2021 Mazda CX-30 Review

2021 Mazda CX-30 - A near perfect blend of hot hatch and crossover utility.


Last year Mazda introduced us to the CX-30 subcompact crossover that was intended to fill a gap between the CX-3 and CX-5 in their lineup. With the CX-3 going away for the 2022 model year, the CX-30 will become the smallest Mazda crossover available. This five-passenger crossover is based on the new Mazda3, but rides on a higher platform with a bit more utilitarian stance. It is available in four packages known as the base, select, preferred, or premium. The standard powertrain is a 2.5L four cylinder that delivers 186 horsepower and 186 lb.-ft. of torque. New for 2021, Mazda has added a turbocharged version that offers up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque. Both engines are available with front or all-wheel drive and pair to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Prices start at $22,050 for a 2.5 S base model with front-wheel drive and top out with a starting price of $34,050 for the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus model. There are a few accessories or small options you can add, but generally Mazda has built all safety, wheel, and electronic upgrades into each of its models.  Competition in this segment is growing with primary competitors being the Buick Encore GX, Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, Kia Niro/Seltos, Nissan Kicks, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota CH-R, and Volkswagen Taos.

The CX-30 is unique in how it blends the fun, sporty drive of the Mazda3 with the utility of a CX-5 crossover.  I was overall very impressed with the everything about this car including its styling, performance and premium interior.  For an entry-level vehicle, it felt like it was punching above its weight and on par with more expensive vehicles. The new turbo engine that impressed me in the 3 was equally impressive in the CX-30. It's buttery smooth and handles more like a hot hatch than a crossover.  After spending a week in the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus model, there were a few things that stood out and couple that were up for debate.

Performance/Handling (+)

This is not typically a segment to brag about performance with many models positioned as basic entry-level vehicles for their brand, but Mazda stepped up for 2021 by offering a new turbo version that really gives the CX-30 the zoom zoom feel. Similar to the Mazda3 that it shares the powertrain with, overall horsepower will depend on your use of premium or regular grade fuel. Premium delivers maximum performance of 250 horsepower and 320 lb. ft. of torque. While the base engine will suffice most drivers, I really enjoyed the crisp, responsive handling that came with the turbo. The ride was smooth all-around absorbing road imperfections and handling corners with ease.  It perfectly shifted through the gears and I always felt grounded to the pavement with no body lean that may crossovers will (understandably) deliver because of their ride height.

 There is also a sport mode option next to the gear selector that will enhance acceleration and provide a more engaging ride dynamic by keeping the vehicle in the lower gears longer. And for some added fun, paddle shifters are available on premium models if you choose to navigate the gears on your own. Acceleration from 0-60 is estimated around 5.8 seconds and it feel powerful just like the Mazda3 Turbo did. These numbers are class leading among mainstream brands and you'd have to step up to luxury brands like BMW, Jaguar or Mercedes-Benz to get similar or better performance with a significantly higher price tag.

Utility (+)

The availability of either front or all-wheel drive means the CX-30 will serve you well in a variety of situations. The AWD system is always on, but will only engage when necessary, such as the detection of wheel slippage on uneven or icy terrain.  Other elements of utility that stand out are the cargo area that offers 20.2 cu. ft. of space behind the second row.  Additionally, the second-row seats do fold down for additional space. Overall space is average for the class, but I found it to be sufficient and better than your average hatchback competitor.

Fuel Economy/Tank Size (-)

Overall fuel economy on the CX-30 will vary between front and all-wheel drive models. Front wheel drive models are estimated at 25/33/28 MPG city/highway/combined while all wheel drive models are at 24/31/26 MPG city/highway/combined. Over the course of a week, I averaged 22 MPG and had to visit the gas station twice. While the fuel economy is average for the class, the tank size is only 12.7 gallons in AWD models which will only give you a range of around 200 miles on a full tank.

Overall interior (+)

Hopping inside any modern Mazda you'll find a more premium interior than you'd probably expect and the CX-30 is no exception. My test model had two-tone black and brown leather interior that was soft to the touch with a very refined feeling. Drivers face a traditional cluster with three circles all outlined in chrome trim. The center digital speedometer offers a variety of customizable screens to highlight important information to the driver. An available head-up display is impressively crisp in resolution. The infotainment screen sits atop the dash at more than an arm's length away from the driver, but slightly angled in. It utilizes a traditional gear shifter in the center console with controls for the infotainment system below it. Everything is cohesive to create a calm and comfortable space.

The clean layout creates a more open space feel with plenty of shoulder room that will have drivers forgetting they are in a subcompact crossover. The seats are very comfortable with ample support and an available eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat will aid in finding that ideal seating position. Both leg and head room were good for front seat passengers, while the rear seats offered a bit more limited space due to its lower roofline... and the fact that it's a subcompact crossover.

Visibility (-)

One small complaint is about visibility in the CX-30. The exterior design pairs a high beltline with a lower profile roofline that in turn means slimmer windows all around, thus limiting some views. The rear hatch window is more angled than some competitors which is further obstructed by the rear seat head-rests that block all views through the rearview mirror. The rear-view cameras will solve this issue when backing up, but when cruising along on the highway, an unobstructed view would be preferred in the rear-view mirror.

Technology & Safety (?)

There are both good and bad aspects to Mazda's infotainment system depending on your preference. The 8.8" screen is not a touch screen and can be controlled via a jog dial just below the gear shifter or through steering wheel controls. This is a different approach, as it would appear that the majority of other vehicles I've driven all offer a touchscreen option. While the jog dial controls may seem foreign to some, it is actually very well placed and became second nature quickly.  The volume knob is immediately adjacent to the jog dial and is significantly smaller so that they can be identified without looking. The jog dial turns, tilts, and presses down to select much in the way a computer mouse operates. All models integrate with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and offer an infotainment system voice command.  Available upgrades include a Bose 12-speaker audio system and wireless charging pad. I may be in the minority, but I ended up preferring the jog dial and as a bonus appreciated the clean infotainment screen that was finger print free.

Other technology features seem to be on par or better than many competitors. Standard driver assistance features include forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, low-speed automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, driver attention monitoring, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a rearview camera. Blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, reverse automatic emergency braking, a surround-view parking camera system are also available. The downside is that options such as traffic sign recognition, adaptive front lighting, head up display, traffic jam assist and even a power liftgate are only available on premium models.  

Exterior Style (+)

The CX-30 has a unique style in the subcompact crossover segment. The overall design is fluid, clean, sporty, and elegant.  There are no harsh lines and Mazda offers a sophisticated paint color pallet that really show off the vehicle well. Up front is the signature grille flanked by menacing LED headlights that have a piercing circular lighting signature.  The emergency/turn signal lights are slim rectangular slits that are positioned pretty low on the front bumper, but are duplicated on the side mirrors for better visibility to other drivers.  Black cladding has been added to the lower few inches surrounding the vehicle including around the wheel arches. I'm typically not a fan of this treatment, but it seems to work on the CX-30 by giving it a more SUV vibe than the similarly styled Mazda3 hatchback.

Overall proportions are good. It has a solid wedged shaped stance with a longer, slimmer nose. Around back, the LED taillights sit high with a jewel-like look that stretch towards the center of the hatch. The only questionable design choice in my opinion is the placement of the license plate which I think would look better if positioned slightly higher, but it doesn't bother me enough to dislike the overall style. Mazda has also done a great job complimenting it with good looking wheel options. Base models get 16" aluminum alloys while select, preferred, and premium models all come with 18" alloy wheels.  The 2.5 Turbo models offer 18" black alloy wheels in place of the otherwise silver ones.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle:
2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium
Exterior Color: Polymetal Gray Metallic
Interior Color: Black / Brown Leather
Notable Options: Cargo cover ($150), All Weather Floor Mats ($125)
MSRP as tested: $35,400 (With Delivery/Destination)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.