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If any firm can make a Nissan Qashqai rival exciting, surely it’s Mazda? We've been finding out
James Disdale
26 April 2021

Why we ran it: To see if the CX-30’s sleek style and driver-focused dynamics make it stand out in the congested family SUV class

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Prices and specs

Life with a Mazda CX-30: Month 3

Has the Japanese brand’s late entry into a crowded class done enough to win us over? It’s time to find out - 14 April 2021

Do the best things come to those who wait? That was the question we hoped to answer when our CX-30 arrived late last year. Considerably late to the increasingly crowded compact crossover class, Mazda was hoping that its first effort would have the talent and tenacity to offset the fact that it would have to fight harder than most to get your attention.

I’ll cut to the chase and reveal that if, like us, you enjoy driving above all else, the CX-30 deserves serious consideration if you’re in the market for a high-riding family car. There were a number of reasons why, but perhaps the most compelling was how much better to drive the CX-30 was than its crossover compadres.

As it has with all of its current models, Mazda really has managed to distil the spirit of its MX-5 into the CX-30. From the deliciously mechanical gearshift through to the accurate steering and surprisingly biddable handling, it’s always a pleasure to drive. So well-honed are the controls, and so satisfying were they to use, that even a sedate run to the shops elicited more smiles than some harder-driven journeys in faster but less engaging so-called ‘performance’ cars. Really.

Yet there’s more to it than that. The car looks great: its taut lines, sharp creases and unusual concave surfaces drew a surprising amount of attention, which is unusual for what’s essentially a jacked-up family hack. Perhaps a bolder colour than Deep Crystal Blue (it always looked better after a wash and polish) would do the shape even more justice, but few, if any, rivals have a more arresting design.

The flair continues inside, where the CX-30 feels more expensive than its £25,540 price would have you believe. Its flowing dashboard looks great, while most of the materials bear more than a passing comparison to those used in pricier premium models. Sport Lux’s cloth seat trim is a little scratchy, but it’s also hard-wearing and its stiction properties hold you more firmly in place than the leather upgrade of the GT Sport.

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Car review

The 3-based Mazda CX-30 is the first SUV based on the Japanese brand’s latest hardware

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It’s a little dark inside, with the shallow side windows and predominantly black trim giving a slightly claustrophobic feel, but there was space enough for my growing family, plus the surprisingly low-set driving position (there’s only a 20mm ride-height increase over the 3 hatchback) is comfortable. Special mention has to go to the infotainment, with its screen set high on the dashboard and intuitive rotary control behind the gearlever.

Infinitely easier to use than most touchscreens, it also benefited from Apple CarPlay that never failed to sync with my phone (unlike the stuttering connections of some). Niggles were few and far between.

The need to disable the slightly overeager lane-keeping assistance every time I got in was at least tempered by the fact this operation required little more than a quick prod of a well-sighted button, while the ability of the rear screen (and reversing camera lens) to attract dirt meant the view aft was often obscured. Curiously, not once did the start-stop system ever spring into life, and the shrill beep every time I opened the powered tailgate never failed to grate.

I had expected the naturally aspirated 2.0-litre engine’s lack of low-speed urgency to irritate, but it was never an issue. The mild-hybrid starter-generator gives just enough low-rev assistance to offset any lethargy, and as the engine loosened up, it became more responsive.

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For those used to torquey turbodiesels or lightly-boosted low-capacity petrols, the CX-30 might feel a little anaemic. It requires some work to extract all the performance, but it’s always eager, and that crisp, quick manual gearchange means the effort is never a chore. Plus, in our time with the car, it returned a very creditable 40.1mpg, which isn’t at all shabby for a bluff-fronted SUV with a fairly big petrol engine.

My biggest issue with the CX-30, then, is the existence of the very closely related 3. In fairness, much of what I’m about to say is true of most compact crossovers, so this is as much a slight against the genre as the CX-30 in particular. But in the 3, Mazda has a car that’s even better to drive, more efficient, every bit as roomy and costs less to buy. If these off-roader-tinged machines offered even a dash of go-anywhere ability, it might be enough to offset their on-road compromises and higher prices. But they’re as likely to get as stuck in the rough as any normal Tarmac-dwelling runaround.

Still, it’s a mark of the CX-30’s abilities that thoughts of swapping it for a 3 became less frequent as the miles rolled by (not that were as many of those as I would have liked, given the lockdown). And while it isn’t a fast car or one that offers a deeply immersive driving experience, it was a satisfying device to drive day in, day out, and that counts for a lot.

That it’s handsome, cost-effective to run and practical only makes it all the more appealing. If you’re in the market for a small crossover, it should absolutely be on your shortlist. It would certainly find itself atop mine.

Second Opinion

Mazda always does things differently, as evidenced by the CX-30: a crossover that looks great, drives wonderfully and feels more premium than its list price would have you believe. It’s no mean feat to tick so many boxes; not many of its main rivals are this well-rounded.

Felix Page

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Love it:

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Gearbox Six-speed manual is a delight to use, with a crisp and precise action, and the clutch is light and progressive

headlights The bright and wide beam of the standard Matrix LED lights reacts quickly to other road users.

engine It’s no powerhouse, but Mazda’s mild-hybrid petrol unit is smooth, tractable and impressively efficient.

Loathe it:

flimsy doors Overall quality Mazda is great, but the lightweight Skyctiv build means the doors shut with a tinny clang.

start stop Not a dislike as such, but the start- stop system hasn’t functioned once, regardless of time spent stopped.

Final mileage: 2530

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Looks the part, but winter tells a different story - 10 March 2021

Few weather conditions so cruelly expose the disconnect between a crossover’s ready-for-anything SUV styling and its real-life capability as snow. With just two-wheel drive and summer tyres, our Mazda was no more effective in the recent wintry spell than any normal family hatch. But its heated seats are some of the fiercest I’ve encountered.

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Mileage: 2075

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Life with a Mazda CX-30: Month 2

It blends in with all those crossovers… but it drives like no other - 24 February 2020

There’s nothing like standing out in a crowd, right? Believe the adverts and choosing a compact crossover will mark you out as an adventure-seeking individual who won’t be bound by convention; yet as the picture above shows, the reality is rather more humdrum. Swing into almost any suburban parking space today and it’s virtually guaranteed that you will be slotting into a line of SUV-tinged family hatchbacks, none of them having tackled anything more terrifying than the school run.

Yet the more time I spend with our Mazda CX-30, the more I’m reminded why these things are so damned popular. The marginally raised ride height makes it a little easier to see out of and a touch more straightforward to load people and things into; and while they’re all a touch bigger on the outside than the traditional hatchbacks that underpin them, these machines are pretty much just as wieldy to steer and cost as little to run.

As we predicted when it arrived, though, where the CX-30 really has one over on its rivals is its ability to throw driver delight into the mix. Perhaps it’s the effects of lockdown limitations on travel making any chance to drive something to relish, but I genuinely look forward to outings in the Mazda. Its increasingly rare blend of naturally aspirated engine, linear throttle response and delightfully snappy manual gearshift (there are bona fide sports cars that can’t match it in this regard) allow you to revel in the act of simply making a car go. It’s a surprisingly heady combination and one that allows you take satisfaction from even the most mundane journeys.

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Sure, the 118bhp four-pot is no firebrand, but now that it’s run in, it’s proving that power isn’t everything. Yes, I have to wring its neck when I’m really in a rush, but it sounds good in a raspy sort of way, plus there’s something quite liberating about really extending an engine through the gears without having to keep one eye glued to the speedometer.

In fact, the only time that I really miss the muscle of turbocharged rivals is on the motorway, where sixth-gear roll-on acceleration is glacial, particularly when there’s an incline. It’s not that the engine lacks outright torque, but the 157lb ft peak doesn’t arrive until 4000rpm, which in the tall-striding top gear equates to somewhere well north of 100mph. On the plus side, a snifter over 40mpg isn’t a bad return for a 2.0-litre atmo petrol, particularly one that has spent a lot of time on short hops.

Get onto interesting roads and the CX-30 is more at home. Like any crossover, it’s not as eager to dive in to corners as its hatchback cousins, while springs and dampers that have been stiffened to cope with the increased roll rate induced by the jacked-up suspension result in a slightly more jarring ride, particularly over sharper blemishes.

Yet there’s more pleasure to be had here than with most, and once you’ve learned not to be too aggressive with your inputs, the CX-30 flows down the road with surprising poise and polish, the slick steering delivering just enough information and the well-spaced pedals allowing you to heel-and-toe to your heart’s content.

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Okay, it’s no Caterham, but if you want to have a bit of fun as well as haul around a family, the CX-30 is proving that it’s most definitely the pick of the crossover class. Provided that you can find it in the car park...

Love it:

Rorty idle The MX-5 genes aren’t limited to the gearbox: the engine has a similarly rorty idle from cold. It’s incongruous but makes me smile.

Loathe it:

Mud sticks The upright tail means that when it’s wet, road grime is sucked onto the back, rendering the reversing camera useless within minutes.

Mileage: 1942

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ADAS annoyances are easily remedied - 3 February 2020

As in most modern motors, the CX30’s driver aids can’t be turned off permanently, always leaping back to life when you switch on the ignition. This includes the nervy lane-keeping assistance, which starts tugging at the wheel at even the smallest hint of a white line. Happily, disengaging it requires only a simple button push rather than the increasingly common deep dive into sub-menus.

Mileage: 1778

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Similarities with a Porsche? Yes, really - 13 January 2020

You’d have thought a day with the new manual Porsche 911 would make a return to the Mazda a let-down. Not for long, though. Obviously, it lacks the 911’s punch and poise, but the measured weighting of its controls and the slick precision of its manual gearbox suggest that the engineers in Zuffenhausen and Hiroshima have similar driver-focused values.

Mileage: 1574

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Life with a Mazda CX-30: Month 1

Welcoming the CX-30 to the fleet - 30 December 2020

By its own admission, Mazda has arrived somewhat late to the SUV party, the company that’s famed for the light and lithe MX-5 roadster perhaps being a little unnerved by the ever-increasing clamour for these larger, heftier and less efficient vehicles. But like many slow starters, it’s making up for lost time and has launched an array of rugged crossovers in the past few years, including the electric MX-30.

Yet arguably the most important addition is this: the CX-30, which represents Mazda’s first foray into the fiercely fought family crossover class. It’s here that the big sales numbers are racked up, and it’s also where the competition is at its stiffest, with talented contenders such as the Volkswagen T-Roc, the Seat Ateca and, of course, the Nissan Qashqai – the car that started it all and is a more-or-less permanent fixture in the top 10 sellers chart.

So, has the wait for the CX-30 been worth it, and does it deserve to take a significant slice of the crossover cake? That’s what we will be finding out over the coming months.

What are its chances? Well, Mazda claims to have injected the CX-30 with both a healthy dose of its trademark diverting driving dynamics and a generous dollop of desirable design. And based purely on looks, our mid-range Sport Lux model should be in with a shout of significant sales success.

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Effectively a jacked-up derivative of the handsome 3 hatchback, the CX-30 features similarly attention-seeking style, with an arresting blend of curves and creases. Of course, there’s the obligatory black-plastic cladding for the wheel arches (filled with standard 18in alloys on our car) and a raised ride height, although at 1540mm tall the CX-30 is a little lower than most, which no doubt helps in delivering its sleek profile.

It’s on the outside that you will find the only optional extra we’ve specified: the £550 Deep Crystal Blue Mica metallic paint. It’s an interesting shade, looking almost black in dull conditions and only at its deep, shimmery best when exposed to direct sunlight.

Although the exterior is completely different from that of the donor car, the two are more or less identical inside. That’s no bad thing, though, because the 3’s roomy cabin comes close to matching more expensive premium models for slick design and classy finish. Some of the plastics lower down are of the look-but-don’t-touch variety, but everywhere else it’s soft-touch materials, knurled metal knobs and glossy TFT screens.

The dashboard is particularly easy on the eye, with the cowled surround for the dials looking quite a lot like the one you get in the Porsche 911. No really, it does.

And the instruments it contains look great too, with clear white-on-black graphics and delicate needles. Importantly, for me at least, the infotainment screen is ideally sited on top of the dashboard and is operated by a rotary controller set on the transmission tunnel, making it easier to use on the move than the usual touchscreen.

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If there’s an oddity, it’s that the controls for the heating and ventilation are angled slightly away from the driver and towards the front seat passenger instead. Still, you’re not left wanting for kit, with a headup display, heated seats, adaptive LED headlights, keyless entry and, well, the list goes on. It’s easy to see why the options list is so short.

What about under the bonnet? We’ve already run Mazda’s novel Skyactiv-X engine (a petrol unit that uses spark plugs as well as diesel-style compression ignition) in the 3, so this time we’ve plumped for the 120bhp 2.0-litre Skyactiv-G unit, complete with cylinder deactivation and Mazda’s mild-hybrid system.

Essentially, this extends to a powerful starter-generator that harvests lost energy during braking and ploughs it into a compact 24V battery, from where it can be used to provide a small amount of electrical torque-fill at low engine speeds. Mated to this technology-packed four-pot is a good old-fashioned six-speed manual gearbox that transmits drive to the front wheels (it may look slightly rugged but, like most crossovers, this Mazda is made purely for taming Tarmac).

So what’s it like to drive? Well, in these movement-restricted times, I’ve managed to put only a few miles under the CX-30’s wheels in the weeks since it arrived, but initial impressions are good. Mazda has a hard-won reputation for delivering cars that are engaging to drive, and even in the first few metres behind the wheel you can tell there has been a determined attempt to infuse the CX-30 with at least a semblance of the MX-5’s spirit.

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You obviously don’t sit as low (although your behind feels closer to the ground than in other crossovers), but the driving position is spot on, the gearshift has a deliciously mechanical feel and the steering is precise and well-weighted. It’s also quiet and composed at speed, the ride being noisily upset only by sharp ridges and gnarlier potholes.

With only a few hundred miles on the clock, the engine is still bedding in, but it’s impressively smooth and refined, plus that mild-hybrid system delivers just enough assistance to offset the low-speed lethargy that afflicted non-electrified versions of this unit.

You still need to work the 2.0-litre hard for the best results, but it revs so keenly and without any harshness that extending it is never a chore.

It’s a positive start for the CX-30, then, which on first acquaintance feels like it has been designed to appeal to people like us in a way that many rivals don’t. It hasn’t got my blood racing just yet, but there are signs that it could prove to be a very satisfying family chariot.

Second Opinion

I was really rather fond of the CX-30 when I first drove it last year. The interior was stylish, the control weights were good and the driving position was spot on. It steered really quite sweetly too, although its ride could be a bit fussy at times. I’m sure that James will get along with it just fine – provided its relatively gutless engine doesn’t drive him up the wall.

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Simon Davis

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Mazda CX-30 Skyactiv-G MHEV Sport Lux specification

Prices: List price new £25,540 List price now £25,540 Price as tested £26,090

Options:Metallic paint (Deep Crystal Blue) £550

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 47.9mpg Fuel tank 51 litres Test average 40.1mpg Test best 42.6mpg Test worst 37.6mpg Real-world range 450 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 10.6sec Top speed 116mph Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, petrol, plus 48V ISG Max power 118bhp Max torque 157lb ft Transmission 6-speed manual Boot capacity 430/1406 litres Wheels 7.0Jx18in, alloy Tyres 215/55 R18 Kerb weight 1377kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £226 pcm CO2 134g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £185.79 Running costs inc fuel £185.79 Cost per mile 11 pence Faults none

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Join the debate

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BritInToronto 26 February 2021

It's a shame and somewhat surprising that in the UK the CX-30 is only available with weedy engine options. 

Here in North America, there are 3 engines options for the CX-30. The base engine comes with 155 bhp and 150 lb-ft of torque, next is 186 bhp and 186 lb-ft of torque with the top spec being a turbo unit with up to 250 bhp and 320 lb-ft of torque. 

Having driven the base and the Turbo engines in a 3 Saloon I can tell you neither disappoint, especially the turbo which sounds and drives more like a naturally aspirated 6-Cylinder!

catnip 18 January 2021

I'm no SUV fan, but I'm sure many customers will be prepared to pay the extra for this over the 3 hatchback. You benefit from the same high quality interior, but don't have to put up with the cave like rear quarters nor the leaden exterior appearance.

xxxx 18 January 2021

Sky inactive at work again, not sure how a small suv 2 litre 4 pot with a mild hybrid can take nearly 11 seconds to get 60 and have so little torque, would not be so bad if the mpg was brilliant. These are 1980s figures.