2020 Mazda CX-30 vs. 2020 Mazda 3 hatchback: Compare Cars

April 2, 2020

Mazda has presented a curious case with its small cars. Following the evolutionary chart of the Mazda3 hatchback leads to a split in what we can now call the Crossover Era. While the lovable Mazda3 continues on one trajectory, the split presents a new subspecies known as the CX-30 subcompact crossover. The CX-3 exists in that split, a small knuckle-dragging step behind, but the larger CX-30 is better adapted to thrive in the American concrete jungle. 

New for 2020, the CX-30 offers inhabitants a taller ride height, a larger footprint, and a bit more cargo room than the genetically related 2020 Mazda3 hatchback. Is that enough to let it proliferate with car shoppers? Or, will the fun-to-drive nature of the Mazda3 continue to nurture it?

We do not ask in vain. According to our TCC Ratings, the 2020 Mazda3 outdoes the CX-30 by nearly a point, with the stalwart earning a 6.7 and the newcomer a 5.8. The score for the Mazda3 factors in the sedan, which has much better outward visibility than the hatch, while the score for the CX-30 does not include a safety rating since it has yet to undergo the evolutionary shock known as crash-testing. Those differences would narrow that one-point gap. 

There’s much more to it than the numbers, however, so what follows is a breakdown of those key distinguishing traits to help decide which one to domesticate. 

MORE: Read our 2020 Mazda CX-30 and 2020 Mazda 3 full reviews

Style and performance

Back here in the real world of car shopping, the CX-30 has one thing in abundance over the Mazda3: plastic body cladding. It covers the front and rear bumpers, rocker panels, wheel arches, all in the name of rugged American individualism. Or something. Other than that, with their wide grilles and narrow headlights, snub noses with short overhangs, and attractive flowing body lines, they could almost be twins. But the Mazda3 is more pinched at the rear, rounded like a mouse controller while the CX-30 has a more traditional crossover shape that makes for better cargo space even though it’s three inches shorter. 

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 is five inches taller and rides 1.5 inches higher off the ground than the Mazda3. The Mazda3 has a longer wheelbase, and a slightly wider rear track. Being lower to the ground and stretched out for balance is what makes it fun to drive. Both vehicles use MacPherson struts up front with springs and a rear torsion beam in back. Critics say some of the sportiness in the Mazda3 left along with the independent suspension, but that would be hard to notice in most everyday driving situations.

Both are powered by a 186-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission powering the front wheels. All-wheel drive is available for $1,400, and the Mazda3 hatchback in top Premium trim can be had with an excellent but endangered 6-speed manual. With a sizable engine for this class, the CX-30 can tend to the louder side when pushed, but once it hits 4,000 rpm the power comes on strong. Sport modes will delay the shift points, and for drivers who enjoy driving, the centered steering, balanced handling, and churning engine will satisfy in either application. When it comes to handling, the CX-30 can only roll its eyes and body. The Mazda3 wins.

As much power and efficiency as Mazda has squeezed out of this engine, even with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation, it is average when it comes to fuel economy. The CX-30 gets an EPA-rated 25 mpg city, 33 highway, 28 combined with front-wheel drive; the Mazda3 with the automatic rates better at 26/35/30 mpg as a front-drive hatchback. 

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2019 Mazda 3 - Best Car To Buy 2020

Comfort, safety, and features

Here too, the similarities exceed the differences. Both offer well-bolstered seats shod in synthetic leather or better on all but the base trim. Rear seats are roomier in the CX-30 thanks to the higher roof, and rear visibility is much better than in the Mazda3 hatch. Even though cargo volume is nearly the same, the CX-30 is more practical because of the more vertical shape of the liftgate. You can stack more. We could carpool to hockey practice by stacking two bags in the back and having the sticks ride shotgun. We couldn’t do that in the Mazda3.

2019 Mazda 3 - first drive - Los Angeles, January 2019

2019 Mazda 3 - first drive - Los Angeles, January 2019

Mazda has pushed a premium feel in its cars recently, and that’s most evident in the tuxedo black Preferred and Premium trims. Base models of the CX-30 start at $23,000, while the Mazda3 hatchback is about $1,500 more. Both come with cloth upholstery, power locks, and an 8.8-inch infotainment display controlled by a dial in the console. Step up to Select trim and get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, 18-inch wheels, synthetic leather upholstery, and keyless ignition for about $1,200 more than the base model. That’s where we’d go for either, even though base models come with active safety features including automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

2020 Mazda CX-30

2020 Mazda CX-30

We expect the CX-30 to mimic crash-test results of the Mazda3, which earned a top five-star rating from the NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick from the IIHS.

Both the 2020 Mazda CX-30 and 2020 Mazda3 hatchback come well-equipped and offer a sporty alternative to their rivals. Much more than numbers, the difference between the two comes down to feel. The Mazda3 is better for drivers who like to drive, while the CX-30 is the more practical everyday vehicle. Options like that support a healthy evolutionary chain.


Summary

6.7
Expert Rating
The Mazda 3 punches above its weight class with an upmarket interior, good handling, and optional all-wheel drive.
6.2
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda CX-30 is a right-sized small crossover with good looks that’s the most fun to drive among its competitors.

Styling

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 is divine as a sedan, but a little awkward as a hatchback.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
A follow-up hit to other follow-up hits, the CX-30 is the latest in a long line of good-looking Mazdas.
Read More

Performance

7.0
Expert Rating
Sporty handling, balanced ride, peppy enough powertrains earn the 2020 Mazda 3 a 7 out of 10.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda CX-30 is more fun to drive than cars that cost twice as much.
Read More

Comfort & Quality

6.0
Expert Rating
Premium appointments, a sports car-grade seating position, and comfortable seats set the 2020 Mazda 3 apart from the compact car norm.
Read More
6.0
Expert Rating
More space, more comfortable, and more quiet: The 2020 CX-30 rights some of the CX-3’s wrongs.
Read More

Safety

8.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 has done well in crash tests and this year all versions come loaded up with collision-avoidance tech.
Read More
8.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 CX-30 has received top crash-test scores and comes with standard active safety tech.
Read More

Features

7.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 offers good features, as it should for a price that is a tick or two above the compact-car norm.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
A few missing small features on the Mazda CX-30 keep it from scoring higher.
Read More

Fuel Economy

5.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 delivers just so-so fuel economy.
Read More
5.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 CX-30 manages about 28 mpg combined.
Read More

MSRP

from $21,500
from $21,900

Invoice

from $20,565
from $21,275

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

30
28

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L
Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.5 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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