Hyundai’s popular Kona small SUV faces a fresh Mazda rival in the form of the CX-30. We find which crossover is the best at a $30,000 pricepoint.
The timing of the new Mazda CX-30 couldn’t seem better. Small SUVs were one of only two segments to prove resilient in a tough 2019 Australian market, and so far in 2020 they’re still recording some growth despite even more pessimistic conditions.
With the popular CX-3 shuffled into a newly created ‘SUV Light’ segment in official industry sales statics, the CX-30 makes a more natural rival for another successful ‘Small SUV’, the Hyundai Kona.
The 2020 Mazda CX-30 starts from $29,990 for a G20 Pure model – expected to the biggest seller (in the first year, at least) – and it’s this variant we pitch against a similarly priced Hyundai Kona.
Pricing and specs
While the CX-30 is positioned between the CX-3 and CX-5 in size, its starting price is much closer to the where the mid-sized SUV kicks off.
Rivals such as the Subaru XV and Toyota C-HR have similar entry costs, though to match the CX-30 with a comparable Kona, it means moving two models up from the $24,300 base Hyundai to the $30,600 Elite.
That brings expectations of more equipment for the Kona Elite, and indeed it has 17-inch alloy wheels whereas the CX-30 Pure has 16-inch alloy wheels, it has seats made with leather and fabric rather than just cloth, it has a branded (Infinity) audio system, includes fog lights, and its daytime running lights feature LEDs rather than halogen bulbs.
Mazda, however, levels the playing field for buyers who value safety tech. The CX-30 G20 Pure comes with a windscreen head-up display, auto high/low beam switching, speed-limit notification, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking that works in reverse not just going forwards, while its adaptive cruise control adds stop-go functionality over Hyundai’s system.
The models are otherwise matched for rear parking sensors, lane-keep assistance and monitoring of blind spots, rear cross traffic, fatigue and low tyre pressures. Keyless entry is also standard on both.
Interestingly, both SUVs are more expensive than the equivalent variant of their slightly bigger, hatchback relatives – by $3400 in the CX-30’s case, and $2280 in the Kona’s case.
Tech and infotainment
Mazda’s cruise-control system is good at maintaining your set speed, even on downhill stretches, while the radar component is effective at slowing/accelerating to maintain a distance to the vehicle ahead.
The Hyundai’s adaptive cruise is a fraction slower to react and get you back up to speed after overtaking a vehicle, and it can trickle over the set speed by a few km/h (a relatively minor issue unless you live in Victoria!).
The CX-30’s ability to read speed limits and post them on both the driver display and head-up display is genuinely useful, even if it will occasionally pick up the 40km/h signs on buses, but on the other hand it usually spots changed roadworks limits, too.
You also get a second helping of blind-spot assistance in the Mazda. In addition to an orange light that will illuminate in the relevant side mirror when a vehicle is approaching from behind in the adjacent lane, the HUD also displays warning markers on either the left or right as necessary.
Hyundai has started to roll out a new, fancier 10.25-inch infotainment system for some of its vehicles (and it’s found in the related Kia Seltos), though it’s likely to be a while before the Kona becomes one of the recipients. (The revised i30 gains the system sometime in the second half of 2020.)
So, for now, the Kona makes do with Hyundai’s respectable 8.0-inch touchscreen, which is easy to use but looks rather basic now after experiencing the new infotainment set-up in the Ioniq.
The CX-30 is only the second model (after the Mazda 3) to feature Mazda Connect. After the small display and limited scope of the previous MZD Connect, it’s a much better system that looks great beyond its larger size (now 8.8 inches), feels intuitive, and is lovely to operate via the centre console controller. You wouldn’t bat an eyelid if you found either the display or controller in a luxury car.
Both systems include navigation and digital radio, and they cater for smartphone integration. The Mazda’s display is no longer a touchscreen, though, which will make it feel counterintuitive to Apple and Android users. We found the Mazda’s USB port slow to charge a smartphone.
The CX-30’s interior is almost a mirror image of the Mazda 3’s cabin, with just a subtle difference to the design of the upper dash. And, of course, you sit a bit higher to ensure a vital SUV criterion is ticked.
The interior quality that has so impressed us in the Mazda 3 also carries across, with a premium look aided by leatherette galore and great switchgear tactility, even in this Pure base model.
A two-tone dark blue and black trim colour scheme is a bit polarising, though the Pure’s biggest cabin letdown is its urethane steering wheel. It just feels cheap and makes your hands feel clammy when driving on hot days.
The upward-angled door armrests make for easier use of window and mirror switches, while also cleverly creating extra height for drink bottles to fit into the door pockets.
The wide front centre armrest slides backwards and upwards to reveal a decent-sized cubby with divider, plus 12-volt and USB-A ports. Dual cupholders and a storage tray sit ahead of the gear lever, and a good-sized glovebox completes a useful level of practicality.
The Kona is better at storing smartphones with its dual-level trays at the front of the centre console, where there are ports for USB-C, USB-A, AUX and 12V. It also adds in an overhead sunnies holder.
Its centre console cubby is smaller, though, and its door pockets aren’t as flexible in what they can accommodate – a drink bottle and not much else really.
The Kona, released in late 2017 here, can’t match the CX-30’s desirability factor inside – partly through design (functional and varied from the i30 but unadventurous), though mainly because of materials quality.
While the dash is constructed with some softer upper sections and textured plastic also featured on the doors, harder, uninspiring plastics are too conspicuous. Plonk yourself in an i30 and you’ll discover a greater quantity of higher-quality plastics, particularly for the doors.
The climate dials don’t rotate smoothly, but there’s a better feel to the Kona’s array of cabin buttons.
Ergonomics are also excellent, the leather-fabric seats look smart, and the Elite features a leather steering wheel that is more pleasant to hold than the CX-30 Pure’s wheel.
In the rear, the Kona Elite exclusively includes a centre armrest (with cupholders), though both models miss out on 'face-level' vents in the rear console.
Both offer comfortable benches with good head room, though knee space is at a premium. Rear passengers either need to be of modest height or be sitting behind front occupants not much taller than 175cm if they’re not to feel hemmed in.
However, the CX-30’s rear-seat space is definitely an improvement over what’s offered in the CX-3.
The same applies to boot space, though the CX-30’s 317L capacity keeps it well down the segment order. (It makes a CX-5’s 442L boot look generous, too, when it’s merely average for the mid-sized-SUV class.)
Still, the CX-30’s boot manages to store a couple of holiday-size suitcases, with space for two soft travel bags on top. A typical pram also slots into the boot slightly more easily than it does into the luggage compartment of the Mazda 3 hatch.
Hyundai quotes 361L for the Kona’s boot, yet a lack of length meant our suitcases were too long to allow the tailgate to shut. The i30 hatch’s boot is more practical.
The Kona’s boot adds a luggage net and bag hook over the CX-30, while its 60/40 split-fold seats fall flat whereas the Mazda leaves a slight step that could be annoying for when you’re trying to slide in those IKEA boxes.
A 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, six-speed auto and front-wheel drive are common traits between the CX-30 Pure and Kona Elite, though each powertrain is of its maker's own design.
The Mazda produces 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm, whereas the Hyundai develops 110kW at 6200rpm and 180Nm at 4300rpm. Intriguingly, the Kona loses 10kW and 23Nm to the same engine slotted into the i30.
Don’t expect to find either motor among a list of Engine of the Year candidates, though they are likeable.
While the CX-30 G20’s petrol engine isn’t bursting with vim, it offers good response and gets the job done if you’re not overly concerned about strong accelerative performance. It’s also quiet, and doesn’t sound unpleasant even when revved higher.
The auto works well, too, and will downshift a gear quickly on inclines without costing momentum. A Sport mode helps on windier, hillier roads.
Hyundai’s Kona also comes with a Sport mode, though even if you’re in Eco or Comfort there’s a relatively lively response at lower speeds. They’re the best modes, as Sport makes throttle response frenzied around town. It’s also not great at holding gears on windier country roads.
The Kona’s drivetrain is ultimately not as refined as the CX-30’s. The engine becomes coarser at higher revs and the auto isn’t as consistently smooth as the Mazda’s six-speeder.
Both engines will be sufficient for most buyers, though the CX-30 and Kona are available with more power for those with extra to spend.
The cheapest ticket into a CX-30 ‘G25’ model with a 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre engine is $36,490 for the Touring – adding all-wheel drive to the G25 Touring brings the total to $38,490.
Aside from a step up in power and torque, the $34,140 Kona Elite Turbo adds all-wheel drive as part of the package and brings a 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. However, it’s worth noting the Turbo model's seven-speed dual-clutch auto isn’t as smooth around town as the 2.0-litre’s conventional six-speed auto.
On the road
It’s easy to get comfortable in both cars, with supportive seats and plenty of manual adjustment – including height/reach adjust for the steering wheels. You sit a bit higher in the Kona, so its driving position is more SUV-like. They’re similarly easy to pilot around town with their light steering and tight turning circles.
The CX-30 also provides improved rear and over-shoulder vision than the 3 hatchback, though the rear headrests partially obscure the view out of the rear window.
Both could ride with greater comfort. The slightly firmer ride created by the Kona’s bigger, thinner-tyred wheels is less of an issue than its struggles to prevent temporary jolts to the cabin when traversing sharper and larger surface irregularities.
Mazda’s small SUV is much better at cushioning its occupants – helped by its very chubby, 65-profile tyres – but disappoints with its tendency to fidget excessively on typical urban roads. CX-30 models on bigger, 18-inch wheels provide significantly better compliance.
The CX-30’s tyres are heard more on coarser surfaces, but are generally much quieter than the Kona’s, further adding to the Mazda’s higher level of refinement. Our Kona test car also emitted occasional buzzes from the driver's side of the dash.
The Mazda is also the more enjoyable steer for those times when you encounter Tourist Route signs.
Although both models sit 30mm higher off the ground than their small-car donors, the CX-30 doesn’t feel markedly different to how a Mazda 3 tackles twisty roads. It turns in keenly, body roll is minimal, and the CX-30 feels particularly light on its feet in this base specification. There’s also decent grip from the 16-inch tyres.
The Kona handles competently. Its steering just isn’t quite as sweet as the Mazda’s, it bobs over short-wave undulations where the Mazda is more settled, and it doesn’t feel quite as poised as its rival.
Over a five-year period, there’s not a lot in it between maintenance costs. A Hyundai dealer will charge you about $1420 in total for five annual visits; a Mazda dealer will ask $1635 (plus a bit extra for brake fluid and air-filter replacement every 40,000km).
If you typically drive more than 10,000km a year, however, Mazda’s shorter intervals will increase that gap. Hyundai offers an extra 5000km (15,000km) for its mileage limit.
Official fuel consumption figures point to the CX-30 G20 Pure as the slightly more economical vehicle – 6.5 litres per 100km versus the Kona 2.0-litre FWD’s 7.2L/100km.
Our testing suggested this is much closer in the real world, where both cars registered an average 7.5L/100km on their trip computers after a long run involving mainly suburban roads, but also country roads and the freeway. Expect both to run easily into the 8.0L/100km-plus bracket if you drive predominantly in the suburbs/city.
Both brands back their cars with five-year warranties.
How much is a higher seating position worth? It’s an important question in the case of these two compact SUVs/crossovers, because they struggle to justify their premiums over their (slightly larger) hatchback relatives.
But for those who simply can’t resist the temptation of extra elevation and hatch-meets-SUV design, which of this duo should you spend your $30,000-plus on?
The Hyundai Kona is a solid small-SUV offering that’s likeable and visually appealing, helped by the Elite’s 17-inch alloy wheels and sportier rubber that look more expensive than the CX-30 Pure’s smaller rims and chubbier tyres.
Setting aside that the CX-4 would be a seemingly more effective and certainly more logical badge (who cares about a random model no-one outside of China will see), the CX-30 leads its rival in almost every respect.
Overall, it’s also a more convincing small SUV than the CX-3, if still not great for families. If the CX-30 suits your needs, we'd just recommend stepping up to the G20 Evolve that isn't much more expensive but a much nicer (leather) steering wheel and a more comfortable ride.