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2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: Between Two Chairs

2020 Mazda CX-30 | Photo: Mazda
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Benoit Charette
Will this new model be used to shove the smaller CX-3 over the cliff’s edge?

Auto123 reviews the all-new 2020 Mazda CX-30.

Another SUV, you might say. Good on you for noticing. There are now so many on the market it’s easy to lose track. In the case of this product, to put it simply, the CX-30 is based on the latest Mazda 3 platform. To put it another way, Mazda did with the CX-30 what Subaru did with the Crosstrek. You take an Impreza, or in this case a Mazda 3, and lift it off the ground.

As for the format, the new CX-30 slots in between a Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. So why not call it a CX-4? There would be less confusion. Right again; however, the name CX-4 is reserved for a China-only model, so Mazda had to find something else, and so now we have the CX-30.

We’d be willing to bet a few bucks, moreover, that the CX-3 will not return to the lineup year leaving the CX-30 to become the new entry-level SUV at Mazda.

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2020 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters rear
2020 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters rear | Photo: Mazda

Good genes
Since the CX-30 comes from the sound and solid base that is the Mazda 3, its handling is predictably solid. For one, it's nervous and responsive on the road. Our recommendation is to go for the 2.5L engine, which is the only really interesting option. The base 2.0L engine is raspy and lacks the heft to push the vehicle properly.  

Finding your way around the model trim lineup is a simple affair. First there’s the GX version that comes standard with front-wheel drive and the 2.0-L engine making 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. If you're an urban dweller who doesn't venture out of town very often, this configuration is okay, even though the base price of $24,000 is kind of high.

Next comes the GS version, also available with a choice of front-wheel drive or 4WD, but this time with a 2.5L engine that produces 186 hp and just as much torque. Not only is the extra power valuable, the difference in fuel consumption is insignificant (The 2.0L engine with 4WD averages 9.4L/100 km in the city and 7.7L on the highway, while the 2.5L engine averages 9.9L/100 km in the city and 7.7L on the highway).

2020 Mazda CX-30, front
2020 Mazda CX-30, front | Photo: Mazda

The biggest difference is in the price. The GS 2WD is $26,650, but we think it's worth the difference with the GX.

There's also the GT version that comes only in 4WD at $33,850. Our recommendation is for a GS 4WD version at $28,650.

While it’s not as narrow a vehicle as the CX-3, the CX-30 could stand to be more spacious. It'll do the trick for a small family of 4, but no more. Let's just say that, with a full house, space is at a premium.

On the other hand, since it's inspired in every way by the Mazda 3, the interior is well-designed and the finish is flawless. There's plenty of storage space to hide all sorts of little things. The seats are a little cramped but they’re comfortable.

2020 Mazda CX-30, profile
2020 Mazda CX-30, profile | Photo: Mazda

Among the irritants is the infotainment system, which I have to say is a swing-and-a-miss by Mazda. Most often you have to go through several menus and sub-menus to get to your destination. The screen is not tactile and forces you to use the wheel, often for several long minutes, before you find what you're looking for. We even had to stop on the side of the road to find a radio station because it so required our prolonged attention.

We do give a good grade for the level of base equipment, which is quite comprehensive. You'll find in the base GX version an 8.8-inch centre screen with Mazda Connect, 8-speaker audio system with HD radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth hands-free call and audio pairing controls, LED headlights with automatic shut-off, electronic parking brakes, floor console armrest with storage compartment and cloth seats.

Electronic driving aids appear with the GS model, including i-Activsense safety features such as intelligent cruise control with stop & go, intelligent brake assist, pedestrian detection (front camera), lane departure warning system, high beam assist, and driver alert.

2020 Mazda CX-30, interior
2020 Mazda CX-30, interior | Photo: Mazda

The driver can enjoy a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob as well as rain-sensing wipers, while passengers get dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air conditioning vents and rear armrests with cup holders.

The GT model adds a premium 12-speaker Bose audio system, exterior mirrors with tilt-down feature, seat position memory function and SiriusXM satellite radio with free three-month subscription.

The CX-30 GT also includes a head-up display, front wiper defroster, leather seats, power tailgate, automatic headlamp levelling with adaptive front-lighting system, shift levers, cylinder deactivation and Signature LED headlamps and taillights.

2020 Mazda CX-30, rear light
2020 Mazda CX-30, rear light | Photo: Mazda

Flattering ride
Let's start with the good news. The interior of the CX-30 is very well done and is above average in this class, especially when compared to a Nissan Rogue that just doesn’t measure up in comparison. The materials are of high quality with even some unexpected touches of luxury such as several padded surfaces and contrasting stitching that add a certain class. The centre console has a discreet look, made of clear plastic over a crafted ersatz carbon-fibre weave. The leather seats in our GT version were also very comfortable.

While the cabin is quiet, it's hard to say the same about the slightly noisy engine. It's as if Mazda figured it’d muffle all the other cabin noise with a loud motor. The 2.5L engine works well, but someone should maybe tell Mazda that 6-speed automatic transmissions are no longer trendy; they’d do far better to put in an 8-speed unit, which would both solve the noise problem and improve on the fuel economy, which is OK but only that. Mind you, this old six-speed transmission is still preferable to, say, Nissan's indigestible CVT.

On the road, the CX-30 proved to be safe and predictable. Even at a faster pace, the vehicle remains safe, the rear doesn't sway and comfort remains good, even when road conditions deteriorate. The brake pedal offers good feedback and was easy to modulate.

2020 Mazda CX-30, on the road
2020 Mazda CX-30, on the road | Photo: Mazda

For those in the back row of seats, the rear door openings are narrow, and the limited knee- and head-room in the back seat makes getting in and out in and out a bit difficult; further back, the trunk isn't very large either.

So, should you buy or not this CX-30? Yes, of course, especially if it’s a GS 4WD version, which seems to us to offer the best equipment and performance for the money. We do acknowledge that the GT version is more flattering and better equipped, but it will cost $5,000 more to get it.

Mazda needs to rework the engine to render it quieter within the cabin, and switch to a more modern automatic transmission. I wonder, where is the much-heralded SKYACTIV-X engine that would presumably solve these problems?

2020 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters front
2020 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters front | Photo: Mazda

We like

Excellent fit and finish
Inspired drive
Solid chassis

We like less

Confusing infotainment system
Tight spacing in the cabin
Aging 6-speed automatic transmission
2,0-litre engine not recommended
Loud engine

The competition

Jeep Compass
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Nissan Qashqai
Subaru Crosstrek

2020 Mazda CX-30, headlight
2020 Mazda CX-30, headlight | Photo: Mazda

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Benoit Charette
Benoit Charette
Automotive expert
  • More than 30 years of experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 65 test drives last year
  • Attended more than 200 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists