The Mazda CX-30 is yet another SUV from the Japanese brand, making it five in total, to really cover almost every segment and size.
Since we have all but given up pretending SUVs are anything but the norm for most, this is the car you need to buy if you were thinking of a Mazda 3. That's because it’s more practical and spacious, without losing any of the desirable characteristics of its more traditional sedan or hatch cousins.
We flew to Frankfurt earlier this month to drive Mazda’s latest SUV, which we first saw back at the Geneva motor show in March. It won’t arrive in Australia until 2020. The best way to describe the CX-30 is that it’s a Mazda 3 on stilts. It really needed to be called a CX-4, but because Mazda already sells a car with that name in China (and nowhere else), we are stuck with CX-30. Which is a little confusing because the rest of the SUVs are CX-3, CX-5, CX-8 and CX-9. In the past there has also been a CX-7. So, to go from there to CX-30 seems like a board meeting gone wrong.
But don’t let the strange naming decision detract from the fact that this is almost smack bang in the middle of the CX-3 and CX-5. However, unlike either of those two SUVs, the CX-30 is on the latest SkyActiv platform from Mazda, so it gains the latest and greatest in technology and refinement. It feels a generation ahead of the CX-3, and at least half a generation ahead of the popular CX-5.
From the outside, there is no denying the design language is similar to the Mazda 3 hatch. It’s a continuation of Kodo design, what Mazda calls ‘sleek and bold’, and although we generally dislike marketing buzz, it’s probably a fair call. The grille manages to incorporate chrome and gloss black to appeal to both North Americans and people with taste. It’s a very good-looking car, no matter how you look at it.
Somehow, with the use of a lot of black to trick the eye, the CX-30 also looks very sporty even though the roof doesn’t slope down in the back (like the 3 hatch). This means that head room in the rear is not compromised without making it look like a boxy SUV.
We especially love the rear tail-lights that stick out, and if you open the boot (which seems to take an awfully long time for models equipped with an automatic system), it measures a very healthy 430L (80L more than the Mazda 3 hatch and 47L less than the CX-5), so it can just about swallow anything you’ll need on a day-to-day basis and easily a full-size pram.
It’s nearly identical inside to the Mazda 3, which is a good thing because that is closer to a premium car than a mainstream one. The Japanese concept of ‘Ma’ is applied here, which means ‘space’ or ‘gap’. In essence, embracing a cabin that isn’t overtly filled with buttons for the sake of it. The folks at Volkswagen have been the masters of this for some time.
This has resulted in a very minimalist but upmarket cabin that brings smooth surfaces to the doors, the dashboard, and pretty much anywhere else you can touch. But attention to details is further amplified when you operate the air-con vents or the buttons on the steering wheel, which feel perfectly weighted and have such little give. It’s like an Audi, in that sense.
The infotainment screen could look a little better if Mazda removed the huge enclosure that it sits in (which makes it look a tad old fashioned). But ignoring that, it’s a very high-resolution screen that is tilted towards the driver and worked rather well during our testing. It comes with CarPlay standard.
We also appreciated the digital centre instrument cluster that blends beautifully into the other two traditional dials, and further aided by the head-up display. These are features that are difficult to come by on other SUVs in this category, and a further showcase of Mazda’s positioning as an engineering-led company rather than a marketing one. Of course, Mazda also offers all the now regular set of its active safety features as standard, these will more than likely mirror that of the Mazda 3.
Mazda’s engineers spent a great deal of time explaining their concept of ‘human-centric approach’, mixed with a lot of buzzwords and often obvious statements. However, the main focus was the front seats, which Mazda claims have been engineered to support the driver’s pelvis. Mazda's testing shows that if the pelvis is supported, the rest of the body will remain upright and balanced by its own accord.
We spent a good 90 minutes driving the CX-30, and while the seats were reasonably comfortable, there is nothing extraordinary about them. In fact, they are significantly behind what Citroen offers with its ‘comfort seats’, which are by and large the most supportive and comfortable seats you can buy in any car today.
The reason we argue that the CX-30 is a better choice than the Mazda 3 (hatchback) is because not only is it more practical (bigger boot, better seating position), but it’s actually smaller in terms of overall footprint, making it easier to park and manoeuvre around town. It measures 4395mm in length (75mm less than the Mazda 3) with an identical width of 1795mm.
It is taller (1540mm – 105mm more than the 3), of course, but 50mm of that you gain just in seating position, meaning you are 5cm higher in the CX-30 than the 3, and that’s a lot. If you have young kids that need to be picked up and put into child seats, it also means less bending over to strap them in (think of your poor back!). Mazda also emphasised that it has picked this seating height because it’s a sweet spot for both taller than average (western) and shorter than average (Asian) markets.
In terms of interior space, we found the CX-30 to be relatively roomy for an adult measuring 180cm in height to sit in the front seats, and then directly behind in the rear with the front seat position unchanged. It’s technically a five-seater, but even by Mazda’s own admission this is a four-seater. You can fit two child seats in the rear (ISOFIX and all) without issue, but you won’t fit between them.
The CX-30 is only ousted in the front leg room category by the Mazda 3 (1058mm v 1075mm), but in every other area, including front head room (967mm) and shoulder room (1414mm) plus rear head room (987mm), shoulder room (1357mm) and leg room (921mm), it’s equal or better than the Mazda 3.
So, would you still buy a Mazda 3? Yes, because you don’t want an SUV, and that’s okay. But if you think the dynamics of this car are compromised because of it being a soft-roader, you’d be rather wrong as it only weighs about 50kg more than the equivalent Mazda 3, and around town or even when pushed a little hard around corners and bends it’s on par with the 3. That means it's coherent and relatively capable. The tyres on our cars loved to complain, but the grip on offer and the dynamic performance were well and truly what you’d need from a car like this.
Ride comfort was a little harder to judge because the CX-30s we drove were European-spec models and we were on German roads. They did feel a tad on the firm side regardless, but our test cars all ran on 18-inch wheels with 215/55 tyres, which would not have helped. We were told Australian-delivered cars will have a different suspension tune, so we will have to wait and see on ride comfort for now.
In terms of engines and transmissions, it should be a straight carryover from the 3. The CX-30 will be offered with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (114kW and 200Nm), and we believe in time with the 2.5-litre (139kW/252Nm). Both are coupled to a six speed torque-converter transmission. We also suspect it will be available with Mazda’s latest SkyActiv X engine (132kW/224Nm) at a date in the future.
Overall, our first impressions of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 were pretty positive. It’s an excellent SUV, and one that makes a lot more sense for most buyers than a regular sedan or hatch of the same size. Pricing remains to be confirmed, but we suspect it will be priced roughly $2000 more than the equivalent Mazda 3, and if you ask us, it’s worth the money.