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2020 Mazda CX-30 First Drive: The Perfect Half-Size?

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Auto123 trudged reluctantly to sunny climes to test-drive the all-new medium-small 2020 Mazda CX-30

San Diego, CA – Today’s automaker pretty much has to be present in every major segment on the market. It’s also a good idea to be quick to react to developing trends. One such trend that has shown it has definite stating power? SUVs. Consumers can’t get enough of ‘em! The movement towards utility models is so overwhelming that sub-segments are cropping up, manufacturers wanting to have a model to fit every slice of the market. 

Mazda is a good example, and this despite the fact that it has updated its fairly complete lineup of SUVs quite nicely in recent years what with the little CX-3, the popular compact-sized CX-5 and the CX-9 people-mover.

With these distinct models in the company’s portfolio, you would think that a logical addition might be a return of the CX-7 – model Mazda jettisons a few years back. A model that would be a natural rival for the Ford Edge, Honda Passport, et al. But Mazda’s strategists saw a hole further down the model hierarchy, down between the mouse-like CX-3 and the CX-5. 

Mazda having decided to squeeze a new model into that tight spot, you would then think that a logical name for it would be the CX-4. Uh-uh. That nameplate is already in use on a model sold on the Chinese market, and Mazda has no plans to bring that one to the North American market.

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Photo: V.Aubé

And so it is that Mazda came up with CX-30 to designate the model tasked with occupying the middle ground between the 3 and the 5. One of the motivating factors for the automaker was apparently being told too often by consumers that they were foregoing the CX-3 because it’s too small with in sufficient cargo space. This, in short, is the reason the CX-30 exists, as a medium-small crossover that sits closer to the Nissan Qashqai and Subaru Crosstrek in terms of its dimensions than to the smaller denizens of the segment.

To show off its new half-size model, Mazda Canada thus invited a few members of the Canuck press to fly to sunny southern California and try it out.

KODO, a beautiful language
This new arrival is part of the second phase of KODO, Mazda’s current design philosophy, along with the new Mazda3 that attracted a lot of positive attention when its redesigned new edition was unveiled for 2019. Unsurprisingly, the 2020 CX-30 inherits some of that compact car’s style elements, but adapted for its utility format. 

Photo: V.Aubé

In fact the front end of the newbie’s GT version – the only one on hand for this first drive – looks strangely like the one on the CX-5 Signature, with its exclusive grille and the chrome finish at its bottom edge as well as the ultra-thin anti-fog lights. I actually did a side-by-side visual test of the two models, and the differences are minimal.

In profile, you see that the CX-30 forsakes the Mazda3 Sport’s C pillar and instead gets bigger fenestration, which is excellent news for those who appreciate good visibility. Also, the black plastic underbody panels are frankly bolder than those on the current CX-5, which creates the impression that you’re looking at a vehicle that’s long and not wide.

In back is where the CX-30 most closely resembles its cousin the Mazda3 Sport with its ultra-slim position lights and domed hatch. Sitting on 18-inch alloy wheels, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 arrives on the market in very nice form, in my view. We’ll have and see if the more-affordable GX trim and its 16-inch wheels will be as seductive; we couldn’t help but notice its absence from this North American premiere drive event.

Photo: V.Aubé

Much more welcoming inside?
Speaking of seductive, the interior certainly is that, especially considering its reasonable starting price of $23,950. At the risk of repeating myself, the CX-30s we drove were all GT versions, which adds about $10,000 to that starting price.

In these versions, the leather seating and leatherette surfaces on the dashboard add some pizzazz and colour to the interior right off the bat. The panoramic sunroof meanwhile bathes occupants in tons of light, who will undoubtedly be more comfortable over the long haul, and long hauls, here than in the CX-3.

Like in the Mazda3, the dashboard of the CX-30 herds together most of the principal commands in the service of the driver. The climate control vents that melt into the instrument panel are superb, ditto for the infotainment screen – which is touch by the way. Instead the driver controls it via a turn-knob down near the gear shifter low on the central console; around the knob are four buttons for the nav system, as well as another turn-knob for controlling the audio volume and for changing stations.

Photo: V.Aubé

At the centre of the dashboard, the climate control commands are bunched together in a tight rectangle. Naturally the steering also holds its share of commands so the driver can attend to some basic business without letting go of the wheel. Honestly, I feel like Mazda’s designers have outdone themselves here; the design of the dashboard makes you feel you’re in a premium car. 

Meanwhile, though space is decent enough in the front room, it’s a little tighter in back. That said this is certainly an improvement over the second row of the CX-3, which requires more nimbleness to climb into and out of than I’m blessed with.

What’s more, because the seating is relatively upright, rear passengers will enjoy not having their knees embedded in the front-row seat backs. Behind them, the trunk also gets more litres of cargo capacity than the CX-3, though it’s not at the level of the CX-5. That said, I actually had the perverse thought when gazing into the trunk space that maybe Mazda put in a bunch of panels left, right and back to not make the CX-5 look bad. Just a thought…

 

Photo: V.Aubé

I could indulge in such idle conjecture because as of the drive event, Mazda had not given us exact figures regarding the cargo capacity of the CX-30. Some research conducted via my super-secret investigating method (the internet) revealed that the European version of the model has a capacity of 430 litres, while the U.S. version officially confers 572 litres of space. Whatever the precise number, you can take to the bank that it’s more than the CX-3 and less than the CX-5.

Familiar mechanics and a typically Mazda driving fun
There are no unknowns under the hood. The CX-30 comes by default (only in GX version) with the 2.0L 4-cylinder SkyActiv engine good for 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. The other option, reserved for the GS and GT, is a 2.5L unit delivering 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque. In the case of the GT, the engine can deactivate two cylinders to reduce fuel consumption. 

Photo: V.Aubé

Both engines work together with a 6-speed automatic transmission, the only unit available in the product offering; it comes with paddle shifters on the steering wheel or via the lever. As per the current trend with small utility models, the CX-30 can be had with FWD or the i-Activ all-wheel drive system that has earned a lot of thumbs up since it was introduced a few years ago.

Our short sojourn in California highlighted the agility of the 2020 CX-30 on the road. It steering is precise and pleasantly light. Despite the higher ground clearance, the CX-30 swallows up curves like a compact car… or like a Mazda3, you might say!

The chassis reassures by its stiffness, but that quality also delivers an interior free of noise or annoying cracking from the body. The suspension is well-calibrated to absorb the road’s crankier moments, and the braking is equally competent though I wouldn’t mind if it had more of a bite.

Photo: V.Aubé

The automatic transmission works well with the bigger of the engine, but to my great surprise the powertrain didn’t make of the CX-30 a dynamic performer on the road. In theory, the lighter weight of this model in relation with the CX-5 should have given it wings, but that was absolutely not the case. To get the most out of what’s under the hood, you have to search out the Sport mode. Regardless, the new CX-30 does reset the bar in the this nascent half-size category, especially when it comes to delivering driving pleasure.

The last word
This half-size insertion into the product offering seemed slightly extraneous when it got its world premiere, but when you meet it up close you realize Mazda has made a savvy play in getting into a growing sub-segment. Not only is the 2020 Mazda CX-30 (relatively) roomy inside, fun to drive and well put-together, it represents the ideal format for small families. You couldn’t really say that about the CX-3, and in fact we expect the newcomer will chase off that mouse of a crossover within a few years. At the same time, bet on a pumped-up CX-5 when it gets its next revision. Unless they come out with a CX-50, maybe? Who knows?

 

Consult our listing of pre-owned Mazda vehicles available in your region of Canada

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