2020 Mazda CX-30 First Drive: Not a CX-3 Replacement, but Maybe It Should Be

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
2020 mazda cx 30 first drive not a cx 3 replacement but maybe it should be

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?

(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.

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.

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.

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

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  • N8iveVA N8iveVA on Dec 16, 2019

    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.

  • GoNavy99 GoNavy99 on Dec 16, 2019

    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.

  • Jwee More range and faster charging cannot be good news for the heavily indebted and distracted Musk.Tesla China is discounting their cars. Apart from the Model 3, no one is much buying Tesla's here in Europe. Other groups have already passed Tesla in Europe, where it was once dominant.Among manufacturers, 2021 EV sales:VW Group 25%, Stellantis at 14.5%,Tesla at 13.9%Hyundai-Kia at 11.2% Renault Group at 10.3%. Just 2 years ago, Tesla had a commanding 31.1% share of the European EV marketOuch. https://carsalesbase.com/european-sales-2021-ev/@lou_BC, carsalebase.com changed their data, so this is slightly different than last time I posted this, but same idea.
  • Varezhka Given how long the Mitsubishi USA has been in red, that's a hard one. I mean, this company has been losing money in all regions *except* SE Asia and Oceania ever since they lost the commercial division to Daimler.I think the only reason we still have the brand is A) Mitsubishi conglomerate's pride won't allow it B) US still a source of large volume for the company, even if they lose money on each one and C) it cost too much money to pull out and no one wants to take responsibility. If I was the head of Mitsubishi's North American operation and retreat was not an option, I think my best bet would be to reduce overhead by replacing all the cars with rebadged Nissans built in Tennessee and Mexico.As much as I'd like to see the return of Triton, Pajero Sport (Montero Sport to you and me), and Delica I'm sure that's more nostalgia and grass is greener thing than anything else.
  • Varezhka If there's one (small) downside to the dealer not being allowed to sell above MSRP, it's that now we get a lot of people signing up for the car with zero intention of keeping the car they bought. We end up with a lot of "lightly used" examples on sale for a huge mark-up, including those self-purchased by the dealerships themselves. I'm sure this is what we'll end up seeing with GR Corolla in Japan as well.This is also why the Land Cruiser has a 4 year waitlist in Japan (36K USD starting MSRP -> buy and immediately flip for 10, 20K more -> profit) I'm not sure if there's a good solution for this apart from setting the MSRP higher to match what the market allows, though this lottery system is probably as close as we can get.
  • Jeff S @Lou_BC--Unrelated to this article but of interest I found this on You Tube which explains why certain vehicles are not available in the US because of how the CAFE measures fuel standards. I remember you commenting on this a few years ago on another article on TTAC. The 2023 Chevrolet Montana is an adorable small truck that's never coming to the USA. It's not because of the 1.2L engine, or that Americans aren't interested in small trucks, it's that fuel economy legislation effectively prevents small trucks from happening. What about the Maverick? It's not as small as you think. CAFE, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy is the real reason trucks in America are all at least a specific dimension. Here's how it works and why it means no tiny trucks for us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eoMrwrGA8A&ab_channel=AlexonAutos
  • Gabe A new retro-styled Montero as their halo vehicle to compete against the Bronco, Wrangler and 4Runner. Boxy, round headlights like the 1st generation, two door and four door models, body on frame.A compact, urban truck, Mighty Max, to compete against the Maverick. Retro-styled like the early 90s Mighty Max.A new Outlander Sport as more of a wagon/crossover to compete against the Crosstrek and Kona. Needs to have more power (190+ HP) and a legit transmission, no CVT.A new Eclipse hybrid to compete against the upcoming redesigned Prius. Just match the Prius's specs and make it look great.Drop the Eclipse Cross, I am not sure why they wanted to resurrect the Pontiac Aztec. Keep the Mirage and keep it cheap, make the styling better and up the wheel size. The Outlander seems fine.I like the idea of some sort of commercial vehicle, something similar in size to the Promaster City but with AWD.