2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: The Best Sporty Subcompact SUV

The hits keep on coming: Mazda is on a roll again with the 2020 CX-30. The latest small SUV from Mazda rolls past the competition on fun-to-drive, handling, passenger comfort, and fit-and-finish. Virtually all the safety features and driver assists are standard. It may well be the leader in reliability. The CX-30 cockpit is closer to Lexus than Toyota. This means Mazda is the carmaker than can best say “class above” with the straightest face. The CX-30 wedges itself in the 11-inch gap in length gap between the existing subcompact CX-3 SUV and the subcompact CX-5, the vehicle that alone is half Mazda’s US sales.

Our biggest concern with the CX-30 is what Mazda left off the otherwise well-done entry trim line: blind spot detection, Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, and satellite radio tuning. Getting the first two requires a $2,000 package; getting satellite radio adds $2,300 more in another package.

Jinba Ittai,” or horse and rider as one, is Mazda’s philosophy. The CX-30 was fantastic on back roads outside Palm Springs, super-quiet on boring interstates surrounding San Diego.

Horse and Rider as One: No Marketing BS (HS?)

To test the CX-30, I drove with a colleague from Palm Springs to San Diego, back roads most all the way, including 10 miles dodging cars stopped to photograph a most unusual snowfall from the day before on the outskirts of San Diego County. Mazda has been preaching the concept of jinba ittai, or horse and rider as one. Over time, the rider melds with the horse, and vice-versa. It may sound like a marketing phrase, but Mazda really believes it. Over time, owners do as well. Mazda builds seats for the best driving position and a connected feel to the wheel, pedals, and the rest of the car. Every knob in the cockpit has the same resistance when turning, every switch takes the same pressure to activate, and every typeface is consistent.

Every CX-30 gets the same drivetrain, a 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G (gasoline) engine with direct injection (GDI), class-leading 186 hp, 186 pound-feet of torque, a six-speed automatic transmission, and (new) a button for light-duty off-roading. The top trim line adds cylinder deactivation for a slight boost in fuel economy. Informal timing runs suggest the car will do a 7.5-second 0-60 sprint, which is quick but not fast. Mazda’s exclusive G-Vectoring Control Plus on all-wheel-drive models reduces engine torque (power) imperceptibly when you turn in to a corner, a bit of weight shifts to the front end, and more weight on the front wheels helps the car turn in. Midway through the turn, power shifts (again, slightly) to the rear, and coming out of the turn, drag is applied to the outside front brake, helping the car return to straight-ahead driving.

The steering wheel switches are a reasonable size, though the material is a bit slippery. The center instrument panel gauge is a high-res LCD.

The CX-30 is rated at 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, 28 mpg combined, on regular fuel. The all-wheel-drive CX-30 is 24/31/26. While it’s based on the new Mazda3 platform that has a sedan and a sportier hatchback, the Mazda3’s stick shift is not offered. As can be seen from the table below, the CX-30 is closer to the CX-3 than the CX-5, including on price. Without some Mazda incentives, the CX-3 may be a tough sell at just $1,510 less, in our opinion.

The Mazda philosophy limits how much the car does for you. There’s lane departure warning and lane keep assist, but no lane centering assist, so if you are momentarily distracted, you’ll be pulled back from the lane edge, but you won’t be automatically centered. We’d argue there’s no harm in the car being semi-autonomous on long interstate-highway drives, but Mazda isn’t biting. Mazda is on board with driver assists, but not technology that takes over the driving. Nor will Mazda allow infotainment info (current artist/song info, or incoming phone number) on the optional head-up display. It may be a small price to pay for owning one of the most enjoyable driver cars.

The interior feel of the Mazda CX-30 has more in common with Audi-BMW-Lexus-Mercedes than with its mainstream competitors. When Mazda says “class above,” no BS detectors go off.

A Most Upscale Cockpit

New trim colors make the cockpit even more upmarket.

Skip this section if you’ve read a Mazda review before, or owned a recent Mazda: The cockpits look great. You’d be hard-pressed to tell a CX-5 from an Audi Q5, until you glanced at the Monroney price sticker on the left-rear window. The CX-30 gets a new infotainment system with a bigger screen (8.8 inches diagonal) mounted higher, so it’s no longer a partial touchscreen, and a bigger control wheel (Mazda Commander).

Seats are cloth (handsome) on lower trim lines, leather on the top one. The wood trims we saw were matte finish, meaning no glare bouncing into your eyes. Older Mazdas only offered parchment (too light if you eat, drink, or allow kids in the car) or black (too dark) but now there are some rich brown combinations that look great, including light perforated leather with dark brown showing throw.

There’d be more room for cups, slots for a second phone, and a cubby for keys if Mazda ditched the mechanical gearshift for dashboard shifter buttons and paddle shifters. We suspect jinba ittai also translates to not going to happen. 

The 95th percentile (size) rider is fine up front. The back seat is usable for adults for local rides. On day-long trips, it works if you’re under 5-foot-7. This a subcompact SUV: not Mustang-Camaro cramped, not CX-5 comfortable, but midway between. The cargo room in back also takes a hit compared with the CX-5.

With its latest SUV, Mazda split the 11-inch difference between CX-3 and CX-5, rather than split the 20-inch gulf between the CX-5 and three-row CX-9 (where the defunct Mazda CX-7 lived until 2012). Best think of the CX-30 improving on the CX-3 without a lot more cost. The CX-3 remains in the lineup.

Mazda CX-30 Trims

The newer, larger Commander center stack controller.

In the case of the CX-30, Mazda has packages rather than trim lines. There are no standalone options other than dealer accessories such as a $200 wireless charging pad. Every CX-30 gets an 8.8-inch color display, 7-inch LCD meter display (multi-information instrument panel display), eight-speaker audio, dual USB jacks, a 12-volt power jack, LED headlamps/daytime running lights/combination taillights, electronic parking brake, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The base price is $22,945 with shipping, $24,345 for all-wheel-drive.

Standard safety and driver-assist features include:

  • Forward collision warning and braking (Mazda “Smart Brake Support”)
  • Full-range adaptive cruise control
  • Lane departure warning/lane keep assist
  • Drowsy driver alert

The Select Package, $2,000 (total $24,945 for front-drive), brings blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a leather-wrapped wheel, keyless entry, dual-zone AC, rear AC vents, and larger 215/55R18 tires.

The Preferred Package, $2,300 atop Select (total $27,245), adds Bose 12-speaker premium audio, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, satellite radio, and heated front seats.

The Premium Package, $2,000 above Preferred ($29,245 total), has a head-up display (Active Driving Display), leather seats, paddle shifters, a rear power liftgate, a moonroof, roof rails, and cylinder deactivation.

The center display is bigger, no longer touch-enabled, and 8.8 inches diagonal. HVAC controls are separate from the infotainment display.

Should You Buy?

Small SUVs are so popular that some automakers have multiple models in the same size, such as the midsize Ford Edge and midsize nearly full-size Ford Explorer. The best example among subcompacts is the well-regarded Hyundai Kona (and Kona EV), now being supplemented by the smaller Hyundai Venue for about $3,000 less (also a lot less length). In Mazda’s case, it is keeping around an older and smaller model, the CX-3, which first shipped as a 2016 vehicle. The CX-30 is not the CX-4 because there is a different Mazda with the CX-4 name in China. Besides, says Mazda, there are cars with two-digital numeric names such as the MX-30, a new EV, so this isn’t a once-only change.

Mazda offers an appealing package: performance, fit and finish, and a price in line with others in the category. Now Mazda can boast top-notch reliability: Consumer Reports‘ November reliability report pegs the MX-5 Miata as the highest scorer overall with a 95 (of 100), ahead of two Toyota Priuses and a Lexus, followed by a competitor (Hyundai Kona), and the Mazda CX-3, with the Mazda CX-9 also in the top 10 and the Mazda CX-5 just outside. Overall, Mazda as a brand ranks second behind Lexus (Mazda was fourth on the 2019 ranking), and ahead of Toyota, Porsche, Genesis, Hyundai, Subaru, Dodge (yes, Dodge, a big gainer this year), Kia, and Mini.

Reliability and desirability make Mazdas hold their value. According to Auto Lease Guide information provided by Mazda, competing small SUVs retain 36 percent (Mitsubishi Outlander) to 60 percent of original value after three years. It makes leases attractive because a lease is a loan on the value the car loses during. So for a $30,000 CX-30, the buyer is paying off $12,000 loan (40 percent of the $30K price gone away) while two cars in the middle with a 47 percent residual, Kia Niro and Hyundai Kona, are paying off a $15,900 principal (plus overhead and fees).

Key competing crossovers in the size and price range include the Subaru Crosstrek, Hyundai Kona and Kia Niro, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, Ford EcoSport, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Chevrolet Trax/Buick Encore, Nissan Rogue Sport, Mini Countryman, and Mitsubishi Outlander. The upcoming Chevrolet Trailblazer will be competition as well. The Crosstrek, Rogue Sport, Kona and Niro, and HR-V are good cars all. So is the Mazda CX-3. Now that the CX-30 is out, the CX-3 looks less refined, and passenger and cargo space are less spacious; the $1,500 in savings don’t make up the difference between the two vehicles. The CX-30 may also be the kind of SUV that gets people out of sporty cars such as the Mazda3.

As with the Mazda CX-5 in its compact car category and the Mazda3 among sporty subcompact sedans, the Mazda CX-30 is the small SUV to get if you want performance on dry highways or snowy back roads. Mazda continues to impress with the quality of its cockpit materials. All we wish for is blind spot detection and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay as one of the included-across-the-board safety features.

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