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First drive: 2020 Mazda CX-30 small crossover is driven by details

December 13, 2019

As a carmaker, Mazda’s proudly majored in the minors. 

They’ll tell you as much, too. With the 2020 CX-30, Mazda’s American-sized small crossover is full of minutiae that defines the cars they make. 

Want details? The front passenger gets a perfectly placed grab handle that’s like sliding your right hand into a boxing glove. The brakes work with the steering and throttle to shift the car’s weight around corners imperceptibly, in milliseconds, for a better drive. The travel of the brake pedal is short and sweet with a firm grip filtering down through the 18-inch tires on most models. 

It’s those points that make the 2020 CX-30 the best driving crossover in its class. 

Our TCC Rating of 5.8 looks at the bigger picture, however. 

The CX-30’s attention to detail may skip some drivers’ worldviews, and Mazda’s insistence on building cars geared for the way they should be driven is sometimes at odds with the ways people actually drive. 

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

Take, for example, the standard 8.8-inch infotainment display and clickwheel controller in the CX-30. There are likely reams of data, a Criterion Collection of PowerPoint presentations, and a sea of data points that all show drivers are not only safer behind the wheel without a touchscreen, but also that interiors look better without an iPad bolted to the dash that other cars prefer right now. The 2020 Mazda CX-30 forgoes convention, and we’re not sure it’s better for it. (Smartphone software compatibility is a whole ‘nother, and we’ll get to that later.)

Same goes for the slightly lower stance of the CX-30, which is based on the Mazda 3 hatch. While the CX-30 has a taller ride height compared to the hatchback, it’s also lower than some of its competitors. That makes for a sportier drive without sacrificing a good view of the road ahead, but old knees may prioritize something different. 

That drive, by the way, is stellar. All CX-30s are powered by a 2.5-liter inline-4 that makes 182 horsepower paired to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It’s down a couple of forward gears compared to competitors that use 8- or 9-speeds shared with other automakers—Mazda goes it alone in many things that they do, for better or worse—and the CX-30’s efficiency is a little behind the curve compared to mega-sellers in its class. The Mazda CX-30 earned a 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined rating from the EPA for 2020, which is on par with some of its class but behind heavy-hitters such as Ford, Honda, and Toyota that offer hybrid powertrains. 

All-wheel drive is a $1,400 option on all Mazda CX-30s and seamlessly spins up the rear wheels when the fronts slip. An off-road button is new for 2020 and appears in other Mazda crossovers, but the CX-30 is no rock-crawler like the Jeep Renegade or trail-runner like the Subaru Crosstrek. The CX-30 is just hardy enough to take on a rutted two-track—if owners ever make it that far. 

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

Point for point, the CX-30 hits and misses, except for style—it’s all hits there. The CX-30’s looks are perhaps the best part, inside and out. It’s elegant and simple, with just enough chrome and flash to stand out at night. The CX-30 skips the Mazda 3’s taffy pulled rear end with an upright tail and tall stance. There’s more cladding under the doors on the CX-30 than we expected, but 18-inch wheels fill out the arches well and distract from the black molding underneath. 

Inside, the CX-30 is similarly elegant with smooth and soft vinyl surfaces, and on top trims, soft leather hides. It’s noticeably quieter inside than most of the CX-30’s competitors, and although the small inline-4 is sometimes taxed to pull off highway passes, it’s never buzzy or coarse. 

The backseat is spacious enough for 6-footers to sit behind other 6-footers, just. With 20 cubic feet of cargo room behind the second row, the CX-30 is versatile enough to be a crossover—but not much appreciably more spacious than the Mazda 3 hatch. Compared to the CX-3 crossover, the CX-30 is much larger, and even Mazda is bearish on the small crossover’s future in the U.S.

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

Our drives were limited to the top CX-30 Premium model with all-wheel drive, which costs $30,645 before a small number of options were applied. Soul Red paint, which is gorgeous and elegant, costs $595 extra. Better value can be found lower in the CX-30’s range, but not without some frustrations. 

An 8.8-inch screen is standard on all models, but smartphone software is bundled into a package with synthetic leather upholstery and bigger wheels for $2,000 more than the base price, which is $22,945, including destination charges. Heated seats aren’t a standalone option and are bundled into another package that costs $5,000 more than the base car, effectively making the popular option out of reach for many subcompact crossover buyers. 

Small niggles like that don’t warm our hearts and don’t find favor in our TCC Rating, but the CX-30’s drivability does. 

It’s the small things that make a big difference in the CX-30. For better or worse.

 

Mazda provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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