2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo First Drive - Turbocharged Tweener

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey
2021 mazda cx 30 turbo first drive turbocharged tweener

Some cars are segment tweeners. The 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is one of those.

The raised hatchback is just barely a crossover, but Mazda lists it as such. Whatever it is, it does stay true to Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” marketing, and turbo power helps with that.

That’s the big news for this year – turbo power, just like on its platform-mate, the Mazda 3. And the CX-30 experience is much like what I experienced with the 3, only with more ground clearance.

(Full disclosure: Mazda sent coffee, a COVID mask, and a travel mug to me with the car. The company also wanted to send me Bose headphones, but I declined.)

That means you get tight, nicely-weighted steering that gives the car a performance feel while allowing for quick, sharp turn-in in corners. It means the turbo-four – 2.5 liters, 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (250/320 on premium fuel, which my tester was running) – delivers enough oomph for easy merging and passing, though you won’t be blowing anyone’s doors off.

The six-speed automatic is generally well-behaved, as well, and offers paddle shifters.

Raised ground clearance does lead to a bit of body roll, though it’s not too offensive. I did manage to encounter understeer and some slipperiness during my test loop, despite the all-wheel-drive system that’s standard on turbo models. Nothing unmanageable, but the CX-30 can only be pushed so hard before the tires lose grip. There may have been extenuating circumstances at play – the Chicago area was deep in the grips of the polar vortex at test time and I’m sure that didn’t help the tires grip the pavement.

I did also nearly slide through a stop sign due to ice. Not sure if the safety nannies were taking the morning off or what, although I do suspect I didn’t apply enough brake-pedal pressure to trigger the ABS, as I felt no pedal pulsation. It’s possible that the tires fitted to my test car just weren’t up for spirited driving in freezing weather, nor for simply stopping on an under-salted side street during relatively gentle urban driving.

The tires were 18s (Bridgestone Turanza EL 440s), and the suspension underpinning the front is a MacPherson strut setup, with a torsion-beam axle setup in the rear. Unplanned ice slides notwithstanding, the brakes were quite stout during aggressive driving.

Inside, the cabin is quite pleasant, thanks to materials that mostly look and feel upmarket, and the white seats contrasted neatly with the dashboard’s mostly unrelieved black (trimmed with chrome). Mazda’s infotainment system can be confounding when you’re new to it or haven’t used it in a while, but familiarity breeds ease of use. It does work well with Apple CarPlay, and CarPlay also makes the use of certain menus and functions moot.

Mazda seems to think CX-30 buyers are seeking adventure, but really, most are likely seeking slightly more utility than a Mazda 3 hatch, and perhaps a higher ride height. Cargo capacity is slightly more than a 3 Turbo hatchback, though that was still plenty to haul a whole bunch of groceries. Headroom and legroom were adequate upfront, but this long-legged editor felt cramped when hopping in the rear seat for the photoshoot, with the driver’s seat pushed fairly far back.

Standard features included LED daytime running lights and headlights, sunroof, the already mentioned 18-inch wheels, roof rails, power liftgate, rain-sensing windshield wipers, adaptive front-lighting system, dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, power driver seat, connected services, push-button start, Bose audio, satellite radio, heated steering wheel, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, heated front seats, electronic parking brake, navigation, traffic-sign recognition, leather seats, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, radar cruise control with stop and go, rear cross-traffic alert, smart brake support, driver-attention alert, high-beam control, and blind-spot monitoring system.

All that added up to $33,900.

Options included a $160 cargo cover, $125 all-weather floor mats, and the $595 Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, plus a rear bumper guard ($125). My test unit was a Premium Plus trim, which adds traffic-jam assist, Homelink, driver-side auto-dimming exterior mirror, front and rear parking sensors, 360-degree monitor, rear cross-traffic braking, and rear smart-city brake support.

All told, the vehicle cost $35,995 including the $1,100 destination fee.

That price is a bit dear for a smallish crossover, but at least the CX-30 feels both sporty and upmarket.

Fuel economy, if you’re wondering, is listed at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway/25 mpg combined.

The overall package works well, although I’d opt for the regular 3 Turbo hatch over a CX-30 unless I really, really needed the extra ground clearance.

For the crossover buyer who likes to zoom, the CX-Turbo will fit the bill – assuming you’re willing to part with the Benjamins.

Correction — an earlier version of this post listed the wrong torque figure with premium fuel. The correct version is 320 lb-ft with premium fuel. We have updated this post to reflect the correct spec. We regret the error.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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5 of 41 comments
  • Conundrum Conundrum on Feb 10, 2021

    Compared to an Audi Q3, this little bucket is barrel chested. Once that turbo engine runs in, and mine took more than 3,000 miles and using only 91 octane on my 6, I'd have to say the engine flings it around with some authority. The CX-30 AWD is a couple hundred pounds lighter. Price in Canada for the GT Turbo is Canuck (78 cent dollar) $38K incl shipping. Mazda seems to dislike Americans with their pricing. As for Bridgestone Turanza tires, there's a business here buying them up to fit on custom electric wheelbarrows. Snow and ice are not on their menu, and there's some speculation they're best suited to Tokyo traffic jams. Fully 20 years behind the times.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Feb 10, 2021

    Why Mazda competes with BMW/Audi and not with Lexus/Acura/Infiniti or Lincoln/Cadillac (which itself competes with BMW)?

    • See 2 previous
    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Feb 11, 2021

      @Inside Looking Out Or Buick may have something like that. I mean before trying to beat The Germans, which may be a tall order, first try to beat fellow Japanese or Americans or Koreans, or Chinese.

  • Keith Maybe my market's different. but 4.5k whack. Plus mods like his are just donations for the next owner. I'd consider driving it as a fun but practical yet disposable work/airport car if it was priced right. Some VAG's (yep, even Audis) are capable, long lasting reliable cars despite what the haters preach. I can't lie I've done the same as this guy: I had a decently clean 4 Runner V8 with about the same miles- I put it up for sale around the same price as the lower mile examples. I heard crickets chirp until I dropped the price. Folks just don't want NYC cab miles.
  • Max So GM will be making TESLAS in the future. YEA They really shouldn’t be taking cues from Elon musk. Tesla is just about to be over.
  • Malcolm It's not that commenters attack Tesla, musk has brought it on the company. The delivery of the first semi was half loaded in 70 degree weather hauling potato chips for frito lay. No company underutilizes their loads like this. Musk shouted at the world "look at us". Freightliners e-cascads has been delivering loads for 6-8 months before Tesla delivered one semi. What commenters are asking "What's the actual usable range when in say Leadville when its blowing snow and -20F outside with a full trailer?
  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.