The simplest question to be asked here is this: "What is Mazda doing?"
Developing a new SUV is the norm these days. Sometimes it is at the expense of cutting a sedan, coupe, wagon, or hatchback from the lineup. In this case, the 2020 CX-30 has not replaced any single model.
You may breathe now.
The CX-30 is built off of the Mazda3’s platform. That should say something about where this new SUV is heading. One would assume that it would be as sporty as the 3, given its history of being the "Zoom-Zoom" compact car loved by enthusiasts and others who want to "feel alive."
I have my doubts, however. SUVs drive differently than compact sedans. The raised ride height is a dead giveaway as to how the driving dynamics would play out. There is also the promise of greater practicality.
This has to be put to the test. I must know whether there is a noticeable lineage between the latest Mazda3 and this new CX-30.
In short, that lineage exists. Probably along the lower part of the unibody, onto the driveline…and that’s it. The CX-30 takes it from there with its own body profile, suspension set-up and a chunk of the interior design.
Let me step back a bit. The body profile clearly denotes a hodgepodge of Mazda elements. The front end has that Mazda3-ish shape along with that long overhang from the front wheels. The roofline is taller, but sleeker compared to the CX-3 and CX-5. Yet, it has this short overhang from the rear wheels to the back. It looks a bit awkward, but not unlike a few other vehicles in its class or within its size.
One thing should be pointed out: The CX-30 is not a replacement for the CX-3. It is slotted in-between it and the CX-5. Although, one might wonder whether this is a true statement or not…
One thing that annoyed me (one of a few…more to come) is the fact that the load-in to the cargo hold requires stepping over the "bump" into a lower floor. One thing I look for in SUVs and crossovers is a load-in that is equal to the bumper.
Which brings me to the "Boomer Test." This is a test on the overall practicality of the cargo hold. "Boomer" is an LP Music Group Classic Conga drum that weighs about 35 pounds and stands 30 inches tall. It fits into a gig bag that adds another inch or two to the length and maybe another pound or two in weight. To pass the Boomer Test, the drum in the gig bag must be easy to load and can be loaded headfirst (at the bottom of the bag) to fit longitudinally.
Sadly, I have to report that the CX-30 failed the Boomer Test. The cargo hold is shorter than 30 inches long and the "step" made loading a bit more…strategic. Sorry, Mazda.
Behind the wheel is a cabin that is slathered in soft touch materials in mostly black, but with some brown accented finishes. The Premium Package offers a high level of luxury for a small SUV, which is very welcomed.
An analog-looking instrument binnacle greets you. You can customize the kind of information you need for your CX-30 quite easily. The Active Driving Display – Mazda’s head-up display – is a very useful and helpful addition to my tester.
The infotainment screen is set back from the center stack and is controlled either by a large knob on the center stack or some controls on the steering wheel. This is the next generation Mazda infotainment system with a new screen format and quicker menu selection.
Switch gear is of high quality and very aspirational. Sound from the 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2 audio system is also of high quality. Remember, Mazda is looking to move upmarket to compete with premium brands – and it shows.
The front seats offer a lot of bolstering. Yet, it does not offer wider bodies some comfort at first sitting. Eventually, the seats will give and can be comfortable on longer journeys. The rear seats are for folks up to average size. The belt line is high, which limits side vision out the rear doors.
Mazda dropped the 2.5-liter version of their Skyactiv-G engine for the CX-30. This is the most common engine in Mazda’s North American lineup, offering 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. However, selecting the Premium package adds cylinder deactivation to this engine. This is designed for improving fuel economy and alleviating stress on the engine.
The Skyactiv Drive six-speed automatic bridges this engine with its available all-wheel-drive system on my tester. In all, this seems like the available driveline on the Mazda3, but it appears to be geared more for a crossover than a sporty compact sedan/hatchback.
As for fuel economy, I averaged 28.9 MPG. Not bad, really.
How do I describe the driving experience? It is a crossover, but it is also a Mazda. It is a pretty subjective conclusion, but please understand how I arrived there. The ride is solid, offering no drama. It does feel softer than a Mazda3, which is expected in a vehicle with its intended purpose. Handling is also on the softer side, but you could feel that there is a bit of the brand’s DNA in terms of stability.
Where you find the brand’s DNA is in its steering and braking systems. You can feel the response from the wheel, as it shows you it can turn in tight areas and provides enough feedback from every corner. On-center feel is very good and really do not need the CX-30 to be switched into Sport to do so. The brakes work just right, with good pedal feel and stopping power down to the rotors. It does a good job managing normal, panic, and wet stops.
For $31,295, you can get this 2020 Mazda CX-30 with the Premium package and the brand’s signature Soul Red paint job. Before you blink your eyes at the price, understand two things. One, this is about what you will pay for a small SUV that is "loaded." And, two, Mazda wants to be a premium brand very, very badly.
If you do not wish to pay over $30,000 for a small SUV, the CX-30 lineup starts as low as $21,900. You get most of the items on the Premium package, but you will be surprised what you do get on the base model compared to other vehicles in its class.
That is how I would conclude my time in the 2020 Mazda CX-30 – full of surprises. Some of it good. Others…well, it comes from an expectation based on my experience in recent Mazdas.
That is really the trick in approaching this SUV. If you have no expectations whatsoever and have not experience in any Mazda before it – this vehicle will be rewarding to drive and own.
And, that is exactly what Mazda is doing.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations
All photos by Randy Stern