It's about to be dropped from the lineup, perhaps understandably, but is it still worth considering Mazda's premium small SUV with a manual gearbox while you can get it?

In the midst of a transition period which sees the phasing-out of old models and introduction of new and more premium nameplates to its lineup, Mazda has been axing certain variants and models entirely over the last few months. Already, it’s been announced that the CX-8 and MX-30 will be pulled from sale for good at the end of Q1 2024, but there’s another sad victim of this shifting product portfolio – the manual gearbox.

Having elected to surprisingly offer a manual gearbox on the entry-level CX-30 G20 Pure small SUV along with on every single Mazda3 variant for the past few years, the DIY shifter will disappear from the options list for 2024 models. Perhaps it’s unsurprising given less than five percent of all new vehicles sold in Australia come fitted with a manual gearbox, but I for one am sad to see Mazda backing away from its three-pedal support, although the MX-5 and BT-50 are still available with a manual elsewhere in its lineup.

Before it disappears from the lineup, though, I actually had the chance to take the lone manual CX-30 variant for a spin. Truthfully, it’s the deletion of the manual from the Mazda3 lineup that surprised me more since I can’t imagine many SUV buyers would be that set on switching gears themselves, but I was still intrigued to see how the CX-30 is, or rather was, with a manual gearbox.

Why does, or rather did, a manual CX-30 exist at all?

The CX-30 sharing its platform and drivetrain options with the Mazda3 is precisely what makes this somewhat puzzling manual SUV able to exist at all. With the ride height and the body draped on top of this platform being the only main differences – even the the interior design is largely shared between them – it’s hardly any extra work to fit it with three pedals.

Why someone would buy a manual CX-30 is a far better question, and perhaps the most obvious reason why is actually pretty simple: it’s cheaper, and it gave Mazda highly competitive entry-level pricing. If you can still find one of these sitting on a dealer lot, it opens the range at just $30,610 before on-road costs. That marks a $1000 saving over an MY23 G20 Pure automatic, or a $2380 saving over an MY24 auto.

What’s it like to drive a Mazda CX-30 with a manual gearbox?

If you are someone who prefers or at least doesn’t mind a manual gearbox – and I know there are still some of you out there! – it’s perhaps best to frame this less as an SUV and more like a tall hatchback to really make sense of it.

Since this isn’t a particularly large, heavy, or unwieldy SUV – indeed, it’s quite the opposite – it honestly feels a lot like driving a Mazda3 with a higher driving position. Plus, since the G20 Pure comes fitted with 16-inch wheels shod in tyres with a chunky sidewall, it actually makes for a great city car since you’ll have no issues dealing with high kerbs, speed bumps, and potholes.

The manual gearbox itself is a fairly nice unit with neatly-spaced ratios. The shifter feels fairly nice with long throws that are fairly forgiving, making it easy to manage for novice manual drivers. It’s worth noting that the clutch does feel a little bit rubbery and could do with a slightly firmer pedal feel, but it’s light enough to not be a nuisance in traffic.

Curiously, fuel economy is not one of the benefits the manual gearbox offers – somewhat of a contradiction to the older reasoning of three-pedal cars being more efficient than automatics. Mazda claims fuel consumption of 6.5L/100km for the manual CX-30 (which is front-wheel drive only) but just 6.3L/100km for front-wheel drive automatics, although extra-urban fuel consumption is claimed to be slightly lower at 5.5L/100km versus 5.6L/100km. In my testing, I saw a return of 7.9L/100km over the course of 678km. Do consider that the manual still features a stop/start system as well.

Beyond the manual gearbox, all G20 variants use the same engine: a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm. Although this engine is certainly quite smooth, it can be a bit vocal when you work it hard, and work it hard you will given its relative lack of torque.

I do think that the manual gearbox allows you to extract the best out of it, but for highway or country driving this engine does feel to be lacking when you really put your foot in it. In urban conditions, it’s perfectly adept, but I’d look at opting for one of the more powerful G25 variants if you’ll be driving on higher-speed roads more regularly.

The CX-30 is an otherwise very agreeable car to drive, though, with ideally-weighted steering and a fairly composed ride even with rear torsion beam suspension. The chubby sidewalls of the G20 Pure model’s tyres certainly helps in this respect as well.

What’s the rest of the Mazda CX-30 G20 Pure like?

Obviously, these considerations carry over to non-manual 2024 models, which is why I’ve left this discussion to its own section here.

Since it first launched in 2019, the CX-30 has aged well with its distinctive curvy design language well ahead of its time since it stands out against the crowd of overly-angular designs that exist amongst its competition. The black plastic cladding may be a bit much for some, but I do think it’s balanced out well by either a darker colour or this bold Soul Crystal Red paintwork. Mind you, I stand by the base model’s 16-inch wheels being highly practical as mentioned earlier, but they do undermine its styling slightly.

Inside, the base G20 Pure still feels quite premium thanks to the extensive use of blue leather across the dashboard, door cards, and centre console, giving it a unique touch in addition to the air of quality that the selection of plush interior materials brings. Even the cloth seats feel a clear step above the usual cheap pews you’ll find in an entry-level variant – both in terms of the material quality and their supportive design. For the price point, this punches well above its weight.

Mind you, there are still some more basic interior touches such as the manual air conditioning controls, but they’re incorporated well, particularly next to items shared with the top-spec variants. That includes the 7.0-inch digital TFT display in the instrument cluster and the head-up display, both of which come as standard.

However, both 2023 and 2024 G20 Pure models do only feature the smaller 8.8-inch infotainment screen as standard, although all 2024 variants are available with a larger 10.25-inch display either optionally or as standard depending on the trim level. Keep in mind, though, that 2023 models did at least gain wireless Apple CarPlay.

In terms of practicality, the CX-30 features a boot that’s actually on the smaller side, measuring in at just 317 litres using the VDA measurement system, although it’s far bigger than what you’ll find in the smaller CX-3. However, there’s plenty of room with the seats folded down, and I can attest to it being large enough to carry some big boxes of glassware for an exhibition I was coordinating during the week I had it on test.

Is it worth buying a manual CX-30 while you still can?

Since you might still find the odd manual example hanging around at a dealership somewhere, I’d say it’s worth considering this outgoing version of the Mazda CX-30 if you’re someone who doesn’t mind or even prefers a manual gearbox. Given its premium looks and interior design at a very affordable price point – and you may even be able to haggle more on a less-popular manual model – there’s no denying it presents impressive value for money.

I’d be most inclined to consider it as a car for primarily urban use where the weaknesses of its less-powerful engine aren’t so exposed. With a light clutch, pliable ride quality, and kerb-resistant chubby tyres, I’m sure there’s still a few people out there for whom this will check a lot of the right boxes.

2023 Mazda CX-30 G20 Pure Manual 2WD List Price: $30,610
  • 6.5/10
    Performance - 6.5/10
  • 8/10
    Ride & Handling - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Value for Money - 8.5/10

Pros: Manual gearbox is geared evenly and shifts nicely, chubby tyres work wonders on city streets, high-quality and well-equipped interior even in base-spec
Cons: Engine lacks torque, those tiny wheels diminish the looks somewhat, the manual is being dropped from the lineup

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mazda Australia for one week with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.

Patrick Jackson
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