My Thoughts Exactly: 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

Last year, I worked with the then-new Mazda CX-30 small SUV to see whether the aspirational brand can offer something in an entry-level vehicle against the premium nameplates. Although there were some good attributes, I was unimpressed with the standard engine in this vehicle, among other things that detracted from what was seen as a good idea for a small-ish crossover overall. 

Two things have happened since my first review of the CX-30. One, Mazda announced that North American customers will no longer get the smaller CX-3 for the 2022 model year. That now makes the CX-30 the smallest SUV in the lineup. 

The other bit of news is the addition of the powerful Skyactiv 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine to the CX-30 lineup. 

The addition of the turbo engine is seen as a play for Mazda towards competing with other premium brands. An engine with the horsepower offered in the CX-30 2.5 Turbo is exactly where it needs to be when compared to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz GLA, Audi Q3, Volvo XC40, and BMW X2. 

After receiving this Soul Red colored 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, I wanted to see whether this engine can be the tipping point for consumers looking for an upmarket small SUV for their urbanista lifestyle. 

This engine has become Mazda’s newest calling card. The 2.5-liter turbocharged Skyactiv four-cylinder engine puts out a maximum of 250 horsepower. Keep in mind that you would have to fuel it up with premium gasoline to achieve that figure. You can fill up the tank with regular, but you will lose 20-25 horsepower in the process. 

Even with regular fuel, that horsepower figure is not bad, considering that a lot of its premium-branded competition will put out about that much power. 

Where the CX-30 Turbo pips the competition is on the low end. Mazda rated that engine for 310 pound-feet of torque. This is a class leading number. 

The result is a faster CX-30. Not exactly the barn burner that same engine transformed the Mazda3 towards recalling the memory of the Mazdaspeed performance lineup. The driveline for the turbo includes Mazda’s six-speed automatic transmission – actuated by a real console shifter and paddles – and all-wheel-drive. Combined, the CX-30 does a better job in keeping up with traffic and making all the right moves on the highway.

In terms of fuel economy, I averaged 24.8 MPG in the CX-30 Turbo. This is supposed about around the combined fuel consumption figure according to the Environmental Protection Agency. However, my main concern is the range. The fuel tank old my tester only had a 12.7-gallon capacity. It needs a bigger fuel tank for greater range.

There is an assumption that when you put a higher performance engine underneath the hood, the driving dynamics should match. If you put in into Sport mode, you should be able to feel the difference in suspension and steering feel. In this case, maybe just a tad bit of difference. There were some tweaks I noticed on my tester, though. 

In all, the ride quality of the CX-30 was quite good. The suspension absorbed the worst bumps in the road, which never transmitted into the cabin. I found some softness in Normal mode when you take it through the turns and in dealing with evasive maneuvers. I blame the taller ride height for this. Once you put it into Sport mode, this small SUV exhibited better control overall. 

The steering system felt solid. I noticed a tighter turning radius and plenty of response at the wheels. On-center feel was good within the lanes. However, putting into Sport mode tightens it up and weighs down the steering wheel to more my liking. I just wished that the CX-30 had a better brake feel overall. It felt spongy and not really sure of itself. When you do stop, it was fine in normal, panic, and wet situations. 

The turbocharged CX-30 drove a bit better, but you would not know it from the outside. OK, maybe the black 18-inch wheels were a giveaway of what’s underneath the hood, but the CX-30 looks the same as other top-line trim models – even the naturally-aspirated models. 

Still, the CX-30 has an odd shape to it. The long hood lends to a taller, stubbier tail. There are plenty of Mazda cues with some crossover-ish details. The plastic cladding adds protection to the package. The ride height is lifted some. 

Visually, the CX-30 stands out in its size class. Yeah, but which size class does it belong? I will address this later…

Stepping into the CX-30 is like stepping into a Mazda3. Though the two models are built on the same platform, the CX-30 offers more interior space and a higher load-in than its sedan/hatchback sibling. 

You do have a familiar Mazda set-up, with the two large dials and a digital screen in-between that doubles as an analog speedometer. You also get a head-up display for basic information while keeping your eyes on the road. The steering wheel, shifter, and center console feels the same as the latest Mazda models. No surprises when you get behind the wheel of a CX-30 than you would a CX-5, Mazda3, and so forth.

Which brings me to another familiar Mazda piece that has not been a favorite amongst my colleagues – the infotainment system. To control the screen sitting on top of the center stack, you have to work the Mazda Connect knob to set your favorite stations and navigate the smartphone integration. It works, once you understand it. It does take some time to get there, however. 

Once you do set it up, you can use the steering wheel controls for volume and moving back-and-forth on your music app to the next track. That control does not work on moving between radio station favorites. To do so, you have to rely on the big knob to scroll through your stations, which takes more than one action and screen to do. 

The upside of this infotainment system is the Bose 12-speaker sound system. After a workout on the Mazda Connect knob, you will be rewarded with beautiful noise. 

My Soul Red Mica tester came with a combination of white perforated leather seats, brown trim, and black carpets and instrument panel. The front seats are actually quite supportive and provide plenty of comfort on select drives. Rear seat room works best when you have four “average-size” adults. Children would find the rear seat space to their liking. 

As with the previous CX-30 tester, I noted that the cargo hold seemed smaller than the 20.2 cubic feet quite for behind behind the rear seats. With the cargo cover installed, it looks like about the size of average trunk on a mid-size sedan. There is a “step down” from the bumper, which is fine for the load height, but I would be careful with heavy luggage and shopping items.  The rear seats fold down for more cargo space.

Selecting the turbocharged version of the CX-30 will obviously net a higher sticker price. In the case of my Premium Plus tester, that would be $35,995. The entire CX-30 lineup starts with the naturally-aspirated engine and front wheel drive 2.5 S. The base price for that model is $22,050. Turbocharged models start from $30,050. 

At this point, let me address something about “which size class” the CX-30 belongs to. I constantly point out how Mazda has upmarket ambitions. To enter into the luxury/premium brand club, you have to have a lineup of vehicles that match up with those already beyond the velvet rope. Adding the turbocharged engine to the CX-30 was exactly what Mazda needed to get inside. 

Yet, these are customers who still think that Mazda is a mainstream brand that must be compared to the likes of Jeep, Subaru, Mitsubishi, and Chevrolet. Yet, Mazda wants their CX-30 to be considered by customers looking at Mercedes-Benz, Buick, Lexus, Volvo, and Audi. Does the CX-30 fulfill all of the above customers? That’s a good question…

The answer is not that simple. The Mazda CX-30 is a nice crossover with upwardly mobile ambitions. Adding the turbocharged engine makes the case for the CX-30 to be considered by the luxury high-rise downtown condo set wanting a more premium small SUV. For them, I say try it out, first. If it works for you, it’s yours. 

DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations

All photos by Randy Stern 

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