If I were to vote on my car of the year today, it would be the Mazda CX-30, a new larger subcompact crossover, up a step from Mazda’s current CX-3.
This new crossover in the fastest growing part of that market is easily the most stylish, most luxuriously finished and most fun to drive to date. It’s a thing of beauty and performance.
First, imagine the Mazda3, a fine sporty subcompact that handles like a racer, being refined to look even racier and put on a taller platform to resemble a crossover. That’s the CX-30. Being a little bigger than the CX-3 crossover it competes with the likes of Subaru’s fine Crosstrek, Toyota’s C-HR and the new Hyundai Venue, which I praised in a review just a few weeks back.
Amazingly the new CX-30, which was a finalist in the 2020 World Car of the Year voting, is not only a looker and performer, it is high value. Consider the base front-drive model lists at $23,000 and the tested Premium AWD model at $30,700. AWD can be added to any of the four trim levels for $1,400.
My Premium model tack on just the spectacular $595 Soul Red paint job that Mazda has been using for a couple years. It’s a bright metallic red that absolutely screams for attention, yet it’s not garish. It looks high-end and you’d be daft not to spend that little extra. With it, the test car was $31,295.
Driving the CX-30 is as close to automotive perfection as I’ve witnessed in some time, no matter the price tag.
Power is generous from the fuel-efficient SkyActiv 2.5-liter I4. In fact, the Mazda’s 168 horsepower with matching torque rating makes it the most powerful in the segment. Plus, Mazda includes a Sport drive mode toggle that easily allows you to boost low-end power with a tap of the toggle. Sport holds lower gears in the 6-speed automatic’s transmission just a smidge longer than Normal mode. So slip onto a highway entry ramp, tap the toggle and wham, you’re up to highway speed in an instant. Once cruising, toggle back to Normal.
The 6-speed is smooth and efficient, giving a much better feel than most CVTs that are used in many small cars and crossovers to boost fuel economy.
Heck, even with the 6-speed instead of a CVT the CX-30 is rated 25 mpg city and 32 mpg highway. The Premium model is the only trim of the four to also include cylinder deactivation that cuts fuel use while cruising the freeway. So, the Premium model’s fuel ratings are basically the same in AWD as front-drive. I got 31.7 mpg in about 70% highway driving for the week.
Adding to the joy of driving is the CX-30’s handling and ride. Is this as sporty as the Mazda3, well not quite because it’s taller with 6.9 inches of ground clearance. But boy is it close. Turn into a sweeping or tight turn and the small crossover goes where you want with no body lean or top-heaviness. It feels nimble.
Ride too is as refined as many compact and midsize cars. The R18 tires both provide great grip and a smoother ride than I’d expected in a vehicle with a 104.5-inch wheelbase. The base model comes with 16-inch tires, but all three other trim levels bump up to 18-inchers. Note too that there are four-wheel disc brakes while a few smaller crossovers are still using drums in back.
Move inside (and you’ll be glad you did), the quiet Premium test vehicle featured a brown over black leather-feel dash while the seats were perforated black leather with brown stitching. The wheel is leather-wrapped, armrests were brown along with door inserts and they all feel like soft leather you’d find in a fine luxury car. Trim is thin chrome and black gloss with gloss trim also on the console.
Everything looks great and feels downright sensuous.
Certainly, the Premium is fully equipped too, from form-fitting seats to useful safety equipment.
Start with the fine 8.8-inch infotainment screen that Mazda tucks into a pocket atop the dash. That raises it up to a level that’s easy to see while driving. Yes, easy to see, less easy to use while driving as Mazda lumped many functions into its Multifunction Commander knob on the console.
The purpose is to consolidate functions and clear the dash of buttons, and after considerable time studying the owner’s manual and playing with it I think I’ve got the basics down. Yet if you love to flip from channel to channel this is not a system you’ll favor. You simply must program in your favorites as flipping quickly from say 89.7 FM to the Beatles Channel on Sirius is not simple.
Everything else here though is easy to see and use and the Premium comes with dual climate controls, heated power front seats and two memory buttons for the driver’s seat, which also has a power lumbar support.
Seats are particularly well shaped and supportive with good hip and kidney support and an excellent driving position. I was comfortable here within a day, while sometimes it takes the entire test week to feel I have found the right seating position. Mazda says it has worked on seat angle to favor spinal comfort. I believe it.
What it hasn’t done is make it easy to back out of the driveway or away from a stop after starting the engine. How so? Well, each time the ignition is turned off the parking brake automatically sets, requiring the driver to press down a toggle switch on the console. Small thing and first world problem, but annoying daily.
I’d also like to see wireless charging in a Premium level model. But that’s a $275 option, which wasn’t on this test model.
What Premium does have is LED headlight and accent taillights, roof rails, paddle shifters and that cylinder deactivation system to name a few.
It also has a power sunroof which worked well, and a power hatch, making it easy to access the 20.2 cubic feet of cargo room. Some of that space comes at the cost of rear seat legroom. While you could get four or five adults in the CX-30, depending on size, the rear seat is best for children and car seats. Legroom is rather tight if the driver or front seat passenger are over 5-foot-9 and put their seats back very far.
Then there’s all the safety equipment that’s standard on the Premium model. It’s basically what you’d expect on any fully equipped vehicle. Smart cruise, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention alert, lane departure warning and assist, and automatic high-beam headlights. The stop/start system that turns off the ignition when the car is at rest also is standard.
If you go with a base model you won’t get blind-spot warning or cross-traffic alert, and from an entertainment perspective, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t standard there either. They are on the Premium model.
The takeaway here is that no matter the trim level a Mazda CX-30 looks great and drives sportier than any other small ute I’ve tested. Don’t believe me? Kelly Blue Book has rated it the No. 1 crossover in its segment, yet it’s brand new.
CX-30 is smooth, sexy, sporty, and quiet with an interior you’d normally pay north of $40,000 for. Mazda’s new crossover is an exceptional vehicle and value. I want one!
Hits: Smooth sporty looks, good power and excellent ride and handling, plus AWD. Quiet luxury level interior with heated seats, sunroof, power hatch, dual climate controls, sport mode, comfy supportive seats, excellent MPG and full safety equipment package.
Misses: Park brake release lever must be pressed each time after start before crossover will move. Radio’s funky infotainment knob not easy to use when driving, takes time to learn, no wireless charger.
Made In: Salamanca, Mexico
Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv I4, 168 horsepower
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Weight: 3,232 lbs.
Length: 173.0 in.
Wheelbase: 104.5 in.
Cargo: 20.2 cu.ft.
MPG: 25/32, 31.7 (tested)
Base Price: $30,700
Major Options: Soul Red paint, $595
Test Vehicle: $31,295
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.