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As an independent company operating under just one brand, Mazda will probably never achieve the sales volume of its Japanese and Korean competitors. However, this relative rarity might actually work in Mazda’s favor when combined with attractive styling, pleasant interiors, and enthusiast-approved driving dynamics. In the case of the CX-30, it all adds up to something that feels far more upmarket than its parentage would suggest.
Starting at $35,275 (including $1,225 destination) in flagship Premium Plus Turbo trim, this particular CX-30 isn’t exactly cheap, but it justifies the price with a torquey turbocharged engine, comfortable and well-appointed interior, and a long list of features. In fact, while the non-turbo Mazda is well-suited for rivals like the Kia Seltos and Toyota Corolla Cross, this particular vehicle punches higher – think of a budget-priced Audi Q3 and you’ll be close. While it has a few flaws that merit reporting, the Mazda CX-30 Turbo is definitely a diamond in the commodity-car rough.
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|2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus
|Turbocharged 2.5-Liter I4
|227 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
|22 City / 30 Highway / 25 Combined
|$34,050 + $1,225 Destination
Gallery: 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Review
- Exterior Color: Soul Red Crystal
- Interior Color: Black
- Wheel Size: 18 Inch
Mazda’s exterior designers are some of the best in the business, and that shows with the CX-30. With a long front overhang, expansive hood, dramatically swept windshield, and stubby rear end, the CX-30 is a bit less conventionally pretty than the Mazda6 sedan and CX-9 crossover, but it still merits a look back over your shoulder when walking away. Narrow headlights and a bold, shield-shaped grille tie the CX-30 in with the rest of the Mazda family, while pointed taillamps recall the recently revealed Alfa Romeo Tonale, a favorable comparison given Italy’s appreciation for the visual arts.
Part of the crossover’s appeal comes from this tester’s Soul Red Crystal paint, which is the best $595 one could spend on an options sheet. Deep and lustrous in overcast skies, Soul Red comes alive in direct sunlight, refracting tinges of orange, yellow, and coral through both a traditional clear coat and a translucent pigmented layer, with millions of metal flakes residing in the base coat of paint.
However, I wish there were more paintwork on the exterior, since hilariously outsized black plastic cladding dominates the CX-30’s side profile. Instead of imparting a rugged mien to the crossover, these thick wheel arch extensions and rocker panels instead make the 18-inch wheels look puny and distract from the otherwise-clean bodyside surfacing – the base CX-30 must look like a roller skate with its even smaller 16s. It’s a disappointing misstep from a brand that generally knows how to edit its designs.
Things get better indoors. The CX-30 Premium Plus comes in one colorway, consisting of classy black leather and an unusual arrow of brownish-purple sweeping from the dash top to the door panels. Soft-touch materials coat much of the cabin, though the door panels and dash fascia are done in a material that feels almost papery on the surface before relenting to the padded stuff beneath.
Still, the Mazda’s classy three-dial instrument cluster, high-mounted infotainment display, and perfectly restrained use of aluminum trim impart a refined, premium appearance. The CX-30’s materials are far more appealing than the plastic-fantastic Kia Seltos and Volkswagen Taos, with a much more modern design than the Honda HR-V and Nissan Rogue Sport.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Mazda CX-30
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Seating Configuration: 2 / 3
- Cargo Capacity: 20.2 / 45.2 Cubic Feet
That veneer of luxury peels ever so slightly when driving the CX-30 down a bumpy road. A stiff suspension keeps body motions in check, but the trade-off is some ride harshness over potholes, concrete expansion joints, and cracks in the pavement. Some blame also goes to a torsion-bar rear suspension, which is an engineering step backward from the multi-link rear end found in all-wheel-drive versions of the Kia Seltos, Hyundai Kona, Toyota Corolla Cross, and Volkswagen Taos.
Still, the CX-30 is a nice place to spend time thanks to supportive front seats, decently isolated road noises, and adequate ride quality over normal road surfaces. And surprisingly given its chop-top styling, the Mazda boasts a pretty spacious interior as well, with both rows of seats featuring above-average measurements that bear themselves out when loaded down with three or four passengers – although squeezing into the narrow rear doors is tricky. Once on board, none of us had much reason to complain, although the narrow windows and high beltline contribute to some claustrophobia, especially relative to the airy, spacious Volkswagen Taos.
|38.1 / 38.3 Inches
|41.7 / 36.3 Inches
|20.2 Cubic Feet
|37.6 / 38.3 Inches
|41.2 / 39.3 Inches
|23.2 Cubic Feet
|38.0 / 37.8 Inches
|41.5 / 34.6 Inches
|19.2 Cubic Feet
|40.0 / 38.4 Inches
|41.4 / 38.0 Inches
|26.6 Cubic Feet
|Toyota Corolla Cross
|38.6 / 39.0 Inches
|42.9 / 32.0 Inches
|25.2 Cubic Feet
|40.7 / 39.8 Inches
|40.1 / 37.9 Inches
|24.9 Cubic Feet
Unfortunately, cargo space is near the back of the class. Even with the seats down, my boyfriend and I struggled to get some flat-pack furniture and housewares home from IKEA; the Kia Seltos SX Turbo I drove a couple years back solved a similar issue without protest.
- Center Display: 8.8-inch screen
- Instrument Cluster Display: 7.0-inch productivity screen
- Wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto: No
First, the good news. The Mazda CX-30’s infotainment system is reasonably easy to intuit, even for first-time users. The software is attractive and responsive, and the 8.8-inch screen is mounted high on the dashboard and well within the driver’s line of sight.
Unfortunately, the side effect of its eyeline-friendly placement is a display that’s too far away for a touchscreen to be conscionable, forcing inputs via a console-mounted rotary controller. Accustomed to smartphones as we all are, the omission of a touchscreen is a bit frustrating, especially when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (both of which require a hard wire connection, by the way). Scrolling through my phone’s mirrored apps was a frustrating experience – there was Google Maps right there, but instead of just tapping the tile, I had to click the dial one icon at a time.
Going by the numbers, the 8.8-inch display is one of the larger options in the subcompact SUV segment, but Mazda’s ultra-wide layout means CarPlay is limited to about 7 diagonal inches. Perhaps that’s the price one must pay for the screen’s stylish placement in the cabin. Worse still, Mazda only offers USB-A charging and data ports, a problem for anyone buying a brand-new Pixel or iPhone.
- Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-Liter I4
- Output: 227 Horsepower / 310 Pound-Feet
- Transmission: Six-Speed Automatic
Like any Mazda, the CX-30 is a willing dance partner on a twisty road. Its gutsy turbocharged inline-four makes a best-in-class 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet on regular fuel; give it premium and it’ll do 250 and 320. Notably, either torque rating eclipses even the BMW X1 xDrive28i and Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 by more than 50 units. A 2,000-rpm torque peak is just low enough for smooth, drama-free acceleration, and the engine’s soundtrack is feisty and sassy if also a bit raucous. All turbocharged CX-30s come standard with all-wheel drive, helping ease torque steer and improve stability in both corner exits and inclement weather.
The Mazda’s worst personality trait in enthusiastic driving is its outdated six-speed automatic transmission. Sometimes, one of the benefits of a low gear count is a reduced propensity to hunt for the right ratio, but that’s not the case here. The CX-30 never seems happy with its gear choices – though to be fair, that can also be said of the Kia Seltos and Volkswagen Taos.
Where the CX-30 shines is in corners. A firm set of suspenders resists body roll, pitch, and squat very well, and Mazda’s winning-streak steering feel continues here, too. The SUV is also reasonably neutral at sane cornering speeds, though it will sedate the driver with liberal understeer if they go too hard. While the CX-30 may not be a Mazdaspeed-redux hoon, it’s still a decidedly pleasant subcompact SUV when the road turns to candy ribbons.
- Driver Assistance Level: SAE Level 1 (Hands-On)
- NHTSA Rating: 5 Stars
- IIHS Rating: Top Safety Pick Plus
Thanks to stellar crash test results, a standard suite of crash-avoidance technology, and excellent LED projector headlights, every Mazda CX-30 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, with a five-star overall safety rating in government testing.
Even the base CX-30 trim comes standard with adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assistance, automatic emergency braking, and automatic high beams. The Turbo Premium Plus I drove also featured blind spot monitoring, a 360-degree camera system, and Traffic Jam Assist, which activates adaptive cruise control and lane centering at speeds below 40 miles per hour. These features all worked mostly imperceptibly, keeping the CX-30 comfortably spaced from surrounding vehicles. Unfortunately, the lane-centering tech deactivates at higher speeds, though adaptive cruise control will still bring the car to a halt if traffic dictates.
- City: 22 MPG
- Highway: 30 MPG
- Combined: 25 MPG
One of the downsides to the CX-30’s extensive power reserve is its somewhat disappointing thirst – the EPA estimates 22 miles per gallon city, 30 highway, and 25 combined. The turbo engine can run on either regular or premium, and I didn’t notice any degradation in either performance or efficiency when running on the cheap stuff – Mazda rates the engine with an additional 23 hp and 10 lb-ft on high-test.
The turbocharged Kia Seltos and Hyundai Kona both achieve 27 miles per gallon combined in EPA testing, while the Volkswagen Taos gets 28 mpg when equipped with all-wheel drive. It’s only up from there, with the dated Honda HR-V nabbing 29 mpg and the thrifty Toyota Corolla Cross getting 30 mpg. Of course, none of those competitors can come close to the Mazda’s full-throttle grunt.
- Base Price: $22,050 + $1,225 Destination
- Trim Base Price: $35,275
- As-Tested Price: $36,270
The least expensive CX-30 S costs just over $23,000 with destination, right in line with its competitors though still offering more power by way of a naturally aspirated, 186-hp 2.5-liter inline-four. My tester’s turbocharged engine demands at least $31,150 in the simply named 2.5 Turbo trim level, which also brings niceties like heated front seats and a power moonroof. Go for the full-fat Premium Plus model and you get a heated steering wheel, power rear liftgate, adaptive headlights, 12-speaker Bose audio, and the aforementioned Traffic Jam Support driver assistance in exchange for $35,275.
Add the Soul Red paint, floor mats, and a cargo cover, and you’ve got an as-tested sum of $36,270 using the latest available pricing, which no Taos, Corolla Cross, or Seltos could ever touch even with every box ticked. As such, the CX-30 Turbo is most compelling when cross-shopping a Mercedes-Benz GLA, which starts at $37,450 even before adding all-wheel drive or any other options. It’s a similar story if you want a cheap Audi or BMW SUV – consider a Mazda and it will reward you with similar driving dynamics, a well-appointed cabin, and plenty of technology and convenience features.
For everyone else, I’d recommend the naturally aspirated, $29,925 CX-30 Premium, which offers every luxury in Mazda’s arsenal while achieving 28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive or 26 with all-wheel drive. It’s going to be just as attractive and comfortable as any of its turbocharged kin, with nearly as much athletic talent on a winding road. And it’ll be quite a bit less expensive, which will make some of the Mazda’s drawbacks sting a bit less.
CX-30 Turbo Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Review
2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus