- Nice to look at
- Premium-feeling cabin
- Sporty steering feel
- Poor ride
- Small-for-segment interior
Mazda is in a state of transition. Not just from “Zoom Zoom” to “Driving Matters,” but from a builder of affordable, fun-to-drive cars and crossovers to what it considers a proper premium marque with sights set on the likes of Acura, Genesis, and Lexus. The 2020 Mazda CX-30, for better or worse, straddles that transition point between mainstream and luxury.
Design might be the most elegant part of the CX-30, a crossover nominally built to slot in the narrow white space between the slightly cheaper subcompact CX-3 and slightly more expensive compact CX-5. Although not breaking any new ground for Mazda, the CX-30 nevertheless stands out in its segment. Unlike many compact crossovers, the CX-30’s sheetmetal is simple and elegant with crisp, understated lines. It’s the same story inside. “It just looks more interesting and premium than anything else in the class,” features editor Scott Evans said. “Mazda really seems to get what makes a car look more expensive than it is.”
View Other 2021 SUV of the Year Contenders and Finalists Here
That expensive impression begins to fade the longer you spend with the Mazda. For starters, its back seat, though bigger than the back seat of the Mazda 3 it’s based on, is among the smallest in the segment. The high rear seat attempts to win back legroom for taller passengers, but the low roofline and pinched greenhouse can make the environment feel claustrophobic. Cargo space is at least decent for the class, even if the rear seats don’t fold flat.
Up front, the biggest frustration our judges had with the CX-30 was its ponderous infotainment suite. Although its single-knob scroll wheel and four-button setup seems simple at first, it makes even the easiest tasks maddeningly complex. Far better to fire up Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and minimize your time in Mazda’s native operating system.
Like its cabin, the CX-30’s drive experience is mixed, too. First the good: It still handles like a “Zoom Zoom”–era Mazda should. Steering is quick, well balanced, and nicely weighted. It’s almost enough to distract you from the rest of the drive experience. The biggest offender there is the CX-30’s powertrain—a 186-hp 2.5-liter I-4 paired with optional all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic that dates back to the 2014 Mazda 6.
Simply put, in an era when most competitors are moving toward smaller-displacement turbo engines, dual-clutches, and, yes, even CVTs, the CX-30 feels outclassed and underpowered. Or, as MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina put it: “Mazda has lost half of its ‘Zoom Zoom.’ Now it’s just ‘Zoom.’ ”
The CX-30’s current engine not only lacks the low-end grunt of its turbocharged competitors, but its dated six-speed auto is also geared tall for efficiency. The result—uncharacteristically for a Mazda—is a transmission that’s easily caught out in the wrong gear. “Really hunting around in gears on long inclines, often a double or triple downshift to get into the powerband,” editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin said. In other words, hope you like how the Mazda’s engine sounds, because you end up listening to it a lot.
And, not to pile on, but ride quality was disappointing, as well. Even though the CX-30 isn’t particularly sporty, the little Mazda SUV is stiffly sprung—skittish even—over rough patches.
The end result is that it feels neither sporty nor luxurious. Like the brand itself, the CX-30 (alongside the more successful CX-5) finds itself stuck in the middle. Worse still, it’s a disappointing effort in a competitive class. “Forgettable as Mazdas go,” head of editorial Ed Loh said, “which is sad.” Indeed.
|2020 Mazda CX-30 AWD Premium Specifications|
|Base Price/As tested||$24,400/$31,425|
|Power (SAE net)||186 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque (SAE net)||186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Accel, 0-60 mph||8.3 sec|
|Quarter-mile||16.3 sec @ 86.3 mph|
|Braking, 60-0 mph||125 ft|
|Lateral Acceleration||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT Figure Eight||27.9 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|EPA City/Hwy/Comb||25/32/27 mpg|
|Vehicle Layout||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|Engine/Transmission||2.5L DOHC 16-valve I-4/6-speed automatic|
|Curb Weight (F/R Dist)||3,352 lb (60/40%)|
|Length x Width x Height||173.0 x 70.7 x 61.7 in|
|Energy Cons, City/Hwy||135/105 kWh/100 miles|
|CO2 Emissions, Comb||0.70 lb/mile|
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