Having driven both engines back to back, it’s easy to see why the SkyActiv-X is angling to be the favourite here in Britain. The 118bhp engine is by all means a sweet little unit - being both responsive and refined - but it also feels a bit gutless.
There’s very little torque low down, and any episodes of meaningful acceleration are always preceded by a need to frantically row your way down through the ratios on the standard-fit manual 'box. The fact that it’s a tactile, slick operator does help you forgive the engine’s lack of punch, but the need to constantly downshift does grate when you want to perform a swift overtaking manoeuvre on the motorway.
By comparison, the SkyActiv-X immediately feels far more muscular. There’s more readily available torque through the mid-range, and the rate at which it picks up pace is much more reassuring at open-road speeds; but as with its less-powerful counterpart it’s still not too keen on being revved all the way out. It’s also worth a mention that - next to some of the more conventional turbocharged engines you might find in its rivals - it still doesn’t feel quite as keen to get to work.
Still, in typical Mazda fashion the CX-30 marks itself out as one of the sweeter-to-drive cars in its class - despite Mazda itself claiming that it’s not really supposed to have too much of a sporting edge. Nevertheless, the weight of its steering is very well judged and impressively precise, while its front end changes direction with a dash more spriteliness than is normal in this sector. Body control is fairly tightly controlled too, while ride comfort is good enough to escape serious criticism. It certainly errs more towards the firm side of things, and isn’t immune to thumps and bumps, but it generally feels nicely settled and composed, and isn’t overly susceptible to agitation.
Interior space isn’t too flash, though. Those sat in the rear will find headroom is merely ok, while taller adults will inevitably have to straddle the front seatbacks to fit comfortably. Bootspace only comes in at 422 litres, which isn’t bad but not necessarily outstanding either. A Volkswagen T-Roc, by comparison, has 455 litres.
That said, like its 3 hatchback compatriot, the design appeal and material quality of the CX-30’s cabin is very impressive. It’s a clean, minimal aesthetic, and one that helps mark the Mazda out as one of the classier cars in its class - even against the likes of the BMW X2 or Audi Q2.