Review: 2021 Mazda CX-30 is Great Yet Compromised
The driving experience is wonderful, but this compact crossover is a little too, er, compact
Review of the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus
Mazda has done it again. In a sea of otherwise boring-to-drive cars and fake-SUVs, they've come out swinging with a stacked team once again with the CX-30, a compact crossover. While crossovers are far from what gets my blood pumping, the CX-30 does in a way no rival can possibly dream of under forty grand. With its delicious blend of style and performance, it's impossible to ignore, all except the fact that it's just too compact.
What is it?
Mazda's compact crossover, the CX-30, neither a car nor an SUV. In the name of style, this svelte, sculpted shape aims to give drivers the benefit of sitting higher up (personal preference, of course) in an SUV-style vehicle, but still possessing the fizz that makes all Mazdas so great to drive. Mazdas are also considerably more upscale than some competitors, so you get an interior clad in nice leather trimmings and other quality details; you'd likely be mistaking it for a luxury car at times. It's also, unmistakably, a compact crossover SUV at only 173" long.
As is the case with all Mazdas, the CX-30 drives brilliantly. Natural steering is connected straight to your brain, allowing assured responses. The chassis underneath loves to corner, digging hard into the pavement with a wonderful balance that shames all other crossovers. In fact, this CX-30 handles better than most sedans. Aim the nose at a series of bends on a windy road and you'll be bewildered at how well this crossover can devour apexes in an involving manner. Most similar cars will lose grip at the front and plow into understeer, but not the Mazda, instead being able to grip and slingshot itself out of turns with the help of its all-wheel drive and powerful engine.
Speaking of which, the CX-30 has the familiar 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mill that powers most other members of the Zoom-Zoom family. With 227 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque on regular 87 pump gas (you can get a claimed 250 horsepower on premium, 15-year barrel-select 91), the CX-30 shoots to 60 MPH from rest in only 6.1 seconds. Because of its flexibility, there's substantial power available from under 3,000 RPM even. At under $40,000 there is no other vehicle of this type that has the punch of the CX-30. I tested a similarly-sized Lexus UX 200 F Sport earlier this year, but with only 169 horsepower, 9 seconds were needed for 0-60 MPH. Nine! And that thing stickered for a crazy 42 grand.
Fuel mileage was rather good considering the performance on tap, achieving 33 MPG on the highway and averaging 27 overall despite its older six-speed automatic. Inside the well-appointed cabin, you're greeted by a legitimately luxury environment. This Premium Plus is wonderfully equipped with all the acronyms and features you can want in 2021 and even next year. Lane keep assists, radar cruise control (though Mazda sadly deleted the option to also instead use regular cruise), rear cross traffic alerts, a decent 8.8" screen with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and blind spot monitoring. I like the simple elegance of Mazda interiors and the CX-30 continues that trend, focusing on the important bits that matter. Several passengers that I took for rides were similarly impressed with this crossover's classy cabin. The only aspect inside I wasn't convinced by were the grab-points when the closing the door upon ingress. It's also quite attractive on the outside, too, as are all Mazdas.
As great as the CX-30 is to drive, it's not without flaw(s), chief of which is the lack of space. Make no mistake, this is a compact crossover/SUV. It's perfectly fine from a driver's perspective, but those rear seats aren't quite made to accommodate adults for anything more than modest distances, and the rear cargo space is the opposite of spacious. In fact, the CX-30 is no more spacious than the brilliant Mazda 3 sedan. If space is what you're after, the larger CX-5 (and slightly more expensive) that Mazda offers (also class-leading in basically everything) will be your golden ticket.
Speaking further in comparing it to the Mazda 3, that sedan drives even better. Released this year was the 3 with the same exact engine combined to all-wheel drive. Costing a vacation-worth less than the CX-30 when equipped the same, I would much rather have the Mazda 3 turbo just because I personally prefer cars over crossovers. But, I get it, a lot of people like sitting up high, but don't think you're choosing a CX-30 because you believe it gifts you with extra space. The fact that it sits up high and looks like a larger vehicle from afar does not equate to more interior volume.
Another quip of mine is the annoying parking brake. You come to a stop and shift the lever into 'P,' the parking brake comes on automatically. Okay, great, I like that. However, each time I got in the CX-30 for a drive, I would shift it into 'D' to set off and upon releasing the brake, I noticed how the Mazda would squat down at the rear and remain stationary. Why? Because while the parking brake turns on automatically, it does not turn off automatically. This means you have to manually turn off the parking brake before setting off. Maybe there's a hidden setting to disable that, but I found it mightily annoying. If it turns on all on its own, then surely it should also turn off on its own. Hmm.
If you want a small crossover...
Then buy the CX-30. Other competitors don't drive as well and don't have the same style nor luxury-like interior as seen on this Premium Plus example. Want to save some dough? The base CX-30 starts under $25,000. You'll be missing a lot of the luxury and the power, but it's still a better-furnished and better-driving car than competitors. You can't go wrong with the CX-30, but you can do better. What do I mean by better? Don't discount the fabulous Mazda 3 and 6 sedans first.
2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus
As-tested Price: $35,400
Pros: Style, quality, and performance; Great to drive
Cons: A little too compact; Mazda's sedans are even better Verdict: It's the best in class, but is it the class you want?