Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Mazda CX-30

Mazda joins the mini-ute fray with its CX-30

By Jim Bray
April 30, 2020

Take Mazda's award-winning, and terrific, 3 hatchback, raise it a bit and add some plastic cladding and what do you have?

Well, if you've read the title to this piece, you're already a step ahead and know I'm talking about the new for 2020 CX-30, a compact SUV/Crossover that's based on the 3 – and that's a heckuva great place to start!

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

I love the Mazda 3, though I think this current generation's hatchback model has a rear end only a Kardashian fan could love. But the car is terrific and arguably the nicest and most fun compact coming from Japan these days. Zoom-Zoom, even though I've heard that Mazda is apparently not using it any more, is not just a slogan; it's a fact.

But it appears the marketplace is moving more toward SUV/Crossovers and though Mazda already has a terrific lineup in its CX-3, CX-5 and CX-9, they apparently felt there was a hole in their inventory where such vehicles as Toyota's C-HR, Honda's HR-V, Hyundai's Venue or Kona and Kia's Seltos and Niro live.

Hence the CX-30. And judging from my week with it, just as winter was trying to end and the Coronavirus was trying to begin, it's a fine entry. And as a car guy as opposed to an SUV/Crossover aficionado, I actually think it's nicer looking than the 3 hatchback, from the B pillar (between the front and rear doors) back.

Oh, I could do without the plastic cladding, but it seems to be a common affliction for this type of vehicle.

It's probably fair to look upon the CX-30 as a tall 3, kind of like the Audi A4 Allroad is basically an A4 wagon raised a bit from the regular model. So, you get a little taller view of the road, which apparently is one of the selling points for SUV/Crossovers compared to cars, and perhaps better off road performance (especially if you opt for the all wheel drive version).

As a 3 spinoff, the CX-30 doesn't really offer a lot more room than the 3, and its storage space seems a tad tight compared with the CX-5 (which I guess makes sense, since it's smaller and supposedly more entry level), though it's also a tad larger than the CX-3.

But it feels like a 3 when you're inside, and it drives pretty much like one, too, and those a good things indeed.

Powering the CX-30 are the 3's engine choices of a two-litre four-cylinder one that puts out 155 horsepower and 150 lb.-ft. of torque, and the much more satisfying 2.5 litre inline-four with its 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines get power to either the front or all wheels (depending on which version of the CX-30 you buy) via a six-speed automatic transmission that, as it should, has a nice sport mode that keeps the revs a bit higher to help instill maximum "Zoom-Zoom" – though in sport mode it really pays to drive the thing aggressively because otherwise you might feel some frustration at how it hangs onto gears longer than you may like. 

The best thing about the automatic transmission is that it's a real automatic transmission, not a fun-sapping and ear-annoying continuously variable transmission like you find in a lot of the competition (and not just in this segment, either).

I'd love to see Mazda offer its nice turbo four here – it's hard to argue against having more power! – but that isn't the case so far. On the upside, the top line trim level's engine also gets cylinder deactivation for better fuel mileage. And it's seamless.

The all-wheel drive option is Mazda's i-Activ AWD, which the company says uses 27 sensors to predict changing road conditions (200 times per second!). The system will distribute power to each wheel as needed. Add to that Mazda's G-Vectoring Control Plus, which helps with the vehicle's already nice handling.

The interior is typically Mazda, which means it looks and feels like it was taken from a higher end vehicle. It's elegant but straightforward. The infotainment system, as with other Mazdas, consists of a touch screen that's too far away, and a knob-based interface between the front seats that works well but is a tad fussy when you're driving. But overall, it works well – better than some higher end competition as well, with their weird knobs or other pointing devices and cascading menus.

It isn't as straightforward as the systems used by Ford/Lincoln, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia, but it's above average in its ease of use.

It's easy to change radio presets if you've saved them as favourites, requiring merely a twist and a click of the central knob, but if you're trying to find a station that isn't saved as a favourite yet, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll.

Still, as I said, I've seen worse.

The seats are comfortable and supportive (and of course you can have heat up front) and the higher trim levels offer power for the driver's seat (not the front passenger's, though, alas). Mazda Canada's sample also had driver's seat memory, a lovely feature if more than one person drives the vehicle regularly.

You can also get a heated steering wheel on all but the entry level model.

Naturally, nannies abound, but you can shut them off. Mazda offers a rear-view camera with rear cross traffic alert (a wonderful feature when you're backing out of a parking space at the mall), as well as blind spot monitoring. Higher trim levels can also be configured with adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection (old cars had this, too, but it was just a crunching sound and maybe a scream…), forward obstruction warning, lane keeping annoyance, traffic sign recognition and a nice head's up display.

CX-30's start at $26,026 Canadian, for the basic GX with front wheel drive and the smaller engine. That still gets you such goodies as the G-Vectoring Control Plus, Electronic Parking Brake with auto-hold function, LED headlights and rear combination tail lights, the 8.8-inch colour display atop the centre stack, and heated front seats.

The mid-level GS starts at $28,726 Canadian (front wheel drive; AWD is optional), and that also gets you the bigger engine, bigger wheels and a lot of the toys/tools you may like, such as automatic dual-zone climate control, heated side mirrors, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and a heated steering wheel.  

Go for the gusto – the GT (starting at $35,926 CAD) – and you get paddle shifters (though they should be on all trim levels), the cylinder deactivation feature, rear parking sensors, head's up display, adaptive front lighting and the higher end Bose premium sound system with its 12 speakers.

A fairly loaded Mazda 3 Sport GT (the hatchback version of the car) will set you back $33,376, so if the extra height and SUV stuff don't matter to you, you may be able to save a couple of bucks – though you may also want to only approach the vehicle from the front lest your gag reflex be activated.

Whatever way you want to slice it, however, the CX-30 is a lovely new entry into this market niche. It has all the things I love about Mazda – fun to drive, high end quality, etc. – and the added practicality many people want these days from a more utility-oriented vehicle.

Sounds like a winner. I guess time will tell.

Copyright 2020 Jim Bray

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