Style and substance make the 2021 Mazda CX-30 a must-shop compact CUV for those seeking luxury features at a budget-friendly price.
Mazda‘s newest compact crossover, the CX-30, was introduced last year somewhat positioned between the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5 CUVs. It’s a departure from both of the two existing models in several ways, most specifically the CX-3.
Why Mazda deviated from its standard naming nomenclature is a bit of a mystery. The logical name would be the CX-4, though Mazda claims it would be confused with the CX-4 model it sells in China. Several manufacturers sell different vehicles in different markets under the same name, so speculation is that the company is establishing a new vehicle naming strategy with this model.
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It’s entirely possible that the small Mazda CX-3, based on the tiny Mazda2 subcompact car, is on its way out. The CX-30 could then represent not just new naming, but a new approach to the way Mazda markets its line of SUVs.
By the way, the segment of the automotive market that includes the CX-3 and CX-30 has grown from around 200,000 units sold in 2014 to last year’s 800,000 total. Competition is tough, and Mazda’s brought in a fresh contender to take its share of the segment in the form of the 2021 CX-30.
The best point of comparison for the five-passenger Mazda CX-30 is its stablemate, the CX-3; a well-known model among compact crossover utility vehicle shoppers. With an overall length about five inches longer than the CX-3, the CX-30 adds a little more rear legroom and cargo space. The CX-30 also rides higher with a taller roof, contributing to a skoosh more interior space.
The standard engine in the CX-30 is a 186 horsepower 2.5L DOHC SKYACTIV-G four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. Its output is a 38hp jump from the base 2.0L engine in the CX-3. Available shortly is a turbocharged version of the 2.5L engine. Power is boosted to 250hp, a level that puts the CX-30 in league with luxury compact crossovers like the Infiniti QX50, Acura RDX, and Lexus NX300. It should be noted that 250hp is only achievable on premium gasoline. Fill the tank with regular unleaded and the engine computer knocks power output down to 227hp.
Backing both engines in the CX-30 is a responsive SKYACTIV DRIVE six-speed electronically-controlled sport automatic transmission. Unlike competitors that offer either a squishy CVT transmission or nine-speed automatics that annoyingly changes gears constantly, the six-speed in the CX-30 shifts smoothly, swiftly, and authoritatively.
Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD system is an available option on all trims, though standard on models with the upcoming turbocharged engine. The i-ACTIV system monitors road conditions in real-time and proactively controls torque distribution. The system ranges from full FWD to full AWD and almost anywhere in between, providing stable and predictable handling on many surfaces. As a $1,400 upgrade, it’s an easy sell for drivers who travel over the slippery stuff.
The CX-30 suspension is independent up front, Mazda fitting the CX-30 with McPherson struts at the sharp end of all models. In the rear is a less sophisticated torsion beam axle fitted to FWD models. Typically considered inferior to an independent rear suspension (IRS), Mazda has proven its ability to deliver sharp handling vehicles fitted with a torsion beam, exemplified by the widely-praised 2020 Mazda3. AWD models are equipped with an IRS.
Brakes are discs all around, with 11.6-inch ventilated front and 10.4-inch solid rear rotors controlled by a four-wheel Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and an electronic parking brake. Steering is by electronically-assisted power racking and pinion system.
Front-wheel-drive CX-30 models feature EPA estimates of 25 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 28 mpg combined; non-turbo all-wheel-drive models come in at 24 city, 31 mpg, and 26 mpg. Official fuel economy ratings for the 2021 turbocharged model have not yet been released.
Mazda models across the board are well-recognized for their agile handling and responsive steering. The CX-30 is no exception and compares well with more expensive CUVs in its category. It’s fun to drive, which is an attribute Mazda continually seeks to imbue in its cars and SUVs. A significant contributor to the driving dynamics of the CX-30 is the implementation of the Mazda G-Vectoring Control, a system that responds to steering inputs with subtle engine output and braking changes.
The CX-30 also offers exceptional ride comfort, soaking up bumps and potholes with little passenger discomfort. It’s also quiet, registering relatively low sound levels on the highway. It’s likely that the improved levels of occupant comfort are the result of the additional 383 lbs. the CX-30 carries over the CX-3. The engine is responsive, the transmission shifts crisply, and the brakes provide linear stopping power. The CX-30 is a compact crossover that offers a pleasurable driving experience like that found in most other Mazda models.
As you enter the cabin of the CX-30, you’ll notice the high-quality materials used throughout the interior, unlike most other CUVs at its price point. These quality materials compare favorably to the aforementioned luxury Lexus, Acura, and Infiniti models.
An 8.8-inch infotainment display is centered on the dash, and its functions are controlled by a nicely weighted rotary knob on the center console (though not a touchscreen). The display can access the Mazda Connected Services allowing owners to lock and unlock, remote start, and monitor their vehicle using the MyMazda app on their smartphone. For 2021 Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard.
Standard features include a seven-inch TFT reconfigurable digital display, an eight-speaker audio system, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio controls, Apple Car Play and Android Auto functionality, and two front USB inputs.
The CX-30 S comes equipped with power windows featuring one-touch operation, rain-sensing windshield wipers, push-button start, a rearview camera, an illuminated remote keyless entry system, and automatic on/off LED headlights.
A relatively small step-up in cost, the Select Package adds functional items like blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, side mirror turn signal indicators, and Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry. There are also interior upgrades as part of the Select trim, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, along with leatherette seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear air conditioning vents, and rear armrests with cupholders.
Building on the Select package, the Preferred trim adds a moonroof, heated front seats, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory positions, and exterior door mirrors.
The top-of-the-range Premium trim adds a Bose 12-speaker premium audio system, SiriusXM with a three-month trial subscription, windshield-projected Active Driving Display, leather seats, and paddle shifters.
In addition to its upgraded drivetrain, the all-new Turbo model is available with enhanced driver assistance features such as reverse automatic emergency braking, traffic jam assist, a surround-view parking camera system, and traffic sign recognition.
The CX-30 has earned a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) five-star safety rating, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Top Safety Pick. The CX-30 offers several standard driver-assistance features, including adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, and automated emergency braking.
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With an ever more crowded playing field in its segment, ranging from the Honda HR-V and Nissan Rogue or to newer entries like the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Kia Seltos, the CX-30 is up for a tough fight. What sets the 2021 Mazda CX-30 apart from the others is its near-premium level attributes, including its interior, engine (especially when equipped with the turbocharger), and chassis dynamics. And did I mention its driving dynamics and attention paid to making the driving experience enjoyable? Well, they do!
Wondering which trim level we would recommend? While the base S model is well-equipped, you can step up to the Select trim for just a few dollars more per month. As for the Premium model, you get all the bells and whistles, but at its price point you may want to take a look at the Mazda CX-5. It shares much of the goodness found in the CX-30, just in a larger package.