2020 Mazda CX-30 : Review

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Crossovers are the rage in the American market, so Mazda became the latest manufacturer to add yet another crossover to their stable when they unveiled the subcompact 2020 Mazda CX-30 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Earlier this month, we were invited to San Diego to drive their newest offering, which slots in their lineup between the CX-3 and wildly popular CX-5. Of course our first question was, why not name it CX-4? The official answer is because there is already a different vehicle in other markets named the CX-4, and they thought that would create confusion. We can’t help but wonder if going with a completely different naming convention when they settled on CX-30 might create even more confusion in this market than just re-using the sensible CX-4, but we’re also not up to speed on the brand’s future product plans. 

That wasn’t the only decision that left us scratching our heads, as we were also prohibited from sharing images of the vehicle on social media during our drive, even though photos of the CX-30 have already been shared with the public, and some vehicles have begun hitting show floors. Ultimately that’s the brand’s decision, but we did find that it put a damper on our inspiration to create unique photos with the vehicle during our test drive, so the three images you see above are the only original photos we’ll share from our drive to Palm Desert (and visit to Ricardo Breceda’s Gallery). The rest of the photos shared below are from Mazda’s press materials. 

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We departed San Diego in a stunning Polymetal Gray 2020 Mazda CX-30 and headed east to Palm Springs with our focus on driving, and not worrying too much about creating photo or video content which often times pre-occupies us at these driving events. Perhaps that was the point, because if there is one thing that Mazda always does well, it is producing vehicles that are a joy to drive. It’s not a happy accident either, as they spent dozens of slides in their presentation showing us, they really pay attention to every little detail when it comes to the Mazda Spirit : Jinba Ittai (The Oneness of Horse and Rider).

“When the car and driver are in perfect harmony, driving is fun.” – Takeo Kijima of Mazda

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We could feel that attention to detail with their upright ideal seating position, clear visibility, and minimized distractions. We indeed had fun driving the CX-30, through some spirited roads into Julian, CA and then could feel the 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque as we effortlessly climbed over the mountains into the valley below. With their multiple options packages, there is only one engine offered on the CX-30, but it’s a good one. The SkyActiv-G 2.5L DOHC comes standard on every trim with cylinder deactivation available in the Premium package. This is the same engine you’ll find in a Mazda3 or Mazda CX-5, and it’s paired with a SkyActiv-Drive 6-Speed electronically controlled Sport Automatic Transmission. Both the engine and transmission outclass most competitors in this segment with their performance. Fuel economy is estimated at 25/33/27 MPG for our Premium AWD test model. 

Mazda CX30 00356 560x373If the CX-30 looks familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s the second model to adopt the latest evolution of Kodo design, after the Mazda3. Here is where we see Mazda implementing a similar strategy to their Japanese competitor, Subaru. Just like the Subaru Crosstrek is essentially a lifted Subaru Impreza with cladding, the Mazda CX-30 is essentially a lifted Mazda3 with cladding. We like both lifts and cladding, so this makes us happy. It stands to reason, just like the Crosstrek has outpaced Impreza sales, Mazda expects the CX-30 to outpace the Mazda3 in the American market. Currently the CX-5 is dominating the sales mix for Mazda, and this new vehicle is likely aimed at expanding on that success. In many ways, the CX-30 isn’t just a lifted Mazda3 (2.4 inches more ground clearance), it’s also a smaller CX-5.

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The similarities to Subaru are likely outweighed by the differences for most customers however. While we find the Subaru Crosstrek to be more rugged and suited to outdoorsy customers, we find the Mazda CX-30 to be more stylish, premium, and focused on the driving experience. Both brands have chosen their priorities, their lanes, and ultimately their customers. However that doesn’t mean that Mazda has abandoned targeting those with active lifestyles, and with this vehicle in particular, Mazda is looking to “support customer’s entire lifestyle including ordinary and extraordinary experiences.” Essentially the goal was to create a refined vehicle that young families could drive everyday in the city, but then take with them for a weekend away pursuing more outdoorsy adventures. 

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We love that goal and think they’ve nailed one of the main reasons that crossovers are so popular right now. However we couldn’t find a single photo on either the media site or sales site which backed up that concept by showing a bike, skis, surfboard, or kayak attached to a CX-30. While there are dozens of slides in their introductory presentation showing us exhaustive detail of human-centric engineering (which are quite impressive and probably the story they’d like for us to re-tell), we found very little focused on utility and active lifestyles.

Mazda CX30 00445 560x373We did however receive some information about the All-Wheel Drive System, and a new off-road mode included with the CX-30. While the location of the button is a bit puzzling, it applies max rear torque once activated. From there, traction control allows full engine torque and applies aggressive braking to spinning tires. Unfortunately we weren’t able to experience this system, but we’re happy to share this video from The Fast Lane Car for how it works:

Hopefully we’ll get a chance to take a Mazda CX-30 on a trail in the future, and toss around a bit of mud of our own. Granted it’s not built for serious off-roading, but we think there is a good percentage of customers who need to see what a crossover is really capable of, for when they want to take it camping or drive it down fire roads to a kayak drop-in or hiking trailhead.

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In addition to being an exceptional driving vehicle, the other place it shines isn’t a surprise either. The interior of the CX-30 in the Premium Package is indeed premium, and we especially liked the three-tone (Black, Brown, White) interior shown above. The materials are well chosen and implemented, and attention to details is apparent throughout. Not only does the interior of the CX-30 look great now, we think it will hold up years from now which should be important for buyers. This is particularly true with the exceptional Bose audio system, which buyers should never feel the need to upgrade further. That floating screen is a departure from what many other brands are doing, but Mazda specifically avoids touchscreens for safety reasons. So if lack of a touchscreen is a deal breaker for your next automotive purchase, you’ll need to look elsewhere. They did make an interesting point about their interface, which admittedly has a bit of a learning curve. Ultimately their customers come to love it, but most of us automotive reviewers are never in their vehicles long enough to overcome that learning curve, and often are critical of their interface. 

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The base model 2020 Mazda CX-30 starts at $22,945. The fancy Premium Package model that we drove comes in at $29,245, and you can (and should) add All-Wheel Drive to any trim for $1,400 more. Those numbers are squarely in the middle of the market with cheaper and more expensive options available from other manufacturers if you’re so inclined. The CX-30 is far from the most rugged and capable crossover in the segment, but if you’re more focused on style, driving dynamics, and a premium interior, this is the subcompact crossover for you. Most of us spend more than 99% of our miles on the pavement, and in this segment you’ll have difficulty finding a better vehicle for driving those pavement miles. Ultimately we got exactly what we expected from the CX-30 as Mazda stuck with what has worked so well for them with the CX-5.