were not final as this review was published). It gets the highest IIHS rating in every testing parameter.

In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the same is true. It earns five-star ratings in every assessment except for rollover resistance, where it receives a four-star rating. Since we’ve made comparisons to the Mazda3 Turbo already, it's worth noting the car gets a superior 5-star rollover resistance rating.

Mazda equips every CX-30 Turbo with a full collection of i-ActiveSense advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS). They include the usual suspects and are effective in ways that please rather than irritate. There is no high-speed lane-centering assistance function, though, which is sometimes nice to have.

Premium trim adds an adaptive front lighting system that helps to illuminate around curves and corners by bending the headlight beams into them. It’s useful. Premium Plus trim installs front and rear parking sensors, a rear automatic braking system that operates at speeds under 6 mph, a surround-view camera system, and Traffic Jam Assist (TJA).

New for 2021, TJA works at speeds below 40 mph, providing lane-centering assistance to complement the adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. It works well, but you can’t remove your hands from the steering wheel for long before a loud, blaring alert encourages you to put them back where they belong.

Lastly, every CX-30 Turbo has a mobile 9-1-1 automatic emergency notification system that contacts first responders following a collision, helping to get rescuers to the SUV’s location as soon as is possible.


7/ 10

Mazda plugs the 2021 CX-30 Turbo into a sweet spot in the small SUV market. It costs more than competitors from mainstream brands, but it offers class-above design, materials, quality, and power.

At the same time, it costs less than competitors from luxury brands, delivering far more equipment and, in some cases, superior performance and more sophisticated styling at a lower price.

If you aspire to own a luxury SUV and you don’t care about the brand cachet that accompanies the purchase of an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes, the Mazda CX-30 Premium Plus demands consideration. But if you simply aspire to own a new SUV, you might want to consider the standard CX-30 and save yourself a few grand.

We spent a few days in a CX-30 Premium before driving the turbocharged variant, finding it reasonably energetic thanks to its well-calibrated six-speed automatic transmission. And, in almost every respect, it offers the same levels of dynamism, quality, style, sophistication, and technology that you’ll find in a CX-30 Turbo Premium.

Furthermore, the new CX-30 Turbo also faces stiff competition from within the Mazda family: the CX-5 Turbo. Granted, the only real overlap in terms of price comes in the form of the new-for-2021 CX-5 Carbon Edition, but about the same price the Carbon Edition upgrades you into a larger, roomier, and no less enjoyable SUV in exchange for some of the smaller CX-30 Turbo’s upscale materials and features.

Mazda says this familial pricing overlap isn’t a concern, and that its customers will choose the SUV that is sized to and equipped for their lifestyle. More likely, this pricing similarity is a short-term problem because the next-generation CX-5 (CX-50?) will probably move it further upscale.

Such a move would give the new Mazda CX-30 Turbo some necessary breathing room, making it an even more cost-effective answer to the question of which small SUV to buy.

Updated by Christian Wardlaw

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