The 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo: Great Hot Hatch, Or The Greatest Hot Hatch?
Put down your guns. Take your ball and go home.
The war is over. The game has moved on.
Perhaps we’re being just a tad melodramatic, or perhaps we’re injecting a dose of reality into our oil-laced veins. The hot hatch of tomorrow is not the hot hatch of yesterday. In Enthusiasts v. The Market, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is just the latest piece of evidence unabashedly layered on top of the auto industry’s mountain of discovery.
The arrival of a small Mazda crossover with all-wheel drive and 320 lb-ft of torque – which doesn’t exactly sound like impending doom, come to think of it – is certainly not the only sign that the market has shifted. Remember, the ordinary Porsche 911 Carrera can no longer be acquired with a manual shifter; the front-wheel-drive coupe is extinct; and America’s best-selling SUV outsells America’s best-selling car by more than 40 percent.
No, the CX-30 Turbo is just one sign that the market has shifted, but is it more than that? Is the 250-horsepower CX-30 laying the groundwork for a shift in how we define hot hatches? And if so, would that be so bad? And furthermore, is the CX-30 really all that different from the hot hatches we’ve known and loved?
Given the fact that far more performance-oriented machines have forsaken three-pedal transmissions, are we being fair to conclude that the CX-30’s automatic-only format precludes it from hot hatch contention? From the Corvette to the Mustang GT500 to every current Ferrari, high-end sports cars forego manual shifters throughout the auto industry. The Mazda CX-30 Turbo would generate endless headlines were it available with a 6-speed manual, but that car would produce single-digit sales activity.
Don’t let the ample wheelarch cladding fool you. Using Bozi Tatarevic’s trademark Pontiac Vibe Test, the Mazda CX-30 treads a fine line near the border between hatch/crossover segments. The CX-30 is only three-tenths of an inch taller than the Vibe, barely an inch wider, and only two inches longer. What separates the CX-30 from the best-known hot hatch of all, Volkswagen’s Golf GTI? 3.9 inches of height; enough to be noticed but not enough to make anyone believe the CX-30 is joining Wranglers in Moab or Broncos in Baja.
Quite likely the biggest knock against the Mazda CX-30 Turbo’s status as a hot hatch: objective arguments don’t matter. The CX-30’s 1.4-inch ground clearance gain compared with the Mazda 3 on which it’s based, combined with matte black finishes in all the right places and marketing that emphasizes camping over cornering, is enough to convince the 2020 market that this is in fact a utility vehicle, not a Veloster N rival. Pair all of this with Mazda’s premium shift (the 2.5-liter turbo isn’t going to be offered in any kind of spartan trim level with a rear-seat delete and four-point harnesses) and the CX-30 Turbo’s chances of earning hot hatch credentials appear weak.
But is there no room for consideration? With nary a Nismo Juke to be found, the 250-bhp CX-30 has virtually no direct competition in the subcompact crossover arena. Power just isn’t on the offer sheet for shoppers considering the Jeep Renegade, Ford EcoSport, Chevrolet Trax and Trailblazer, Buick Encore and Encore GX, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Subaru Crosstrek, or Toyota C-HR. This is where you mention the John Cooper Works S edition of the Mini Countryman, and this is where we mention the $41,900+ price, roughly $10K in excess of the CX-30 Turbo’s likely entry point, and more in line with premium brand competition.
If there’s one other arrow in the naysayer’s quiver, the mere existence of conventional hot hatches is definitely a sharp point. Hyundai’s growing N line, the Honda Civic Type R, Mini’s S-badged Coopers – there are still hot hatch options. Indeed, there are still over 1,000 new Mk7 Golf GTIs in stock according to Cars.com. Most importantly, the CX-30’s very own turbocharged 2.5L was first announced as an engine option in Mazda’s actual hatchback, the Mazda 3. No, it’s not a Mazdaspeed 3. (We told you back in 2017 that Mazdaspeed’s future is iffy at best.) But fitted with Mazda’s own Aero Kit, the Mazda 3 Turbo will have the power and visual aggression to challenge the hot hatch market, even without a dose of Mazdaspeed hooliganism.
There’s good reason to doubt the marketplace efficacy of the turbocharged Mazda 3 hatchback, however. Even though Mazda spent the early part of 2020 launching this new crossover, the CX-30 already outselling the two-pronged Mazda 3 lineup, where the majority of Mazda’s U.S. inventory is actually made up of sedan. Overall, Mazda 3 sales are down 39 percent through the first eight months of the year.
If Mazda wants to sell hot hatches, the CX-30 is quite likely the way it’ll happen, whether we want to acknowledge it as a hot hatch or define it as something else altogether.
Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Driving.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.
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Another GTI killer. If this is a hatchback I wonder how sedan would look like.
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