The 2020 Mazda CX-30 hopes to make lemonade out of lemons. In this case, the lemons are the growing number of American customers who continue to look away from handsome sedans and hatchbacks such as the Mazda3 in favor of crossovers. And with that in mind, Mazda came up with a new recipe, one that uses the Mazda3’s chassis to create the new CX-30, set to arrive in showrooms just in time for Christmas.
Slotting in between the CX-3 and CX-5, the 2020 CX-30 also borrows styling cues from the Mazda3, showcasing the automaker’s latest iteration of Kodo design with clean lines and smooth curves. The thick plastic cladding bordering the wheel wells may be controversial, but necessary to reduce the sheetmetal’s visual mass. The round LED rear turn signals that fade out are a cool and unique touch.
Under the hood is the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine found in the Mazda3. Rated at 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, it’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels. Our tester had the optional all-wheel-drive system. The CX-30 puts down power in a noticeably more peppy and responsive manner compared to many of its competitors saddled with laggy turbos and continuously variable transmissions. The CX-30 isn’t much heavier than the Mazda3 from which it’s based, so power feels adequate, though more oomph at highway passing speeds would be welcome. We’re crossing our fingers that Mazda’s 2.5-liter turbo eventually finds its way to the CX-30. With EPA estimates ranging from 24-25 mpg city and 31-33 mpg highway (depending on trim), the CX-30 won’t be the most miserly among competitors, but it’s a small sacrifice to pay for those who value performance.
With a ground clearance of 7.9 inches, the CX-30 sits 2.4 inches higher than the Mazda3. Thankfully its taller stance doesn’t have a negative effect on handling, as it seemingly tackles sweeping corners with the control and balance of the fun-to-drive Mazda3. Brakes are excellent, befitting of a Miata, with firm feel and short travel. Suspension tuning is on the firm side, but overall ride quality is relatively smooth, especially considering our tester’s 18-inch wheels (16s are standard). The rear end occasionally dances a bit at highway speeds above 70 mph, but not often enough to be a nuisance. Road noise could be quieter, but seems to be on par with the segment.
Where the CX-30 excels, however, is interior design and quality. Like the Mazda3, the soft touch surfaces on the dash and door panels wouldn’t be out of place in an Audi, and the same goes for the knurled HVAC knobs and the instrument panel’s digital screen. The infotainment screen placed high on the dashboard also looks premium and is operated by a fairly intuitive mix of buttons and a rotary knob that sit just below the gear shifter. Highlights from our fully loaded test car include a head-up display, powerful and clear Bose sound system, and a power rear liftgate.
Price of entry for a base model, front-drive CX-30 is $22,945 and the list of standard features is impressive: LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, lane-keep assist, emergency brake assist, and adaptive cruise control that remains active in stop-and-go traffic. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto will require a step up to the Select Package ($24,945), which also includes 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate control, rear HVAC vents, privacy glass, and leatherette seats. Preferred Package-equipped CX-30s cost $27,245 and add heated front seats, power-adjustable driver’s seat, Bose sound system, and satellite radio. Finally, the range-topping Premium Package ($29,245) throws in more tech and luxury including leather seats, the head-up display, paddle shifters, sunroof, and power liftgate. All-wheel drive is optional on all trims for $1,400.
So why should you spend the extra coin for a CX-30 over a Mazda3 aside from its higher seating position and pseudo off-roader looks? For starters, there’s more room for rear passengers. Its 36.3 inches of rear legroom provides 1.2 inches more than the 3, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it’s definitely noticeable. Cargo room behind the rear seats is on par with the Mazda3 hatchback, but interestingly enough, the CX-30 provides 1.9 cubic feet less space than the Mazda3 with the rear seats folded down. It can also be optioned with roof rails for your outdoor gear, and the CX-30 debuts Mazda’s new Connected Services system (standard across the lineup), which includes Wi-Fi hotspot and over-the-air updates for the infotainment system. Mazda Connected Services also interacts with the CX-30 via your personal device, allowing you to start the engine remotely, lock/unlock doors, send destination details to the navigation system, and monitor vitals like oil levels, tire pressures, and more.
With sharp styling, fun driving dynamics, loads of tech, and an impressive interior, the 2020 CX-30 should have no problem attracting would-be Mazda3 buyers who are better suited for a crossover. The automaker thinks it can snag Lexus UX and Buick Encore prospects, too. And based on our time with the small Mazda, that goal should be fairly easy to reach.