It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the Mazda 3. Mazda’s compact car offers a delightful combination of style, versatility and fun for the money, making it a go-to suggestion when people are looking for a characterful, inexpensive ride. (Case in point: my mother drives a past-gen Mazda 3 hatch.) The latest version is the best-looking one yet, proudly showing off some of the best of the brand’s kodo design language, and can be paired with either all-wheel-drive or a six-speed manual transmission (though sadly, not both at the same time).
Yet as good as it is…people aren’t really looking for sleek hatchbacks these days. No, the people have spoken, and they want trucks and SUVs. But that doesn’t mean they just want boxy body-on-frame brutes. A couple inches of added height and a little massaged body work are all that effectively distinguish many modern crossovers from sedans, station wagons and hatchbacks.
So when it came time to supplement its lineup, Mazda took the 3 hatchback and lifted it a little to create the CX-30.
You gain far more than you lose when you go CX-30 instead of Mazda 3
Traditionally, SUVs always gave away as many good traits as they added; for every bit of off-road capability or cargo space you picked up over a family sedan, you lost some straight-line performance or fuel efficiency. Over the years, though, carmakers have been shaving down those compromises — and the CX-30 is the closest thing yet to the perfect bridge between car and SUV.
Consider, for example, my CX-30 Premium Package test car versus the Mazda 3 hatchback with its Premium Package. The CX-30 costs $29,600 — only $700 more than the Mazda3. Its 3,408-pound curb weight is just 153 pounds more than the hatchback, and fuel economy is remarkably similar between the two; the EPA rates the AWD Mazda at 32 mpg on the highway, same as the CX-30.
But the crossover stands 1.4 inches taller, serving up more ground clearance for hopping over obstacles and making entry and exit easier. Plus, once you’re inside, there’s a dash more headroom and legroom in back, making it an ever-so-slightly roomier choice. Given that the $700 difference works out to an extra $15 a month over a 48-month loan, it’s hard not to consider the CX-30 the better buy, all things considered.
Zoom-zoom is still a Mazda trait, but it needs more oomph-oomph
The 2,5-liter inline-four beneath the CX-30’s hood is a tried-and-true engine that serves up decent power and fuel economy numbers. Still, in the real world, it feels less potent than the current spat of turbocharged motors commonly found in cars in this price range. It’ll get the Mazda moving, but it takes a heavy foot on the gas to do it; the engine needs to be wrung out more so than many turbo motors to make the most of its power and torque, and doing so results in a coarse, agricultural sound from under the hood.
The rest of the driving experience is quite pleasant, though. Mazda has intentionally chosen to stick with a six-speed automatic long after other carmakers have moved to ones with seven, eight, nine or 10 gears (or even no gears at all, in the case of CVTs), and it pays dividends in terms of greater involvement, whether it’s making its own well-informed shift choices or you’re taking control using the manual shift gate, which requires a yank backwards for upshifts and a nudge forward for downshifts, the way God intended.
The steering is as good as electrically-boosted racks come, let alone in terms of how involving an SUV’s helm can be; it’s practically Porsche Macan-like in its directness and feedback. The suspension can’t quite make such an impressive claim, but it still holds the CX-30 taut and controlled through turns to be actually fun, without excessive body roll. And while I blessedly didn’t have a chance to test the brakes at full lock, I can say the pedal was firm and reassuring in everyday driving.
Packs the same Mazda quality (and quirks) as the rest of the lineup
Some vehicles feel like outliers in their families. Not the CX-30. It looks and feels every bit the Mazda it is, from its sleek, flowing two-box shape to the clean lines of the interior. The craftsmanship inside feels a half-step above what you’d expect in a car of this class and price; everywhere your fingers land feels smooth and refined, every button, switch and other control operating with the well-oiled precision of a luxury car. (More Acura than Bentley, but still.)
And, like other Mazdas, the infotainment system is just shy of terrible. The Mazda Connect setup, as it’s called, is counterintuitive in many, many ways; changing the radio station, for example, take two more steps than it should, as does switching from the regular screen to Apple CarPlay. Granted, I’m sure it’s the sort of feature many people get used to in time — my mom certainly did — but when every other carmaker has found a way to make a less frustrating infotainment system with a shallower learning curve, maybe it’s time to rethink the layout.
Still, annoying as it may be, that’s not enough to knock the CX-30 off its high rung on the crossover ladder. Other cute ‘utes may be roomier, more off-road capable or more luxurious…but you won’t find one that leaves you happier that you left sedan life beyond.
Price as Tested: $29,600
Drivetrain: 2.5-liter inline-four, six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Power: 186 hp, 186 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Mazda provided this product for review.
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