2021 Mazda CX-30 Review

2021 Mazda CX-30 - Mazda's new 'tweener' a hot commodity


Mazda continues chugging along at an even keel despite larger fish in the automotive pond. The diminutive Japanese automaker distinguishes itself with a line of high-volume, moderately-priced cars and five-door crossovers all claiming deft handling and crisp steering compared to a majority of competent, but sometimes boring (yawn) family-friendly rivals.

Stop by a Mazda dealership and note what's not on the lot.  No workman-like pickup trucks or heavy, body-on-frame Sport Utility Vehicles; just fun...fun to drive compact and midsize unit-body models (lightweight car builds) living up to a 'Zoom Zoom' tag line.

Last model year, Mazda introduced an all-new, five-passenger CX-30 to its growing five-door crossover contingent.  Changes for the 2021 model year include a content upgrade, welcoming aboard Apple Car Play and Android Auto, two popular Smartphone interplays as standard equipment across all trims. Mazda CX-30 for '21 also sports a tempting turbocharged engine option.

The CX prefix represents Mazda's five-door crossover clan.  It's a popular club with members including the aging CX-3 subcompact, popular compact CX-5 and roomy mid-size, three-row CX-9.  From Mazda's marketing point of view, CX-30 slides rightsized between CX-3 and CX-5. Consider it a roomy subcompact or a compact with dimensions borrowed from a decade ago when compacts measured closer to today's subcompacts. Mazda's own press kits define CX-30 as subcompact and soon will own that category.

In May of 2021, Mazda announced CX-3 along with the mid-size Mazda6 sedan will both retire from the lineup following the 2021 model year conclusion.

A returning 2.5-liter naturally aspirated (non turbo) four-cylinder standard powertrain delivers a usable 186 horses and connects up with a sporty six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive comes standard with sure-footed all-wheel drive a convenient option.  Not all rivals in this diminutive segment add AWD to the availability list.

Front-wheel drive models enjoy respectable 25 miles per gallon city and 33 mpg highway fuel economy.  Subtract one mile city and two highway with all-wheel drive.

Our tester, however, brought with it the optional and inspiring 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo lifting horsepower towards 250 (with Premium 91-octane fuel) and low-end torque to a brisk 320 lb.-ft. Opting for regular-grade unleaded reduces horsepower to 227. All CX-30 turbos come with all-wheel drive standard and 22/30 fuel estimates. Tanks hold a rather limited 12.7 gallons of fuel.

All trims include the second generation of Mazda's G-Vectoring Control (GVC Plus), keeping CX-30 on its intended path with passengers planted during spirited turns and lane changes. As driver's steer out of a corner, GVC Plus applies a light brake force through reduced engine torqueing to outer wheels motivating the vehicle back to straight line motion. It's a staple in most Mazda's adding to its fun factor. This system also limits slippage during inclement weather while improving handling and emergency collision avoidance maneuvers.

Kudos to Mazda and its simplistic trim level design with minimal a-la-carte options.  A nicely equipped CX-30 2.5 S (S being the designate for the non-turbo engine) starts in as the entry model.  Next up is a 2.5 S with Select Package, 2.5 S with Preferred Package and top-line 2.5 with Premium Package. An entry level trim with naturally aspirated engine and front-wheel drive checks in at $21,900, competitive within the small compact crossover segment.  All wheel drive adds a uniform $1,400 to each trim.

Turbo models also offer three trim levels with slightly altered designates: 2.5, Premium and Premium Plus.

Encouraging first year sales battled conventional rivals and a Covid-19 pandemic.  Calendar year 2020 CX-30 sales ended at 38,064, qualifying the newbie as Mazda's second-best-selling vehicle in America behind only CX-5 and its thunderous 146,420 units of sale.

This week's tester, a CX-30 turbo with Premium Plus content started at $33,900. The bottom line reached $35,400 with non-factory add-ons including a $150 cargo cover, $125 floor mats, $125 rear bumper guards and $1,100 destination fee.

Premium Plus adds to standard content front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree in-screen view monitor and rear cross traffic braking. All trims include an 'i-Activsense' branded suite of safety nuances including radar-sensitive cruise control, lane departure alert with lane keep assist and auto-sensing high-beam headlights.

In the upcoming 2022 model year, the CX-30 plugs into the electric age as the first Mazda sold in North America offering a pure electric, plug-in power source (EV)  as an alternative to gas-dependent internal combustion engines.

Outside, expect large, oversized round wheel wells surrounded by protective dark grey cladding that extends to the bottom of side doors creating a light, agile character. Narrow side windows framed with chrome create a sleek look.  In front, a six-sided center grille gets centered by Mazda's 'M' logo resembling a flying, winged bat. Narrow headlight housing with a circular LED light wraps around to side fenders. Rear fenders also boast signature LED circular lights. Side character lines encompass more than a simple straight vertical theme as one curves from the front fender down through the rear side door.  It's a sharp-looking vehicle.  

Inside, the simplistic and pleasant, long and smooth dash minimizes annoying amounts of buttons and gauges. A non-touch-sensitive 8.8-inch flat rectangular screen resides in the deep, far away confines central upper dash, one aspect of the 'Mazda Connect' interface with an eight-speaker system.  A large, circular, tactile, push-sensitive control knob between supportive front buckets (leather -trimmed in our tester) motivates an in-screen curser surrounded by four quick-key push buttons.  The system necessitates a long learning curve.  Selecting and changing satellite or terrestrial stations takes too many brain cells.

Controlling HVAC functions is much easier, with a shelf of push tabs and push buttons monitoring fan speed and front/back defrosters along the lower central dash below a long horizontal digital window display; all flanked by dual front temperature zone dials. Small horizontal air vents adorn the dashboard's far right with a triangular style to the steering column's left.

One positive aspect of Mazda Connect is the new 360-degree view monitor (controlled in part with a dashboard button) inviting different outside CX-30 perspectives from inside comforts.

While screen interaction continues cumbersome, the easy-glace seven-inch instrument panel sets communication right.  Two large analog gauges (left-side tachometer, right-side fuel/temperature) with illuminated laser-white needles surround a digital center speedometer orb, all with chrome rimming.  Also included; a digital countdown of estimated miles-to-empty. When the sun sets, white backlighting takes hold against a black back drop. The three-spoke steering wheel includes redundant, secondary audio functions helping alleviate some Mazda Connect headaches.

Drivers choose between two drive modes: regular and sport via a toggle switch adjacent of the vertical transmission shifter.

The rear hatch, hinged atop, opens up as one unit with good head clearance and wide width, easing cargo into the 20.2 cubic feet of usable room behind second row seating. Power hatch doors come standard in turbo premium and premium plus trims. In row two with second-row seats prone, two adults fit with optimal comfort. These seatbacks fold down with a 60/40 split accessing an even bigger cargo hold.  

2021 Mazda CX-30

Price as tested:  $35,400

Engine:  2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo

Horsepower:  227

Wheelbase: 104.5 inches

Overall Length:  173 inches

Overall Width:  70.7 inches

Overall Height:  61.7 inches

Fuel Economy:  22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway

Curb weight:  3,505 pounds

Powertrain warranty: five years/60,000 miles

Assembly:  Salamanca, Mexico

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.