The Goldilocks of the Mazda SUV Lineup.
by Paul Herrold
Have you ever noticed that whenever you buy a new car, you suddenly realize how many of that same make and model are all around you? Until I drove the all-new-for-2020 Mazda CX-30, I never noticed just how many Mazda SUVs are out there (hint: there are a lot!). The Mazda CX-30 is a little bit of a unicorn in the whole Mazda naming universe, as it slots in between the smaller CX-3 and the larger CX-5 model. So why didn’t Mazda just call it the CX-4? As logically as that seems, it turns out there already is a CX-4 that is exclusive to the Chinese market and, rather than confusing the world with two different CX-4 models, Mazda opted to rename this one the CX-30 despite the fact that many other manufactures have given the same model name to different vehicles in different markets without any confusion at all.
Regardless of what they want to call it, Mazda has done a great job with the CX-30. It’s actually the “Goldilocks” of their SUV lineup. Setting aside the CX-9 with its 3-row seating that is clearly meant for a different market, the Mazda CX-3 feels a little small while the CX-5 can be too much car (especially in urban markets) for just driving to work and shopping. Into this void steps the CX-30 to give you that “just right” size and feel with the right amount of front seating space and rear cargo room. Although the back seats are still a bit snug for adults, they do work very well for children. Now where this Mazda really shines is in aesthetics; this is a pretty car with a simple elegance to the design, yet it offers a hint of ruggedness without looking too bold. Large fender treatments trick the eye into hiding its “lifted” Mazda 3 origins and the “less is more” front and rear styling have a premium vibe. As we’ve seen across its model line, Mazda knows how to design a vehicle.
The interior continues the simple elegance theme with excellent materials that are soft to the touch and look expensive. The overall layout is clean, the very definition of “understated class,” and Mazda deserves a standing ovation. As good as things are on the inside, however, it’s not all perfect. For one, the infotainment screen sits high up and far back on the dash, resting comfortably in your line-of-sight. Unfortunately, this makes the screen too far away to use as a touch-screen, forcing the occupants to use a dial in the center console. While BMW drivers might feel right at home with the iDrive-esque type control, the learning curve of the Mazda system is not very intuitive and will take some getting used to. Mazda claims that most people get the hang of it after a few drives, which may be true, but I believe it’s safe to say that some people are going to get a little frustrated. Speaking of frustrated, the only other negative point of this vehicle is the steering wheel. Of course, it’s round, wrapped in leather and moves the SUV surefootedly left and right, that’s not the problem – the problem is that the cross-section of the steering wheel (what you would see if you cut off the top of the wheel and looked down) is designed more like a teardrop than a full circle with the “pointed” edge of the teardrop facing the driver. Now, while that edge is smooth, I found that it can get uncomfortable to hold and it feels progressively worse the longer the drive – not sure if anyone else has complained about this, so perhaps it’s just me and my OCD with how a steering wheel feels.
All 2020 CX-30s come with a 6-speed automatic transmission and a 2.5L 4-cylinder SKYACTIV®-G engine with cylinder deactivation making 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. This engine is not turbocharged so acceleration is linear and smooth but don’t expect to be thrown back into your seat as 0-60mph takes around 8.1 seconds; not bad for this segment, but slower than it’s turbocharged 4-cylinder rivals. If you follow Sons of Speed on social media, you know how much we absolutely hate those auto start/stop (ASS) systems where the engine turns off at a complete stop, and there is a special place in Hell for manufacturers that do not allow you to permanently turn the system off… Well, I’m happy to report that the CX-30 does not have the ASS system – way to go Mazda!
The “zoom-zoom” which is Mazda-speak for great handling is definitely part of this vehicle’s DNA as this car feels right at home on a twisty road. The CX-30 is very controllable and nimble with quick steering and good body control and, unlike many other sub-compact SUVs, this one is fun to drive. The suspension is another example of its Goldilocks theme where it is not too harsh and not too soft, it is set-up for decent road feel and has just the right amount of travel; however, in some situations the spring rebound can be just a little late to respond. Near my house there is a highway exit ramp that has a rather impressive dip in the pavement followed by an intense bump. This “one-two punch” at speed causes a vehicle’s body to lift (the wheels, however, never leave the road) and the car feels like its floating for a second all while the driver continues to make the hard-right turn along the off-ramp. I have found this really messes with a car’s suspension and separates the good set-ups from the mediocre ones. Well, I can report that the CX-30 did handle the initial dip very well but struggled just a little bit in the recovery, however, once the chassis settled down it continued tracking through the turn like a champ. The only vehicles I found that handled this road anomaly better all cost a lot more, so kudos to Mazda’s chassis engineers.
The CX-30 comes standard with an impressive list of safety tech including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist with departure warning, and auto emergency braking with pedestrian detection. Other feature like a blind-spot monitoring and a head-up display are available through upgraded packages. Speaking of upgrades, the starting price for a CX-30 is a relative bargain at $23,000.00 and tops out with the Premium Package at $29,300.00 including destination. Adding all-wheel-drive costs $1,400.00 and navigation is strangely a standalone upgrade even on the Premium Package for $450.00. All-in, you really get a lot of car for the money in the Mazda CX-30 including great gas milage at 25 city/33 hwy/28 combined with front-wheel-drive and 24 city/31 hwy/26 combined with all-wheel-drive.
In summary, Mazda has managed to bring to market a really good SUV here. Handsome looks from every angle, a clean well-crafted interior, luxury touches, lots of safety tech and decent space all while offering the great handling and fun to drive experience for which Mazda has become known. The only area that is lacking, at least for performance minded drivers, would be in the power department – but fear not! For 2021, Mazda is bringing its 2.5L turbocharged engine to the CX-30 with 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. This is going to be a game charger for the segment and will, no doubt, make this Goldilocks of an SUV the stand-out leader in its class!
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