By on September 23, 2020

2021 Mazda CX30 Turbo - Image: MazdaPut 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?

2021 Mazda CX30 Turbo rear - Image: MazdaSHIFTER

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.

2019 Volkswagen Golf GTI Rabbit Edition - Source: VWSIZE

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.

2021 Mazda 3 Hatchback Turbo - Image: MazdaSURVIVAL

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 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 and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars and Instagram.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

31 Comments on “The 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo: Great Hot Hatch, Or The Greatest Hot Hatch?...”

  • avatar

    Is a hot dog a sandwich?

    I don’t really understand why CUV buyers seem ashamed to admit that they bought a high-output crossover and instead need to justify things with “My X3 M40i is ackhtually a sports car, here are the specs showing it against a 2012 BMW Z4 to prove it” or “my CX-30 is a Golf R”. But whatever helps I guess.

    • 0 avatar

      Tim Cain, resident Mazda PR and TTAC alum.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s only a thing in car forums, where keyboard warriors arrange themselves into a circle at the mere sight of plastic body cladding.

      In the real world, where a 2020 Honda Accord scrapes bottom like a 1980 Corvette, crossovers are not a novelty or fad. They’re the old normal for daily driving.

      • 0 avatar

        “In the real world, where a 2020 Honda Accord scrapes bottom like a 1980 Corvette, crossovers are not a novelty or fad. They’re the old normal for daily driving.”

        THANK YOU. I have a 2019 S60 and I like it but it scrapes it’s bumper whiskers on every. damn. thing. I’ve bottomed out on things I never thought it was possible to bottom out on.

        It is unlikely that I will buy a never ‘car’ again because of this, it’s quite frustrating.

    • 0 avatar

      McDonalds calls their burgers sandwiches. I used to get an open faced hot roast beef sandwich at the local truck stop, but you wouldn’t want to pick it up with your hands. Anyway, it blows my mind, the output of these latest small displacement engines.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s also why they have to call a manpurse something else. Like satchell, or chest bag.

      • 0 avatar

        A buddy of mine has the manliest leather satchel I’ve ever seen. My cowboy quotient would go up tenfold if I slung that bad boy over my shoulder.

        He calls it his purse. Why pretend.

    • 0 avatar

      No, a hot dog is a taco.

  • avatar

    I blows my mind, the output of these latest small displacement engines.

  • avatar

    Did anyone think the old Audi A3 was a hot hatch? It was more or less a premium GTI, but I don’t think it gets considered in the same regard, being not purpose-built as a hot hatch. Likewise, it’s reasonable to think of small crossovers as hot hatches (the Juke Nismo is a great example), but I don’t think this CX-30 is hard-edged or purpose-built enough to count (and I don’t think Mazda thinks that either).

  • avatar
    R Henry

    While I have not driven a Mazda turbo 2.5L, numerous reviewers have described its power delivery in the CX-9 as tractor-like; -not “high performance.”

    The 2.5L is a long stroke engine, with design priority on fuel economy. It is not a revvy engine at all, most happy under 4k rpm! As such, I am thinking the “hot hatch” moniker won’t be a thing.

    Yes, peak HP and torque is part of “high-performance” the equation, but how that power is delivered is something quite different. Unless the 2.5L turbo in these 3 series cars is tuned very differently than the CX-9 version, which nobody has commented about, I am skeptical.

    • 0 avatar

      Well you see, theorizing is one thing and actuality can be quite another. If you want a low-revving wheezer the 174 hp 2.0t Budack cycle VW puts in the Tiguan fits the description you’ve implied. I of course read the same thing when the CX-9 came out about it being a grunter of a big crossover engine, but when you go and try the sedan, a low speed grunter is not the first thought that comes to mind when you give it the boot! I have a Mazda6 turbo that I’ve always fed premium, and it shows no reluctance whatsoever to rev beyond 4,000. Granted, it doesn’t rev out to 6400 rpm like the Legacy GT I owned from new for 12 years before I got the Mazda 15 months ago. I can get the 6 to go to 6,000 with a bit of a trick on the manumatic, yet only in second gear. Otherwise it shifts at 5400. The low end and midrange are SERIOUS compared to the ole Subie however, and I’d say that the overall feeling I get from the 6 is that nice one it continually gives of egging you on. Plus it uses only 3/4 the fuel on average and just loafs up steep hills at low revs when the situation demands.

      If you want to feel that torque, you put it in 3rd at say 30 mph with the manumatic to prevent a full-throttle downshift, and the swell of power is rather remarkable when you goose it. So I like it, the engine is the best feature of the car. In fact, to avoid serious torque steer on a high crowned two-laner when you pass a slowpoke, using 3rd or fourth helps a lot by preventing a full throttle downshift, and you will not be hanging around in any case. Kind of like the way I used to drive for 35 years with a manual.

      At my ancient age, I’ll be checking out the 3 and CX-30 turbos, because, hey, each day is precious and if I like one of these things, I might say to hell with it and break the piggy bank, becaue you only pass this way once. The 6 really does need AWD – my first non-AWD car since 1988, so I have a good idea of what I consider reasonable. I want to find out whether Mazda’s inexpensive system is any good.

      I know I fit the 3 and can easily get in and out of it, but I have real trouble with egress in a GTI or A3, plus my Mazda hasn’t had so much as a rattle from new. My five new Audis and Talon and three Subies, OTOH, well… ahem

      • 0 avatar

        I drive a 2.0T Accord EX-L with the 10 speed, in Sport mode, if you choose manual shifting, it will up shift at 6000, as I remember from 2 Mazdas I had, it will not shift up no matter what you do. Also, in the Accord, even if you stat in 1st gear, it will shift to 2nd after 3 seconds, not at 6000 RPM.
        I guess it was all done for a reason, the Accord and the Mazda are not cars for racing (-:)

  • avatar

    I used to care about mazda. Hell – I have 3 of them on my driveway. But today, only Miata would be Mazda I would buy. But wait. i6 is coming. Lets see what that would bring along

  • avatar

    Are all these pumped up 2.0 and 2.5L engines going to last 500,000KM? I ‘mile-out’ my cars and I don’t think I trust these things to go the distance.

    • 0 avatar

      These engines probably will last. Since a lot of their power is created low, they’re not being run to redline much. I have heard this is especially the case for the CX-30.

      I’ve got a 13 year old car with an NA engine and I run it up to 4-6k everytime I drive. When I drive my wife’s GLC300, it’s surprising if I have to rev to 3k. CUV/SUVs don’t exactly reward for driving aggressively. My car… yeah, it’s good fun to cane it. Caning the GLC feels bad. It’s quick, but absolutely no fun.

    • 0 avatar

      If you keep on cleaning intake manifold.

    • 0 avatar

      If you keep on cleaning intake manifold.

  • avatar

    I want to like Mazda. They are a Japanese – modern – better ‘Pontiac’ that no longer exists.

    I want a Miata, but I dont fit.

    I drove a Rental CX 5 last week for 800 miles. Good MPG ~ 32.4 all expressway @ ~ 74 mph.
    – Mid level car with leather. – No XM
    – The controls. The wheel thingie that runs the radio ? Brutal to use. Ex- over shoot when scanning stations? you have to go to 3 stpes / menus to go from scan to station dail in to go back 4 clicks from 93.7 to 93.3 FM.
    – HVAC. All tiny buttons in a line. Want to change from defog to feet vents and fan speed 4 to 1? Hunt and peck and peck and peck. Eyes off the road for 45,000 seconds because the buttons are tiny.
    – High beltline. Not as bad as some, but thats not saying much. The real killer? The belt line goes up a bit between C and D pillar. Real wide C and D pillar. Visibility goes to ZERO. Very dangerous trying to back out of partially diagonal parking spot and onto a road.

    Greatly dis like that one.

  • avatar

    is this finally the replacement I’ve been waiting for? at 120000 miles the turbo seals are leaking and stinking and I’m loathe to lay out the $ for such an expensive repair on a car this worn out.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry


      120k miles might have “worn out” a 1976 Vega, but with contemporary iron, 120k miles is very much “mid life.”

      My car is 5 years old and has travelled 120k miles, and the wife drives a 9 year old car with 138k miles. Each is dead nuts reliable. Even with only minimal care, the vast majority of contemporary autos will provide reliable service to 200k miles and beyond. Some Toyotas seem to provide the best reliability if you weld the hoods shut! (/sarc)

      The most common reason people change autos these days is NOT due to mechanical failure–instead, most of us just “get tired” of our vehicles…and believe we “deserve” better.

      • 0 avatar

        “My car is 5 years old and has travelled 120k miles, and the wife drives a 9 year old car with 138k miles. Each is dead nuts reliable.”

        What are they? Nearly every vehicle today won’t regularly strand you at over 120K, but it seems like most vehicles still lose their “starch” long before that.

  • avatar

    Hot hatch it is not. CSUV it is.

  • avatar

    Don’t care what it is or isn’t. Tops of my list for potential late MY2021 purchase, albeit not the turbo one. Seems to have what I want. Quiet, comfortable, small-ish car, sub-30k

  • avatar

    Fun fact: the international version of the CX-30 is an inch lower than the US version (6.9″ versus 7.9″ ground clearance). So in theory, it could be that much less of a utility vehicle.

  • avatar

    A hot hatch cannot have an automatic. This is pathetic automatic scum.

  • avatar

    Another GTI killer. If this is a hatchback I wonder how sedan would look like.

  • avatar

    IIRC, the CX30 has LESS interior room than the 3 hatch, which is already smaller than the 3 sedan?

    What’s the point?

    Funny to see a couple of (former) 4th gen LGT owners on here – I can’t imagine this is in the same size class as an LGT? And as far as sedans – since it didn’t have AWD at the time, I didn’t even consider the 6 sedan as a replacement when I needed one last summer. Stinger GT1 AWD is way better inside than my LGT, and has way more power..

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • jmo2: A lot of GMs issues can be traced back to an excessive focus on market share.
  • la834: This is basically Elon realizing that Tesla may need to advertise as increasingly numerous, increasingly...
  • Ol Shel: Bah! Kids these days! They don’t even like being jerked around by sleazy car dealers! What is this...
  • dal20402: I think he would rather be making deliveries to his buddy Vladimir Vladimirovich in Moscow.
  • mor2bz: I wish I could agree with you but I do not. Musk claims that incessant badmouthing of his company would be...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber