2020 Mazda CX-30 Test Drive

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Jan 09, 2020


2020 Mazda CX-30 front and side view

Photo: Ron Sessions

In case you haven’t noticed, automakers are slipping new sport-utilities and crossovers into every conceivable niche in their vehicle lineups. A case in point is the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30 small crossover, positioned in the gap between the tiny CX-3 and compact CX-5. Mazda would have called it the CX-4, but the brand already has a model by that name on sale in China.

Mazda sees the CX-30 as a draw for younger buyers just entering the brand. That’s a position also held by the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, but its role has been diminished slightly of late as car sales have declined in recent years with many buyers moving to SUVs and CUVs.

The CX-30 is available in both front- and all-wheel-drive configurations. Mazda says the major drivers of buyers switching to subcompact crossovers include all-wheel-drive availability, perceived safety, crossover design, improved fuel efficiency vs larger SUVs and perceived quality. Among subcompact crossover choices, Mazda says buyers were generally less pleased with power and acceleration, quietness, cargo space and rear seat roominess. So the automaker saw an opportunity to address those issues with the new CX-30.

The new Mazda CX-30 competes with the likes of the Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Buick Encore, Kia Soul, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Rogue Sport and Toyota C-HR. More are most certainly on the way.

Including the $1,045 49-state destination charge, the CX-30 lineup includes the $22,945 base CX-30, $24,945 CX-30 Select, $27,245 CX-30 Preferred and $29,245 CX-30 Premium. Alaska buyers must add another $45 for destination. Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive is a $1,400 upcharge on any trim level.

Styling and Design

2020 Mazda CX-30 interior finish dashboard

Photo: Ron Sessions

Built on the same Next Generation SkyActiv vehicle architecture that underpins the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, the new CX-30 is draped in sheet metal that’s the latest rendition of Mazda’s Kodo Soul of Motion design. The CX-30 features a signature wing-shaped front-end design, high-set tail lamps and a sloping coupe-like roofline.

A key design element is the Sori Curve running down the body sides that creates an S-shaped reflection of the surrounding landscape along the doors. It’s a shape Mazda credits its Takumi-level clay modelers with, something the automaker says couldn’t be done with computer design. Black cladding added above the rockers and wheel wells is much thicker than that on the CX-3 or CX-5, done to reduce the visual height of the CX-30 in profile.

Inside, the design, materials, fit and finish suggest the sort of cabin ambiance you’d expect in a more expensive vehicle. The instrument panel is low and wide, sweeping into the doors. The low dash and thin windshield pillars afford good visibility to the front and sides.

There is this artful contrast in the CX-30 between constraint and openness, especially attractive in some of the two-tone interior color schemes. A humancentric control layout is symmetrical and arrayed to face the driver. Controls have an organic feel with solid tactile feedback. Bucking the trend to electronic instruments, the CX-30’s are sharp, clear, back-to-basics, white-on-black analog dials. Luxury touches include stitching on the instrument panel, console, armrests, door trim and shifter boot.

Comfort and Cargo

2020 Mazda CX-30 cargo space

Photo: Ron Sessions

Compared to the Mazda3 hatchback it shares a platform with, the CX-30 CUV is actually 2.6 inches shorter nose to tail, but stands almost a half foot taller road to roof. The taller roof affords CX-30 drivers the coveted raised seating position SUV buyers want.

At 20.2 cubic feet, cargo space behind the rear seat is competitive with other small crossovers, slightly more than in the Hyundai Kona and roughly double that of the Mazda CX-3. Mazda doesn’t publish CX-30 cargo room numbers with its 60/40 split rear seat folded down, but it’s at least on par with that offered in the Mazda3 hatchback and looks to be slightly smaller than the Mazda CX-5 in that regard.

On a day trip from San Diego to Palm Springs, California, the CX-30’s cargo hold behind the rear seat easily accommodated a pair of airline roller suitcases as well as a backpack and a computer bag. Access to the cargo area is a breeze thanks to the wide liftgate opening and low liftover height. Premium models add a standard power liftgate door.

The base CX-30 comes with air conditioning, pushbutton start, rain-sensing wipers, one-touch power up/down windows on all four doors, keyless entry and cloth trim on the doors and seats. There is one seat design for all trims, striking a good balance of comfort and support with reasonable side bolstering for thighs and torsos that keeps you in place without impeding ingress and egress.

Rear seat room is better than in some other small SUVs and CUVs, but taller rear seat passengers will have to negotiate with front seat occupants for another inch or two of legroom.

Opting for the CX-30 Select trim nets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, dual-zone automatic climate control with rear seat vents, darker rear privacy glass, a fold-down rear seat center armrest with cupholders and pretty convincing faux-leather seat coverings.

Moving up to the Preferred model brings a power-operated driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar and two-position memory settings plus heated front seats. The range-topping Premium trim adds perforated leather-trimmed seats, a head-up driver display and a power sliding moonroof.

Unavailable are ventilated front seats and a power-operated front passenger seat.

Aside from a pair of cupholders, there isn’t an overabundance of open storage in the CX-30’s center console, but there’s some stash space in the doors, within the decent-sized glovebox and after sliding the center armrest rearward a few inches, under the console lid.

Safety and Technology

2020 Mazda CX-30 safety and technology

Photo: Ron Sessions

As with most offerings from mainstream automakers lately, the CX-30 comes standard with a fair number of safety and driver-assistive systems, including a lane-departure warning system, automatic high-beam assist, lane-keep assist and a driver attention alert that sounds a warning and flashes an alert if it detects inattentiveness or drowsiness. One surprise CX-30 standard feature for this price class is standard adaptive cruise control with full stop and go capability up to 90 mph. Select and higher CX-30 trims add blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic monitoring alert and the top-of-the-line Premium trim brings adaptive headlamps and a head-up driver display that projects an image with speed, navigation and other information that appears to be about 7 or 8 feet ahead of the driver.

One feature that sets Mazda apart from most other automakers is a button on the lower left side of the instrument panel that temporarily disables steering assist functions (for one key cycle) in the blind side monitor, rear cross traffic assist, lane departure warning and lane departure prevention systems. This is handy for situations when you may want to go around a bicyclist or jogger just outside the lane marker and don’t want to fight the “corrective” steering torque applied in an attempt to keep the vehicle from crossing over the line. It limits steering correction torque in this case. Mazda’s philosophy is “a line is not a collision.”

Front and center atop the dash is a new ultra-widescreen landscape-format 8.8-inch infotainment display. Mazda doesn’t play games with a bait-and-switch philosophy with a small standard screen and the one you want an expensive upgrade. The big, 8.8-inch high-res screen is standard with all trims. It’s mounted higher and farther forward than in previous Mazda systems and works with a standard Mazda Connect 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with HD Radio, Pandora integration, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming and SMS text-messaging delivery and reply. A 12-speaker Bose system with SiriusXM satellite radio arrives with Preferred trim. Mazda designed the new sound systems with speakers in spots capable of transmitting sound directly to your ears, not bouncing off other surfaces. A navigation system is a port- or dealer-installed option as is a wireless phone charger. There is no CD player, though.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity are included with Select and higher trims.

The most controversial feature in the new CX-30 is the vehicle’s infotainment system. The Mazda Connect system, with its Audi MMI-like console-mounted infotainment Commander controller introduced a few years back, is standard in the CX-30. The controller wheel is larger now and moved farther forward on the console. It is surrounded by hard, shortcut buttons for back, home, favorites and other frequently used functions that the driver learns to operate without looking. There is a dedicated volume control knob on the console.

Mazda’s intent is to reduce driver distraction. The display is closer to the driver’s line of sight and doesn’t require the driver to look at his or her finger to operate touchscreen controls. The infotainment system can be operated by rotating and tapping the console control wheel, with steering-wheel buttons or voice commands, all operations that don’t require the driver to lean forward to tap a screen. The system takes a while to master, especially if you routinely drive to new cities and want to quickly scan for local AM or FM radio stations that aren’t on your favorites list.

A standard in-vehicle modem delivers Wi-Fi for up to five tablets, laptops and other handheld devices. The CX-30 comes with 6 months or 2 GB of free data by Verizon, whichever comes first. Thereafter, unlimited data is a monthly $20 charge. It includes over-the-air vehicle updates.

The CX-30 also comes with three years of imbedded Mazda Connect services for starting and shutting off the engine, door locking and unlocking, fuel level and other vehicle status checks.

Driving Impressions

2020 Mazda CX-30 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

Carlike may be one of the most overused descriptors when discussing the dynamic feel of a car-based crossover or SUV, but here the term is well-placed. After all, the new CX-30 shares its bones with the fun-to-drive Mazda3 sedan, so it’s no stretch. A naturally aspirated 186-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with a small CUV segment-leading 186 lb-ft of torque delivered at 4000 rpm is standard. It’s the CX-30’s only engine offering and the same powerplant that’s standard in the larger Mazda CX-5.

EPA estimates are 28 mpg in combined driving for front-drive models, 26 mpg for AWDs and 27 mpg for the Premium model with AWD and standard cylinder deactivation when cruising under low-load conditions. In a spirited 90-mile romp across Southern California back roads, I saw an indicated 27.5 mpg in the car’s trip computer.

The CX-30 is equipped with a conventional 6-speed automatic that’s well-matched to the Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. Premium trim adds steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for manual control in the twisty bits or mountain grades, and all models offer a Sport mode operated by a console switch that gives later shifts and keeps revs higher when activated.

Despite the CX-30’s humble origins and basic torsion-beam rear axle, it drives even smaller than it looks. Even shod with smallish 215/55R18 all-season tires, the first takeaway from the day’s drive in a Premium AWD CX-30 was how balanced the vehicle felt. It handled curvy mountain roads with very little body roll. Despite the basic suspension, ride motions were well controlled and predictable. There was virtually no side-to-side head toss on undulating back roads with high crowns, usually a problem for tallish SUVs.

The CX-30’s 4-wheel disc brakes inspired confidence with a firm pedal and quick, yet easy-to-modulate response. Another high point was the electric-assisted rack-and-pinion steering. G Vectoring Control helps deliver steering response that’s more precise and constant. On turn-in it cuts engine torque a small amount when entering the corner, shifting the load to the front tires. The system also aids turn-out when exiting the corner by dragging the outside front brake in turns generating more than 0.4g of lateral force. All this is done seamlessly with no driver intervention.

Although there were no off-pavement opportunities on this drive, the system also has an off-road algorithm that modifies torque distribution and traction control. If diagonal tires lose traction, the system will cease cutting engine torque and instead increase brake pressure on the spinning wheels, thereby directing drive torque to the wheels with the most traction.

Optional i-ACTIV AWD calculates individual tire load in real time and shifts drive torque distribution to maximize the friction circle. Under acceleration, the system transfers drive torque to the rear wheels and conversely moves torque to the front wheels under deceleration. The point of this is to provide better turn-in response.


2020 Mazda CX-30 rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Mazda’s new 5-passenger CX-30 is big enough to accommodate an active lifestyle but small enough to take you anywhere you want to go. If its striking styling, premium interior fitments, up-to-date infotainment and driver-assistive technology and value pricing don’t hook you, the CX-30’s driving dynamics are sure to delight. Just remember to spend some time in the driveway sorting out the ins and outs of the CX-30’s infotainment system and you’ll have nothing to gripe about. The CX-30 is on sale now.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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