If you’re in the market for a new car and it’s something SUV-ish you desire, there is a dizzying array of choices as automakers create new entries to fill every perceivable gap. So, slotted between the tiny CX-3 and the popular-sized CX-5 is the all-new CX-30 – the perfect tweener for Mazda’s premium push.
From their cars to their facilities, Mazda’s move to the penthouse has been a slow climb but there are signs that the elevator door is about to open.
Now, the new MAZDA3 that launched last year left me confused about the company’s tenets and sales have been extremely disappointing. But transactions of their highest volume model, the CX-5, continue to prosper, their dealerships are proceeding with new upscale digs and based upon my test week, this little guy here should further the brand’s progression.
And frankly, I’m surprised how much I like the CX-30 seeing as how I was less than impressed by the MAZDA3 sedan I tested last year.And these 2 are siblings, sharing a platform including the engine and transmission.But it wasn’t love at first drive.I think what’s really changed here is my perception of what Mazda has become.
Always proud of their racing heritage, Mazda’s calling card has long since been the driver’s alternative…one for the car guy and girl, if you will, delivering a more organic, tuned driving experience than its competitors but in a downscale wrapper.
Now, their designs are more detailed and sensuous and their cabins far more premium BUT their trademark SKYACTIV drivetrains use a lot of software to attain Mazda’s definition of “feeling alive,” leaving an artificial glaze over the entire experience.
But the more I drive it the more I understand what the throttle and transmission are trying to achieve and that is ultimate smoothness. And though that’s still frustrating at times in the CX-30, I’ve developed a symbiotic relationship with the drive that’s satisfying more often than not. Part of that has to do with the CX-30’s exceptional ride quality.
The biggest difference between this and the MAZDA3 I tested is that the CX-30 is fitted with all-wheel drive and rides higher on a shorter wheelbase. I can’t explain it but it just feels eons ahead of the 3 in terms of suspension compliance. It’s beautiful no matter how rough the road gets.
The 2.5-liter engine makes some odd sounds but the 186 horsepower seems peppy enough in real world usage with the exception of full throttle acceleration where there’s lots of bluster without a lot of go.
The 6-speed auto with all of its SKYACTIV programming has some CVT tendencies for sure, but again Mazda has shellacked it with smoothness which gives the CX-30 a very effortless, agreeable demeanor.
It holds a nice line going through the twisty roads as well with variable effort steering but again, the handling has that artificial sweetener added emblematic of the new Mazda.
But the overall experience pairs well with the simple but quality-driven cabin that’s quiet and full of pleasing touchpoints and visuals.
It’s really too bad that there’s no touchscreen functionality here because Mazda’s unit continues to be one of my least favorite…far clunkier than most. But the driver’s seat is very supportive of your back, there’s a heads-up display with traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, swiveling headlights with auto high beams, heated seats and a sweet-sounding Bose stereo system. All of this is standard on the top trim CX-30 with Premium Package, shown here in the trim exclusive Polymetal Gray paint, for an as-tested price of $30,700. This trim also nets the highest mileage due to its ability to shut down some engine cylinders when not needed, rated at 27mpg in combined driving.
Like Goldilocks, I love the CX-30’s sizing. The rear seats and cargo area are just right. Its footprint makes it simple to turn and park. And the 7” of ground clearance and all-wheel drive gives you some leeway to go off-road.
Really everything about it including the price precisely cuts out a niche between its crossover SUV siblings that finds the sweet spot consumers should love.
Where you can knock it is in its heavy use of exterior black cladding, lack of a height adjustable passenger seat, stinko infotainment, the damn parking brake that automatically sets each time you start it up, and absence of any rear seat accoutrements outside of some vents.
With the CX-30 Mazda has crafted what this segment’s customer wants. An affordable, easy to drive, quasi-SUV with decent gas mileage, configurable space and lots of comfort and convenience goodies in a package you’re proud to step out of.