In between mass-volume mainstream models, and aspirational but often out-of-reach prestige automobiles, lies a somewhat grey area known as ‘premium’.
Mazda has been positioning itself towards premium for a while, taking mainstream models and finishing them with claims of higher poise and polish than run-of-the-mill cars.
The latest, and possibly most convincing, model to push the brand into premium territory is the CX-30 – a new small SUV nestled in between the light-SUV CX-3 and medium-SUV CX-5. The name is obviously something of an anomaly, but expect to see the longer naming convention roll out across more models soon.
By the same token, the CX-30 G25 Astina borrows its naming from the Mazda 3 G25 Astina. Both are the top of their respective ranges, and both feature a 2.5-litre petrol (or G for gasoline) engine.
It’s the first time Mazda has doubled-up a flagship ‘A’ name – a top-shelf CX-3 is an Akari, a CX-5 is an Akera – but it seems this time around Mazda Australia really wants buyers to think of the CX-30 as a member of the Mazda 3 range, or vice versa.
Ultimately, the two are very closely related, sharing not only their basic platform and mechanical components, but also major interior pieces, with an instantly recognisable dash and console design. None of which is a bad thing, by the way.
The particular car you see here is the front-wheel-drive 2020 Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina with a list price from $41,490 plus on-road costs. The high-riding CX-30 treatment commands a $3250 premium over a similarly equipped 3, but unlike the Mazda 3 (in Australia at least) you can opt for all-wheel drive for an additional $2000, and the Machine Grey paint you see here (along with Polymetal Grey and Soul Red Crystal) commands a $495 premium.
If you’re not as hung up on performance, or want to keep the budget down slightly, a 2.0-litre FWD-only G20 Astina (with 114kW and 200Nm) is also available from $38,990.
If you’ve previously browsed a Mazda 3 brochure in search of your next car, you’ll be familiar with the CX-30’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. While it lacks the turbocharging offered in some rivals, it still provides decent outputs with 139kW and 252Nm via a six-speed torque converter automatic, with no manual available.
In typical SUV style, the CX-30 wears a higher roof line (105mm), but perhaps surprisingly is shorter from nose to tail compared to a 3 hatch (-65mm) along with a shorter wheelbase (-70mm). Unsurprisingly, the CX-30 nestles into the comfortable middle ground between the very compact CX-3 and the more family-flexible CX-5.
The result is an interior that feels spacious up front, with a higher seating position and raised roof contributing to a greater sense of space in the front seats next to its low-riding companion.
The rear seats are a mixed bag. The sweeping roof and small windows of the Mazda 3 hatch have been addressed, so there’s more head room and greater visibility resulting in easier access and better long-range comfort.
Because of the CX-30’s trimmed wheelbase you won’t find expansive leg room, the space between the front and rear seats is still tight, and particularly with tall occupants up front. Foot space is good, but knees are likely to contact the seat in front – better suited to short trips or pre-teen passengers, then.
To the boot, and there’s a rather compact 317L of uninterrupted storage above the floor with a further 105L below (or in non-Astina models 113L due to the lack of a subwoofer in the boot), albeit not the usual fully lined sub-floor compartment you might expect, but more of an expanded spare-wheel well. Access is via a powered tailgate; however, extra cargo utilities, like bag hooks or configurable dividers, don’t feature.
Practicality may not be a strong point for the CX-30, but the interior still impresses in other ways.
Although the combo you see here with white seats and brown-on-black dash and doors may not suit all, it makes a refreshing change from the usual sea of black in competitors. White seats are an option, with black the standard trim, but the brown bits are here to stay (or you can have deep blue on lower grades).
The interior is impressively trimmed. There’s a solid, quality feel to everything you touch, with elements like real metal door pulls, plenty of deep-gloss plastic, and soft surfaces for the dash, doors and the parts of the console you’re likely to come in contact with.
Mazda’s newest infotainment system is a mixed bag. It’s now thankfully much more responsive than before, with no lag and a much simpler menu layout. The 8.8-inch screen is crystal clear, as are the reverse and 360-degree camera systems, but because of the super-wide screen ratio, the camera and integrated sat-nav views aren’t always easy to clock at a glance.
Included AM/FM/DAB radio, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity are all handy to have, but Mazda no longer fits a touchscreen, instead relying on the console controller. In the past, the centre dial has been used for adjustments on the go, while the touchscreen was a better, quicker and easier option when stopped. Losing it seems like a backwards step.
Other Astina inclusions cover features like a 12-speaker Bose audio system, adaptive LED headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a ‘Vision Technology’ package that includes: the surround-view camera; driver monitoring; front cross-traffic alert; front parking sensors; and ‘cruising and traffic support’ that rolls lane-keeping and adaptive cruise functions together into a low-speed system that can assist the driver in heavy traffic. The G25 also gets a powered sunroof as standard, which the G20 Astina misses out on.
As you climb through the range, you’ll also find features including leather trim, power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory, 7.0-inch digital instrument display, keyless entry with push-button start, auto-folding mirrors with reverse tilting, rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, plus a leather steering wheel and gearshift knob.
Frustratingly, the dual-zone system in the car we tested would either run the fan flat out (and it’s a noisy one at that) on even mild days when left in auto mode, or struggled to keep the car cool if you dialled back the fan even a little. You’d expect any car to have a hard time on a hot day, but this one seemed to have trouble even when the ambient temp was only one or two degrees above what the climate dial was set to.
On the safety side, seven airbags, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, lane-departure warning, and traffic sign recognition are all standard across the range.
Mazda can take pride in its ANCAP crash rating by scoring five stars, but also recording a highest-yet 99 per cent adult occupant protection, along with highly commendable 88 per cent child occupant and 80 per cent vulnerable road-user protection ratings. Although assessment was published in 2020, the tests were conducted according to ANCAP's 2019 test criteria.
Where Mazda has made some of its greatest strides over the years is in managing road noise, having greatly improved refinement compared to cars from a generation ago. To that end, the CX-30 is surprisingly serene.
The engine is hushed in general commuting, and out on the open road the CX-30 glides along with little in the way of road or wind noise. In fact, so impressive is the refinement that if anything does disturb the peace, it really seems to boldly stand out.
If you need to work the engine hard, and you will for swift overtaking, you can start to hear the earnest 2.5-litre engine work itself into a thrashy, noisy state. The same goes for the ride – usually smooth and composed, but on 18-inch wheels there are times when the suspension will fail to blot out an imperfection, sending a harsh, crashing thump through the cabin and wallowing like a sea creature to recover.
The thing is, you’d probably not notice those blots in other cars because of the surrounding cacophony, and general hum and thrum of noise and vibration. Mazda, meanwhile, targets very specific resonant frequencies and does a brilliant job of it, so when something does break the silence it really stands out.
Disappointingly, those crash-and-bash characteristics are more pronounced in town, where you’d hope it might do its best work. Head to the open road and things become calmer as speed rises.
In 2.5-litre guise, there’s enough flexibility to smoothly shuffle the car about town in a relaxed manner, but enough left in reserve to accelerate into freeway on-ramps with confidence. Mazda’s six-speed automatic might be showing its age a little.
It’s very smooth and controlled around town, with no low-speed fidgeting or hesitation, but out of town it’ll kick down fiercely, often two gears at a time, which makes the engine sound strained as revs flare. A little oddly, too, at low speeds we experienced some surging from the car – only when rolling foot off the throttle into a driveway or in slow-moving traffic – for a somewhat disconcerting feel.
Putting the adaptive cruise control through its paces was another disappointment. Instead of keeping a measured distance from leading traffic, the CX-30 would often stab its brakes to slow down and rocking occupants about in the process.
In city driving the system is dimwitted, leaving massive gaps between a leading car before moving off and then slamming the brakes when it catches up. The system should be much better, and in fact the Mazda 3s we’ve had through the CarAdvice garage, equipped with the same system, didn’t do this, so it's hard to fathom why the CX-30 behaves so erratically.
That’s not to say the CX-30 is a bad thing. Quite honestly, it’s so relaxing to drive otherwise, so nimble in town with light and easy steering, so serene inside with a plush, quality feel, and right-sized for young couples or empty-nesters, that there’s much to like.
Mazda backs the CX-30 with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, and offers capped-price servicing at $315 for the first, third and fifth services, and $359 for two and four. Intervals are the industry-standard 12 months apart, but a rather short 10,000km (whichever comes first), meaning you’ll likely be back to your dealer more than once a year if you rack up big miles.
Additionally, Mazda adds extra charges for brake fluid ($69 every two years or 40,000km) and cabin filter replacement ($92 every 40,000km), which can bump up the cost of applicable service visits.
If you’re watching your fuel bills, Mazda packs in an engine start/stop system to cut the engine when stationary, and cylinder deactivation to run on two cylinders in low-load driving. The latter seems to work without issue, but the former can be gruff and abrupt, quaking through the car coarsely as it does its thing.
Neither seemed to make much of an impact, with mostly urban driving returning 9.3L/100km, and all-urban trips pushing that as high as the low 12s. Officially, the CX-30 G25 is rated at 6.6L/100km.
Ultimately, Mazda may have created a rod for its own back in its push to become more premium. Badge-driven buyers still won’t see Mazda in the same light as brands like Lexus, Audi or BMW, and those mainstream buyers who built the brand up over the last few decades may prefer the value offered elsewhere.
The presentation and driving dynamics of the CX-30 (and almost all other members of Mazda’s range) are certainly as premium as you’d hope. Indeed, a fully loaded CX-30 Astina has what it takes to topple the entry-level prestige cars it's aimed at.
Not everything meets the premium expectation, though. Noisy air-con, crashy urban ride and jerky adaptive cruise aren’t the things premium cars are made of. The problem is that because so much of the package is deeply impressive, the sore points stand out all the more starkly.
Mazda’s so close to its aspirational claim with the new CX-30, and over time it’ll no doubt address those issues (it has a track record of doing so). But right now, even though you’ll be getting a fantastically good urban SUV, and plush in most of the right places, you’ll still have rough-edged quirks to live with.