Mazda shrewdly fills a hole in their lineup
Words by: Adam Allen
SUVs are taking over the world.
It certainly seems that way. The prognosis for the longevity of the humble sedan gets less rosy with each year and buyers continue to thumb their noses at the superior handling, equally practical and more fuel-efficient vehicle type than their higher riding counterparts. If it sounds like we’re a bit chafed at this shift in consumer trends, it’s because we are. That said, the masses have spoken, and automakers are in the business of selling cars and not submitting to the panderings of the enthusiast community. Enter precociously scrappy Mazda, the small underdog of the industry who clings unwaveringly to the idea that everything it builds- SUVs and crossovers included- must be fun to drive. They simply cannot afford to spend vast sums of money developing another platform, but they recognized a profit-motivated need to pad their lineup of SUV-type offerings. The answer appeared simply by glancing across the showroom floor. The new(ish) Mazda3 is now available with all-wheel drive- why not use that continually excellent starting point as a means to a new model?
Fine, but why not call it the CX-4?
Marie Kondo would approve of that nomenclature because it would fit in oh-so-perfectly neatly with the rest of their CX lineup. However, Mazda sells a car exclusive to the Chinese market with that model name and says that it’s different enough that they wanted to avoid confusion. OK, we can live with CX-30. Someone might want to tell Mazda that the 3 itself was called the Axela overseas back when it debuted…
It looks like a Mazda3 with its trousers hiked up.
There’s a but more to it than that. While the CX-30 is very heavily based on the 3, there are some significant differences; the most obvious is that the resemblance is undeniable, they are not styled identically, and that doesn’t even include the cladding you see on the lower part of the body. We’ve described the 3’s styling as ‘sensuous’, and while the CX-30 is by no means hard to behold we wouldn’t call it that. The increased suspension height and ground clearance is the other major change, and while that makes a substantial visual distinction between the two, there are some side benefits. The ride is softer and more comfortable, and it makes ingress and egress much easier.
Can it be assumed that the CX-30 is equally as decadent and the Mazda3 inside?
‘Decadent’ isn’t typically an adjective you’d use to talk about cars at the price point, but it is wholly appropriate where these cars are concerned. The brand’s entire lineup feature cockpits that would make cars costing thousands more squirm in embarrassment. How Mazda manages to pull this off without losing money on each car they build is a mystery to us, so we try not to think about it and just surrender to enjoy the surroundings. All touchpoints are elegantly simple and high quality, and even the way the knobs and switches move with an oiled slickness imparts a feeling of luxury that eludes so many other cars. The fact that Mazda even resorts to knobs and switches is something to be celebrated, because very few brands understand that these user interfaces have worked perfectly well throughout most of automotive history…well, at least before the obsession with touchscreens and glass displays have become all the rage. The learning curve to master the CX-30’s controls isn’t steep at all, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard kit too. Somehow through it all, they also managed to make the sound system sound incredible.
The higher ride height must make handling a chore.
The CX-30 handles like nothing you would expect of something in this segment, which is to say it handles with poise and precision. On the other hand, it does lose some degree of sharpness that we love so much in the 3. What the CX-30 brings to the table from a driving experience perspective will be more than enough to please the vast majority of owners. Since sampling Mazda’s iActiv AWD system has eluded us until now, we can tell you that it works much better than the Haldex type systems which detect slip and then clumsily send a glut of power to the axle in need. It takes a proactive approach of divvying up the power in inclement conditions and the electronic brains are sharp enough to make shuffling the engines output around rather seamless. Like all its Mazda brethren, the CX-30 employs G-Vectoring Control Plus- a subtle electronic algorithm that cuts power or brushes the brakes ever so slightly to make sure the car is tracing the exact line you intended. You’ll likely never notice it, but a good sign of a technology that makes you a better driver is transparency, and at that GVC Plus excels.
What might go wrong?
Did we mention that that Mazda3 exits? We did? Oh. Well, it does, and it’s an excellent car that can be had with AWD. There’s also the CX-30’s tight back seat, that the Heads Up Displays default is to ‘on’ and not the opposite, and why can’t we have access to either turbocharged engine in the lineup, diesel or otherwise? Other than that, everything’s peachy.
Should I buy a Mazda CX-30?
Yes, dear crossover shopper, do yourself a favor and avoid the skull drudgery of buying something boring that seems to typify this segment: buy a CX-30. Or you could buy a Mazda3. We’re sure Mazda won’t particularly mind which one you choose. Plus, everyone loves a winner, and the Mazda3 just took home 2020 AJAC Car of the Year honors. Because the two are so closely related, you might say that the CX-30 shares in those accolades.
2020 Mazda CX-30 GT AWD- Specifications
- Price as tested: $36,250
- Body Type: 5-door, 5 passenger CUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/All-wheel drive
- Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic
- Engine: 2.5-litre inline-four, DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 186 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 186 @ 4,000 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,537 kg (3,389 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 9.3L/100km (25 mpg)