By on December 13, 2019

2020 Mazda CX-30 lead image

Keen observers of the new car market have taken note of the proliferation of compact and subcompact crossovers, with new models shoved into niches seemingly too small to fit yet another jacked-up hatchback. Where once there might have been but a single model, today there are four or more edging more traditional cars off the showroom floor.

Mazda is no different. The CX-5 and CX-9 have won accolades as the driver’s choice among the myriad indifferent blobs clogging the lanes of every interstate and supermarket, while the subcompact CX-3 has proven to be a decent entry choice. But much like that one person behind you in the left lane who is determined to win the race to the exit half a mile ahead, Mazda is wedging its shield-shaped grille into any gap it can find.

Thus, the 2020 Mazda CX-30. Logically, this would be the CX-4, but a different vehicle exists in other markets (China, mostly) using that badge – and since so many consumers cross-shop dealerships between Beijing and Bay City, it pays to minimize badge confusion.

Where does the CX-30 fit on the Mazda lot? And does it fit in your garage?

2020 Mazda CX-30 profile

(Disclosure: Mazda flew journalists to California to drive the CX-30, fed us, and put us up in a couple of hotels)

Mazda is rightly proud of its Kodo styling language – a unified theme that makes each model across the lineup distinct yet clearly from the same pen. The CX-30 maintains that similar feel, with a second generation of Kodo design shared with the Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback. One feature that is quite noticeable is the sculpting on the vertical flanks that plays with the light, creating an “S” shape with light and shadow.

2020 Mazda CX-30 rear quarter

Mazda claims the black plastic cladding covering several inches of every lower surface of the CX-30 visually lowers the car, making it look even more compact than it is. I’m not completely convinced – I’ve long held that black plastic is merely a way to butch up a vehicle that otherwise would be a hatchback. I’ll grant that said black plastic is much less likely to rust away to nothing, which is something that can’t be said of the rear quarter panels on every used Protégé 5 that appears in my frequent Craigslist searches.

2020 Mazda CX-30 front 2020 Mazda CX-30 rear

When comparing the CX-30 to the slightly smaller CX-3, Mazda notes that the cargo area, beyond being measurably larger, is much easier to access, with a wider, taller aperture (with a lower lift-over height) that makes loading piles of whatever active fellow kids are hauling these days a much simpler affair. My drive partner had no problems with a pair of rolling suitcases and a pair of large backpacks remaining below the level of the rear seatback. I’d imagine they’d sit below the cargo cover, but our early production models did not have the port-installed cargo covers fitted before delivery to the event.

About that cargo hold – it manages 20.2 cubic feet with the rear seat upright, a 62-percent increase over the tiny space in the CX-3 and right in range with competitors in the subcompact arena, among them the Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek, and Jeep Renegade. In every dimension inside and out, the CX-30 is a touch larger than baby brother CX-3, with more head room front and rear, more shoulder and hip room, and 3.3 inches longer wheelbase. Steph took a deeper look at the dimensions a few months back.

The increases in interior space, while matters of an inch or two here or there, make a big difference. My drive partner was a gentleman with a similar (over six feet tall) stature as myself, and we had no complaints of becoming overwhelmingly cramped upon one another in the front seat. The chairs were quite comfortable for a day’s drive through the unusually rainy desert mountains, with plenty of support for my lower back and thighs.

Rear seating is improved upon the CX-3, with rear headroom up 1.1 inches. However, passengers over six feet will still not be happy in the second row – I tried to sit back there and, while I could have managed with my legs pressed a bit into the front seatback, my head was uncomfortably canted while pressed against the headliner. Mazda is marketing the CX-30 to singles and young families, for which I can see the car working well. However, if you plan on growing professional athletes in any sport beyond gymnastics or thoroughbred horse racing, you’ll likely move to a larger vehicle by their tweens.

Mazda made a big deal of its upgraded infotainment system, first seen in the Mazda3. It is indeed more responsive than before, quickly selecting tracks or stations rather than noticeably lagging when the central control dial is spun or toggled. That dial falls, as old magazines used to say about a perfectly placed shift lever, readily to hand. The gearhead deep inside feels almost ill linking the feel of a radio knob to that of a walnut-topped gearshift, but as modern cars have the driver relinquish much of the mechanical controls to a computer, there are basically but four inputs the driver typically commands while driving: steering wheel, throttle pedal, brake pedal, and audio controls.

Beyond the leather interior seen here – with its deep brown finishes atop the dash, the door panels, and the armrest, and with either off-white or black seats – a new navy-blue interior will be offered on models clad with cloth seating surfaces. Unfortunately, every CX-30 available to drive was a loaded-up Premium AWD trim, so we didn’t get to see it in person.

The materials throughout the cabin speak to Mazda’s commitment to a more premium lineup meant not to compete with mainstream marques. The leather is soft, with perfect perforations and exquisite stitching. The plastics feel high-quality, with no color differences from panel to panel. The sound quality from the audio system was excellent.

The CX-30 has an interesting speaker arrangement – the bass woofers are mounted well forward into the cowl structure, rather than in the lower corners of the door panels. No matter how loudly we cranked the volume, we couldn’t elicit rattles from the doors. Isolation from road noise was quite good, save for a touch of wind noise over the A-pillars at freeway speeds.

Performance was quite good, as the CX-30 is fitted standard with the familiar 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G four cylinder, producing 186 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 186 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. The CX-3 makes do with 148 hp and 146 lb-ft, though the smaller car does have around four hundred fewer pounds to haul. When optioned up with AWD and the premium package like my tester, the CX-30 tips the scales at 3,408 pounds. Fuel economy on this CX-30 AWD is rated at 25 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, and 27 mpg combined.

The handling is quite comfortable for a small car, with the long wheelbase providing great stability on the interstate and excellent tossability in the twisties. Mountain two-lanes don’t scream “crossover territory” to me – I wanted to ask Mazda where they were hiding the Miatas – but the CX-30 didn’t embarrass itself when pushed into corners. The roads were wet, with some treacherous fog in the higher altitudes, and while the sheer drops did make me clench a bit when moving through the clouds, I never felt as if the car couldn’t handle everything we were tossing at it.

For a small, mostly independent automaker like Mazda, the old line about cutting prices and making it up in volume just doesn’t work. Thus, Mazda has made an effort to position each of its cars not in the mainstream, but as a value-priced alternative to traditional luxury marques.

That’s where this CX-30 so closely overlaps the CX-3. An Ace of Base CX-30 can be had for $21,900 plus destination, where the CX-3 is $20,390. Loaded up similarly (CX-3 GT AWD with Premium Package versus CX-30 AWD Premium) the stickers are still close – $30,645 delivered for CX-30 against $28,900 delivered for CX-3.

I actually asked Mazda if the CX-30 was actually a replacement for the CX-3 (as of press time, the build-and-price tool on mazdausa.com doesn’t show a 2020 model CX-3). I was told that the plan is for the CX-3 to continue for model year 2020, and was cheekily reminded that the MX-5 Miata is still showing 2019 as the newest model year, as well.

Still, I can’t imagine many, given the choice between the two, would choose the smaller model. The 2020 Mazda CX-30 is a much more competitive subcompact crossover – with room, style, and driving spirit to spare. For me, the choice is clear.

2020 Mazda CX-30 front quarter

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn/TTAC, Mazda]

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40 Comments on “2020 Mazda CX-30 First Drive: Not a CX-3 Replacement, but Maybe It Should Be...”


  • avatar
    Maymar

    Curiously, these appear to be cheaper (at least to start) than a 3 hatch (more importantly, for the Canadian market, the 2.5 is still on the base CX-30 while the 3 makes do with the 2.0). If these don’t have the same bunker feel that the new 3 does, I’d be tempted to just suck it up, buy the crossover, and get it lowered an inch or two somewhere down the road.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    @Tim:

    Did they disclose where this model is being built? If the plant’s in Mexico, it might give a pretty obvious clue of the future of the 3.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    “Thus, the 2020 Mazda CX-30. Logically, this would be the CX-4, but a different vehicle exists in other markets (China, mostly) using that badge”

    How about Mazda CX-3.14159265359?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “sculpting on the vertical flanks that plays with the light, creating an “S” shape with light and shadow.”

    3rd image from the top – car looks like it has been rammed

  • avatar
    slavuta

    This is very very good Crosstrek

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I feel, this is gonna be a success story. I always thought that Mazdas – 3 and 6 are perfect for All-Road variants. And using Subaru model, they could be second-best wagon-selling company. I would be all-in for Mazda6 All-Road or CrossCountry.

    But. Other things I loved about Mazdas I bought in the past, were – availability of MT on most models (incl. cx5), Japanese build quality, and reliability, and driving dynamics.

    3 year back I thought I could only buy Mazda. Now, this is opposite. Mexican ‘3 are not as good. Driving dynamics are worse, price is up and MT is mostly gone.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Is powered lift gate available?
    Pretty car, inside and out.

  • avatar
    make_light

    Mazda’s dark blue is my favorite color of any automaker. This looks like an almost perfect car really. If I were in the market, I’d probably be taking one home.

    Definitely too much cladding though, I thought Mazda was better than that.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      They had a lighter grayish medium-blue, but that appears to have passed :-(. I like this car, initial take is that it gets pricey quick because in order to get the must-have features, you have to take them with the don’t-need features bundled with the trim levels. Not a unique Mazda issue. I prefer the better MPG of a conventional hatchback, but I will give this a look late this year or next model year when I’m in the market.

    • 0 avatar

      I like that shade of blue on the exterior, but really don’t like that tri-tone interior (black/brown/white) inside the red one. It’s one color too many.

  • avatar
    R Henry

    I am a Mazda guy, and a sedan guy….but this kinda makes me consider treason……

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    How does it compare to its bigger brother? Is there enough of a difference to matter? I’ve only ever sat in a CX3 and currently drive a CX-5.

  • avatar
    Rocket

    “Mazda is wedging its shield-shaped grille into any gap it can find.”

    Well, not really. There’s a massive 20″ gap between the CX5 and CX9. For some manufacturers, that’s enough room for two models. Better get on that, Mazda.

    Regarding the CX30, it sounds like a compelling package. Too bad about the overly aggressive cladding. Hard to believe something so simple can do so much damage to a car’s appeal.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Mazda is working on it. The factory they build with Toyota in Alabama will fill this gap

      • 0 avatar
        Rocket

        That’s one of the rumors, but it has not been confirmed to my knowledge. Some reports indicated the Mazda would be another small crossover, but no model was specified.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          Toyota recently announced that it will not build Corolla but an SUV at Alabama. I tell you this, I bet ya, this SUV will be same platform for Mazda and Toyota. And it will be 2-row Pilot fighter and Mazda CX7

          • 0 avatar
            Rocket

            Sure, it could be a Venza-like crossover, but there have been hints that it will be the production version of either the FT-4X concept or TJ Cruiser concept, neither of which was mid-size.

        • 0 avatar
          slavuta

          I don’t think they will build these trucks in Alabama. IF anything, these are not mass-produced in sense of RAV4 mass produced. So, Toyota most likely would bring them here from Japan or somewhere else. Like CH-R comes from Turkey. Here they will build something that they expect to sell in good number. So, it has to be some mainstream vehicle.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Looks nice – especially the interior and the fuel economy, but I’d want to compare it back-to-back with a Sportage.

    The Kia has very similar specs and pricing, and it doesn’t have that display rising up out of the dashboard.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I say this as someone who likes Mazda’s and has owned several over decades.

    What is the point? Who is going to get this over a CX5?

    Also, Skyactiv-X….. crickets.

  • avatar
    bullnuke

    A car maker flailing in the USDM takes another swing at the pitch. My guess is that it’ll replace the CX-3 and sell at CX-3 volume which will yield a zero-sum outcome. Good for them, I guess…

  • avatar
    forward_look

    I wonder how Mazdas stand up to a continuous salt bath from November til April.

    In upstate NY, car life is measured in winters, which is why I like to buy rentals with high mileage from down south.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      Anecdotal, but I have a ’14 Mazda2, and after 5 southern Ontario winters, it’s still clean. Also, the smiley face 2nd gen 3’s are all over the place around here, and I’ve only seen one rough one even though some have been on the road for a decade.

  • avatar
    dwford

    This actually looks like it’s worth the $30k loaded, unlike it’s competitors.

  • avatar
    Superdessucke

    I know the vehicle media is trying to make us think this is the best balanced and driving car since the E30 M3. But it just looks so tall stubby and tippy, ugh, can’t get into it.

  • avatar
    Jeff Weimer

    I have a 1996 Ranger – which was probably the most sold compact pickup that year – and there are literally only *four* tire choices these days and they are all $100+ per tire and are sub-optimal offerings.

    None of the above are even offered in 225/70-14.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    Mazda doesn’t usually misfire on styling, but when they do, they really do. It’s as if we’re looking at this thing on the production line with the body being lowered onto the chassis and it’s got about a foot to go yet, and oh by the way someone swung a crane into the side and put a huge dent in it.

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    The word ‘myriad’ used correctly. Finally.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    I’ve had issues with Mazda interior/exterior color combinations. Like wanting an interior combination but it’s not available with the exterior color I want. In this case I love the interior, especially that black and brown together, but what I don’t want is the cream OR black seats. What I would want is black seats with that same chocolate brown as inserts. Frustrating.

  • avatar
    GoNavy99

    I picked up a used LS 460 several years ago for about $33k, and have since put an additional 60k miles on it. Definitely built like a tank, but it did (does) require maintenance, some of which I do myself.

    Given the market for sedans in general these days, I’ll probably keep this thing in my garage indefinitely as it was fully paid off some time ago. If anything, I may trade it in for a used LX 570.

    For those who are curious, the current LS500 is *very* different from the last LS 460. The V8 in the 460 isn’t quite as punchy as people would like – you get more out of the 6 cylinder in the 500. The 500 is much more taught as well – you’re definitely wafting in the LS and bracing yourself against the armrests at each turn.

    Not really a performance vehicle either. If you’re a BMW driver (I’ve had a few), get ready for changes. But you can, however, go nice and fast in straight lines without much fuss. And given that this thing is a Laz-Y-Boy on wheels, that isn’t so bad.

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