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2021 Mazda CX-30 Review: Roomier But Less Dynamic Than the 3

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Auto123 reviews the 2021 Mazda CX-30.

With the Mazda CX-30, still the latest newcomer to the Japanese automaker’s lineup until the just-introduced MX-30 arrives at Canadian dealers this fall, Mazda squeezed out a space in its lineup for an in-between small crossover between the mouse-like CX-3 and the CX-5 compact SUV.

There’s no question the CX-30 bears clear resemblance to both its smaller and larger siblings, but the designers also managed to give it a fairly distinct appearance. So what we have is in essence a subcompact crossover that delivers more practicality than the CX-3, but not quite the family-friendly roominess of the 5. Is it the porridge that’s just right? Well, for some urban dwellers with small or no families other than maybe a dog to transport around, I’d say yes, because it’s practical to manoeuvre around the city and its fairly fuel-economical, certainly more than the CX-5.

Like its brethren, the 2021 CX-30 is stylish and eye-pleasing, another testament to the wisdom of the automaker’s Kodo design philosophy. There’s some of the Mazda3 in its lines and proportions, and in fact the two models, which share the same platform, are pretty close when it comes time to measuring things horizontally. But still, this is no way a hastily remodeled car.

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2021 Mazda CX-30, profile
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, profile

The interior is up to what you’d expect from a Mazda, and from a brand-new model. Not having a premium brand of its own like most of its competitors, the “little” Japanese carmaker has successfully positioned itself a cut above the mass-market crowd, particularly as you climb the trim ladders. So the cabin of the GT variant I test-drove is a fine-feeling place, with quality of construction evident and pleasingly high-end materials. You get leather trim and optional leather seating, and a classy dashboard that spans the width of the interior.

Now, this remains a not-luxury model, of course – unlike with the CX-5, there’s no Signature trim here - so don’t expect everything on a platter. Standard stuff from the GX base model ($24,550 with FWD, $26,550 with AWD) on includes heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry with push-button start and alloy wheels. With the GS ($27,350 with FWD, $28,850 with AWD), Mazda throws in a heated steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, and additional air vents on the back of the centre console.

Get the GT ($33,850 with AWD) and you get a power-adjustable driver’s seat and a power tailgate, but not ventilated front seats or heated back seats. The GT also comes with a 12-speaker premium audio and full leather seating.

Safety-wise, the CX-30 isn’t bereft of systems, though the base model doesn’t include everything you might hope for if you consider that safety tech is not an area to skimp in. You have to move from the base model to the GS to get automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection in the front, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control that works in stop-and-go traffic. Then the GT trim adds reverse automatic braking, though not with pedestrian detection, traffic sign recognition and a head-up display.

2021 Mazda CX-30, interior
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, interior

In terms of overall space, if you’re coming from a CX-3 you’ll find this definitely provides more elbow, leg and headroom, but the difference is not actually that dramatic, and frankly you’re still a long way from a roomy cabin of the CX-5. The CX-30 does not sit halfway between the two other Mazdas in this respect – it’s closer to the littler CX-3, no question. And as usual, that’s felt most acutely in back, where the seats are usable but a bit cramped if you’re at all tall and/or large.

Behind those seats, you get 572 litres of cargo space, or 1,280 litres after folding down the second row. Those aren’t category-slaying figures. No miracles here, especially given that the cargo space itself is kind of narrow – not what you’d hope for from a utility model. As we’ve seen so often, there’s a price for having a sleek and not-boxy exterior, and usually it’s paid here.

2021 Mazda CX-30, first-row seats
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, first-row seats
2021 Mazda CX-30, trunk
Photo: V.Aubé
2021 Mazda CX-30, trunk

Under the hood
The CX-30 starts off with a 2.0L engine developing 155 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque; it’s switched out for a 2.5L unit for the GS and GT trims that brings a more-interesting 186 hp and an equal amount of maximum torque. Beyond that there’s the new Turbo edition, which goes much further in delivering 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. Our GT had the i-Active all-wheel-drive system, and as good Canadians we much appreciated it for its competence and reliability. The transmission for either engine is a competent 6-speed automatic, which can be made to behave more dynamically with the drive modes, specifically Sport.

Note that there’s no Eco among those modes, which some will find a shame given that the fuel economy you get from the CX-30 is generally decent but not spectacular. Officially, the combined rating for the smaller engine powertrain is 8.6L/100 km, and 8.9L/100 km with the bigger engine; my average for the week, with the GT version with the latter engine but with the cylinder deactivation system in place, was… 8.6L/100 km, so right on the official nose. That’s about average for the subcompact crossover category.

My only whine here has to do with the fact that Mazda has made much of developing fuel-efficient combustion-engine powertrains in recent years in lieu of seriously pushing towards greater electrification. If so, the results as seen with the CX-30 make it hardly seem worth all the trouble; and in fact, Mazda seems to be accepting reality – it has just presented for the Canadian market the upcoming MX-30, its first all-electric vehicle.

2021 Mazda CX-30, front grille
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, front grille

In any event, questions of space and fuel economy aside, the fact is this little CX-30 delivers the kind of positive driving experience you’ve come to expect from a Mazda. It’s peppy in acceleration, great in corners with good road grip and tight steering, and you feel more connected to the road than in many of its rivals. It’s not quite as lively as the Mazda3, but then it does deliver more interior space (especially vertically) and better visibility on the sides and back than that sedan/hatchback model.

The suspension feels a little stiff at times and you’ll feel the bumps more than you would in the 3, likely as a result of the more-vertical stance, but it’s nothing dramatic. Some folks like that kind of stiff feel when on the road. Just don’t expect velvety smoothness. And you’ll enjoy the quick response you get to throttle and brake inputs.

2021 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, three-quarters rear

We like

Positive driving dynamics
Well-designed driver’s seat and cockpit
Good power from the engine
Fuel-efficient, to a point
Good visibility
Exterior styling

We like less

Not the most spacious inside
Second row a cramped environment
Slightly stiff suspension

The competition

Buick Encore GX
Chevrolet Trailblazer
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Jeep Compass
Kia Seltos
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Nissan Qashqai
Subaru Crosstrek
Toyota C-HR

2021 Mazda CX-30, badging
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, badging
2021 Mazda CX-30, rear
Photo: D.Boshouwers
2021 Mazda CX-30, rear

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Photos:D.Boshouwers
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