2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Feb 11, 2021

Introduction - Find the best Mazda deals!

After one year on sale, the small Mazda CX-30 crossover SUV is now the automaker’s second best-selling model after the popular Mazda CX-5. That’s easy to understand. The Mazda CX-30 is stylish, affordable, looks and feels more like an entry-luxury vehicle than a mainstream vehicle, and perhaps most importantly to American consumers, it’s a crossover SUV. 

There is plenty to like in a new 2021 Mazda CX-30, especially now that it offers a more powerful engine option. The upgrade is among a handful of changes to the 2021 CX-30 for its second year on the market:

  • Lineup splits into 2.5 S and new 2.5 Turbo model series 
  • The CX-30 2.5 Turbo gets a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and standard all-wheel drive (AWD)
  • Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for all models
  • Available surround-view camera system for 2.5 Turbo
  • Expanded i-ActiveSense driving assistance systems available for 2.5 Turbo

Mazda offers the new 2021 CX-30 2.5 Turbo in standard, Premium, and Premium Plus trim levels. As you move up in terms of equipment and price, the SUV adds leather seats, a heated steering wheel, a Bose premium sound system, navigation, a head-up display, a power liftgate, improved headlights, and additional advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

Prices for the new CX-30 2.5 Turbo range from $31,225 to $35,225, including the $1,175 destination charge. It’s hard to compare a turbocharged CX-30 to a non-turbo model because of packaging differences. Still, with Premium trim, the price increase for the closely-matched Turbo version amounts to $2,350 compared to a CX-30 2.5 S with AWD.

This review focuses on the 2021 CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s differences and how they potentially impact this SUV’s overall appeal to consumers. Previously, a J.D. Power independent expert reviewed the standard Mazda CX-30.

What Owners Say About the Mazda CX-30 - Find the best Mazda deals!

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo White Front Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

According to data collected from verified owners for the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, 50% of Mazda CX-30 owners are male (vs. 42% for the segment), and the median age of a CX-30 owner is 54 years (vs. 56).

Owners say their favorite things about the CX-30 are (in descending order) the:

  • Exterior styling
  • Driving feel
  • Feeling of safety
  • Interior design
  • Setting up and starting

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the CX-30 are (in descending order) the: 

  • Driving Comfort and Powertrain (in a tie)
  • Getting in and out
  • Infotainment system
  • Fuel economy

In the J.D. Power 2020 APEAL Study, the CX-30 ranked number three out of 16 small SUVs.

What Our Independent Expert Says About the Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo - Find the best Mazda deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides an analysis of a CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus equipped with the following options:

  • Snowflake White Pearl Mica
  • Rear bumper guard

The price of the test vehicle came to $35,745, including the $1,175 destination charge.

Class-leading Turbocharged Power

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Engine

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Most people don’t choose a new vehicle based on how it accelerates. After owning one for a while, a responsive engine and transmission are critical components of owner satisfaction with a car, truck, or SUV. People like to feel as though they can quickly get up to speed on a freeway on-ramp, or effortlessly pass slower vehicles, or safely enter a busy street.

While the Mazda CX-30 2.5 S is tuned to feel responsive, the new-for-2021 CX-30 2.5 Turbo delivers up to 64 extra horsepower and 134 additional pound-feet of torque. No wonder it comes with standard i-Activ AWD with a newly strengthened rear differential.

Pump premium 93-octane gas into a CX-30 2.5 Turbo, and it generates 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. When burning 87-octane gas, the engine cranks out 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, the latter arriving at lower rpm. 

Since torque is what you feel when you accelerate and is responsible for the sensation that you’re getting pushed deeper into the seat as the vehicle gathers speed, that’s the number on which to focus. And because this number is barely affected by running a CX-30 2.5 Turbo on cheaper 87-octane gas, go ahead and do that. Don’t worry about it.

Mazda tunes the CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s powertrain for a smooth, steady flow of power. It builds into a crescendo as you push harder on the accelerator pedal and the SUV gathers speed, and the 6-speed automatic transmission expertly distributes the power to all four of the SUV’s wheels.

Don’t assume that this turbocharged engine results in a significant loss of fuel efficiency. According to the EPA, the standard 2.5 S AWD should get 26 mpg in combined driving. The 2.5 Turbo is rated to return 25 mpg. 

During my testing, the SUV averaged 24.1 mpg. That bodes well for meeting owner expectations, but since the CX-30 has a small 12.7-gallon fuel tank, it also means you’re going to need to stop for gas every 275 miles or so.

Despite the significant gain in power, the CX-30 2.5 Turbo doesn’t feel substantially different from behind the wheel. This is, based on what Mazda says, by design. The automaker isn’t offering the turbocharged engine to infuse the CX-30 with outright performance, boy-racer-style. Instead, the goal is polished, refined, and effortless power no matter the driving situation.

Consider the goal met.

Dynamic Tuning Supports Rather Than Leverages the Added Power

In combination with the new turbocharged engine, Mazda tweaks a few things to support the added power and performance. Don’t take this to mean that a CX-30 2.5 Turbo gets the equivalent of a Sport Package, however. Instead, the subtle modifications aim to preserve and incrementally improve the standard CX-30’s already favorable driving dynamics.

For example, the 6-speed automatic transmission gets a revised Sport mode. Now, when you engage Sport mode and you’re driving with enthusiasm on a twisty road, the transmission downshifts as you’re braking in advance of an upcoming corner rather than after you’ve entered the corner. This change improves how the SUV feels as you enter and exit curves in the road.

Additionally, Mazda modifies the G-Vectoring Control Plus (GVC Plus) technology to put more weight on the CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s front tires as the SUV enters a turn. Essentially, GVC Plus uses subtle braking inputs to alter vehicle behavior in ways that deliver a smoother and more natural ride and handling character. By putting more weight on the front tires at corner turn-in, the tire contact patch is larger, improving grip as the SUV enters the turn.

Because the turbocharged engine adds 120 pounds of additional weight over the front wheels, Mazda also stiffens the CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s front suspension. The change is simply to account for the added weight and ensure that the turbocharged CX-30 behaves in the same way as the standard model.

Finally, Mazda dramatically increases the i-Activ AWD system’s torque capacity at the rear differential. This modification, according to Mazda, helps the CX-30 more naturally rotate through corners.

Understanding that a Mazda CX-30 is basically the same thing as a Mazda Mazda3 but lifted to provide 2.5 extra inches of ground clearance, there are trade-offs for its SUV stance, added ride height, and greater off-roading capabilities. 

The CX-30 2.5 Turbo is heavier and has a taller center of gravity than a Mazda3 2.5 Turbo hatchback. On pavement, this means the SUV is less enjoyable to drive than its lower and leaner sibling. However, compared to other small crossover SUVs, be they from mainstream or luxury brands, the turbocharged CX-30 is truly a delight.

I even took it off-road, using its Off-road Traction Assist system. Thick mud, deep puddles, and my lack of desire to call a tow truck kept me from sampling the i-Activ AWD system’s maximum capabilities, but I can report that a CX-30 2.5 Turbo can go places no Mazda3 can reach without incurring severe damage.

New Driving Aids Exclusive to CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Interior Dashboard

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mazda debuts three new driving assistance technologies in the CX-30 2.5 Turbo, but they are restricted to Premium Plus trim.

The first is a high-definition 360-degree surround-view camera system. Using it, the driver can access several camera views, including one that helps the driver see what’s directly in front of the SUV. This view is helpful in various driving situations, such as when slant parking against tall curbs and off-roading to avoid unseen obstacles.

Smart Brake Support Rear is also new. This name refers to an automatic reverse braking system that works at speeds under six mph to prevent you from accidentally backing into an obstacle. It works in tandem with the standard backup camera and newly available rear parking sensors. 

The CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus also has new front parking sensors, and you can use the front-facing camera to help avoid contact with obstacles.

Traffic Jam Assist is a new advanced driving assistance system that works at speeds up to 40 mph. It pairs adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability with a lane-centering assistance technology to take some of the stress out of driving in heavy traffic. It works well, but if you take your hands off of the steering wheel for even a few seconds, you get a shrill reminder that Traffic Jam Assist is not a hands-free driving system.

Every CX-30 2.5 Turbo Gets the Blacked-out Treatment

Evidently, a “Turbo” badge on the rear liftgate and larger exhaust outlets are insufficient for Mazda to visually distinguish the new CX-30 2.5 Turbo from the standard CX-30 2.5 S. The company also bolts on a set of gloss-black 18-inch aluminum wheels, installs a gloss-black grille insert, and adds gloss-black side mirror housings. This version of the SUV also has standard roof rails, which are usually a $350 option.

These modifications help to make the CX-30’s thick lower body cladding less obvious. Ken Saward, Mazda’s director of design, says the fat band of black plastic that rings the SUV’s bottom perimeter does three things:

  • It makes the SUV’s body appear to be floating over the wheels
  • It protects the body from damage
  • It enhances the CX-30’s SUV image

Mazda achieves these goals while addressing a popular design trend. Whether the changes agree with your sense of aesthetics is another matter.

Inside, the only modifications for the CX-30 2.5 Turbo are a chrome accent ring for the engine start button and a standard frameless rearview mirror. Controls are arranged around the driver for easy reference and reach, and the simple, classic gauges are beautifully rendered. With a choice of black or white leather with dark chocolate brown contrast materials and both metallic and gloss-black finishes, the CX-30 2.5 Turbo’s interior is convincingly upscale.

Independent Expert Opinion - Find the best Mazda deals!

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo White Rear Quarter View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Mazda tucks the impressive new CX-30 2.5 Turbo into the space that traditionally separates the small mainstream SUV models from luxury offerings. 

You do pay a premium for the CX-30 2.5 Turbo. In exchange, it offers a clear performance benefit coupled with unique design details and model-specific equipment unavailable on the CX-30 2.5 S. It’s also got the style, quality, and technology to support its quest to serve as a more affordable but no less satisfying alternative to vehicles like the Audi Q3, BMW X2, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

If you’d like to learn more about the CX-30 and its standard engine, be sure to read our review from last year.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

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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