QUICK DRIVE: 2020 Mazda CX-30 offers more room in a compact shell

Slotting in between CX-3 and CX-5, it’s a little crossover that gets the job done

Published: December 12, 2019, 7:00 PM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Mazda CX-30

PASADENA, Calif.—It can be easy to be swayed by a new car at a car show, or at the manufacturer’s launch event. It’s clean, it’s glossy, it’s got some buzz. But when you just jump in the car and drive somewhere, that can be a different matter entirely.

Mazda introduced the compact CX-30 to Americans at the Los Angeles auto show last month, but it debuted to the world at the Geneva Motor Show in March and has been on sale since the summer in Mexico, where it’s built. A Mexican journalist attending the auto show drove a fairly basic model north to California and gave jurors for the World Car of the Year awards the opportunity to drive it and vote on it.

I spent just an hour in the car, in the city and on the steep and winding Angeles Crest Highway, and came away thinking: Meh.

Rear seat squeeze

Maybe I was unimpressed because it was a basic model, without many of the gadgets and technology that are available when you pay extra for a higher-end trim. Or maybe it’s because when it all comes down to it, it’s a regular little crossover that gets the job done with no fuss, no muss. In any case, meh.

Others quite liked it, though they weren’t so sure about the look of the 16-inch wheels that left a large gap in the arches. After all, on paper, it’s a terrific and much needed vehicle: larger than the CX-3 but not so big as the CX-5, it’s intended for families who need a little more space in the back for car seats or young kids without the full-on legroom that’s needed for teenagers.

In this, the CX-30 delivers with a compact rear seat. There’s adequate head room back there, and all the seats are designed to give their occupants a proper sitting posture, but there’s not much space for legs and feet. The rear footwell is apparently slanted to encourage a more natural posture, but frankly, adults will not be comfortable in the rear. They’re not supposed to be, however; Mazda offers larger vehicles for them.

Choice of power

It’s comfortable in the front seat, at least, and the CX-30 was designed from the ground up to offer a quiet and calming environment. At this, it succeeds admirably. It’s possible for passengers to have an easy conversation without needing to shout over the road noise of LA’s concrete interstates, and the basic sound system was pleasant to listen to. The better Bose sound system of the costliest trim is surely even more satisfying.

The CX-30 looks similar to the Mazda3 sedan, since they share the maker’s “Soul of Motion” design concept. They also share the same 4-cylinder engines, available in Canada in three different trim levels: the base trim is powered by a 2.0-litre 155-hp Skyactiv-G engine, while the upper trims are powered by a 2.5-litre 186-hp Skyactiv-G engine. All are teamed with a 6-speed automatic transmission.

The Mexican CX-30 was fitted with the 2.0-litre engine, of course; economy is valued more highly than power in much of the world. It coped just fine with hills and highway speeds, but this is not a sports car and does not pretend to be.

Price range

The least expensive CX-30 GX will start at $23,950 (plus taxes and $1,950 Freight and PDI) when it comes on sale in January, rising to $33,850 (plus taxes and Freight and PDI) for the fully-loaded GT. AWD will cost an extra $2,000 and is available on all trims, and standard on the GT.

The mid-level GS starts at $26,650 and includes all of Mazda’s i-Activsense safety features, such as active cruise control, lane-keeping assistance, and smart brake support. There’s a heated steering wheel (unheard of in Mexico, of course), 18-inch wheels, and various other upgrades.

Since this is officially an SUV, the CX-30 is fitted with Mazda’s off-road traction assist, which helps in slippery conditions to send power to whichever wheels are on the ground. I didn’t get the chance to try this out; I didn’t go off-road and, after all, it never rains in Southern California.

Is it for you?

An hour is not enough time to properly evaluate a vehicle, but it’s more than most buyers will be offered in a test drive, and it does give an opportunity to love it or hate it. With the Mazda CX-30, I’m sure many drivers will be quite content with its comfortable, quiet ride (in the front, at least) and its adequate engine. There’s certainly more space in the rear seat than the CX-3, and more cargo capacity, too.

But when a CX-30 driver gets into his or her car and heads off to work, or to the store, or to pre-school, few will give much thought to their vehicle. It’ll get them there and do the job with no fanfare or trouble. For many drivers of smaller affordable vehicles, that’s really all they want.