When news of a new addition to Mazda’s SUV range – the CX-30 – first broke last year, I must admit I wasn’t sure what to make of it at first. With the pint-sized CX-3, middling CX-5, little seven-seater CX-8, and bigger seven-seat CX-9 all sat in Mazda showrooms across the country, the addition of the bigger-smaller-in-between-half-and-half CX-30 had me thinking that maybe Mazda had taken one play too many out of the BMW playbook – after all, do you really need to fill every single niche that exists?
Clearly, you do need to, however, as while I’m busy gas-bagging on the internet about how brilliant cars like the new Toyota Supra are, people are actually going out and buying small SUVs in droves, so why wouldn’t manufacturers make more of them?
If it seems like the CX-30 treads on the heels of the CX-3 in more ways than one though, a week spent with the top-trim Astina model, albeit one fitted with the entry-level G20 drivetrain, revealed that the two couldn’t be more different, even if they don’t appear it on the surface.
Let’s start with the name, because I can already hear you asking, “Why, if this thing is positioned between the CX-3 and the CX-5, is it confusingly called the CX-30 and not the CX-4?” The answer is simple, actually – in China, Mazda really has filled every niche by offering a car called the CX-4 which is essentially just a more sleek CX-5.
Not only does that mean that it’s wider and longer than the CX-3 and comes with the 3’s range of engines, but it also serves up the latest in the way of Mazda design language and interior tech.
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Outside, it’s a truly stunning thing, clearly standing out from the rest of the small SUV ilk with its line-free smooth and curvy bodywork. While the black plastic cladding around the wheel arches and bottom of the car may look excessive to some, particularly depending on the colour, it doesn’t bother me too much, it must be said, especially with the deep blue paintwork of my tester.
The interior is where the real magic happens, however, as its a truly stunning place to be. I’m a sucker for brown leather, so the big swathes of it across the dashboard and door cards definitely sets it off for me, and while the black leather seat upholstery might look pedestrian by comparison, it actually features little orange rings inside its perforations, making it almost match the rest of the brown interior materials when viewed from a distance. I’ve no idea how Mazda has done it, but it’s very unique.
It should also be noted that the materials themselves feel incredibly high-quality, too. The suppleness and plushness of them reminds me greatly of what you’d find in a Lexus, in particular the well-padded armrests and lower section of the dashboard below the infotainment screen.
Speaking of the infotainment system, it’s the same new Mazda Connect unit seen in the Mazda3 the CX-30 is based on which has copped flack from some, and it’s understandable why – gone is the touchscreen, as the screen is mounted in such a place on the dashboard that it’s better in your line of sight but not easily reachable, with the BMW-style rotary controller and shortcut buttons now the only way to control it.
Personally, I prefer using a controller like this rather than a touchscreen anyway, but it’s undeniable that the system isn’t the most intuitive out there. The display is very clear and slick, though, the navigation maps especially, and it does pack Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too.
It’s well-equipped in every other regard as well, with a semi-digital instrument cluster, head-up display, 360-degree camera, radar cruise control, heated seats and heated steering wheel, 10-way power adjustment and two-position memory for the driver, a 12-speaker Bose sound system, and even a powered tailgate – a fairly unique feature to have at this price point.
Like with the Mazda3, two engines are available in the CX-30, both of which are naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol units with SkyActiv-G direct injection – the ‘G20’ 2.0-litre, as fitted to the car on test here, is available across the whole range with a six-speed auto and front-wheel drive, while the ‘G25’ 2.5-litre engine is available as an option on the Touring and Astina grades with either front- or all-wheel drive.
While the G20 powertrain may be enough in the smaller, lighter Mazda3, here in the CX-30 its 114kW and 200Nm is sorely lacking when you are getting on it. Around town, it’s perfectly adequate, and it is a very smooth operator, but you do need to wring its neck to access what little power there is that all hides away above the very shouty 5000rpm mark. My advice, whether you’re a rev-head or not – go for the ‘big block’.
The transmission though, like in all Mazdas, is very good, with perfectly-spaced gear ratios that prove six is all you need, and smooth and fairly prompt shifts when using the paddles or tiptronic shifter – which, it should be noted, is setup perfectly with upshifts being executed by pulling it down towards you, and pushing up and away from you for downshifts.
Aside from the lack of power, it’s a great drive overall, as the steering is nicely weighted, direct, and predictably progressive, and it remains quite well-balanced through the corners as well.
The ride is pretty good most of the time, too, although as it features torsion beam rear suspension – just like the 3 – in place of an independent setup, it doesn’t manage the mid-corner bumps that are characteristic of tree-lined Australian roads quite as well as you’d like, with the rear-end able to become easily unsettled by them, although the front end does handle them well.
Improving NVH levels was the decision behind going to the non-independent rear-end, however, and it has done the trick in that regard, as the cabin is a lot quieter than in many other Mazda models, most notably at higher speeds on freeways and country roads.
Good-looking, plush and well-equipped inside, and totally pleasant to drive, there’s certainly a lot to like about the CX-30, even with the smaller engine’s drawbacks, along with those of the torsion beam rear-end.
I think its well-priced, too, starting at $29,990 at the entry level before maxing out at $43,490, and at $38,990 for the G20 Astina tested here, I think it definitely serves up enough for the money – except in the way of power, of course.
Most importantly though, it definitely feels significantly larger and more premium than the CX-3, but not large enough to encroach on the CX-5’s territory, meaning that it does enough to justify its existence as far as I’m concerned. With a bit more in the way of power, it’d even be able to rival the offerings of some premium brands in my opinion, so watch this space to see what Mazda comes up with next as part of its upmarket push, as clearly, it’s on a roll with it.
2020 Mazda CX-30 G20 Astina List Price: $38,990
Pros: Looks stunning inside and out, high-quality interior materials, slick digital dials and infotainment system, smooth and predictable handling
Cons: Wheezy 2.0-litre engine never feels quite up to the task, torsion beam rear-end is easily unsettled by mid-corner bumps, better value with the big engine at this end of the range
In a nutshell: The CX-30 is a cracking-looking thing and perfectly pleasant to drive, but the gutless G20 engine lets an otherwise smart package down. Get the pokier 2.5-litre donk, however, and it’s a good in-between for those wanting something more refined than a CX-3 but not as big as a CX-5.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mazda Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel expenses were covered by the author.
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