For at least the last half-decade if not longer, Mazdas have usually been reviewed as vehicles on top of their game in looks, build quality, and their fun to drive aspect. Note that possessing powerful engines wasn’t usually an attribute listed there. While fuel efficiency was generally quite good, the performance tradeoffs in most of the lineup often had reviewers withholding that last ratings star. Mazda finally did something about that when they released their SkyActiv-G 2.5liter turbo engine and started making it available in all of their newer models bar the Miata; and every Mazda that they’ve sent our way has had it.
Being a smaller automaker means that the budgets are a little tighter and things need to stretch further, not that you’d know it by driving any single Mazda. In the case of the turbo engine that’s a welcome thing though as while most other makers would develop and use a smaller variant in their smaller offerings, Mazda found it more expedient to simply offer the same relatively large engine in their newest small crossover, the CX-30, which effectively replaces the CX-3.
That CX-3 is actually still available this year, however now only in one solitary trim level; it’s hard to imagine that it will stick around much longer. The new CX-30 really takes up where that one leaves off, refining everything ever so much and making the look as modern as the rest of the lineup while still offering it at a base level price of $23,225 including the destination charge. Even at that level there’s still some pizzazz with the interior having a two-color motif that interestingly does not just use the seats as one of the main points of contrast.
However, a reviewer’s lot in life is never to be able to actually get a base-level vehicle delivered to them and such it was in this case with our CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus ranking at the top of the seven (!) available trim levels, the top three of them being endowed with this same engine that we’ve become quite familiar with over the last year.
The one bone they did toss out is to not have this car sent in the same Machine Gray Metallic as the earlier CX-5, CX-9, and Mazda3 were, but rather this one came in a hue named Polymetal Gray Metallic, which is another dark gray, however depending on the light it changes color quite a bit from blue to various shades of gray, thus adding more visual interest. It’d be hard though to pass up the Deep Crystal Blue Mica or especially the stunning (a word I do not use lightly or often) Soul Red Crystal Metallic were I to spec one for myself.
Setting the CX-30 apart a bit from the rest of the lineup is the very liberal use of black plastic around the wheel arches and especially the bumpers, more so than in the other models but in line with what the older CX-3 has. Having had a recent experience wherein a minor bumper incident involving a family member cost a shockingly large amount of money to rectify, an (in theory at least) easier to simply replace molded flat black rear bumper instead of multiple painted pieces has all of a sudden become quite attractive.
As the smallest Mazda crossover, it does carry all of the styling cues of its larger siblings. The large, expressive grille is there with its sharp leading edge, a fairly upright front end follows it and leads to a sculpted body that doesn’t have a ton of what people might term weird surface angle changes, and then terminates in a pert rounded rear end.
Lighting is used as jewelry, but of the high quality less is more type rather than jangly costume stuff; the headlights look smaller than what might be expected, the front accent lights below are very minimalistic, and the tail lights are superbly interesting in shape, design, and integration of the various lens colors.
Absolutely delightful are the rear LED turn signals that light amber, but are of some sort of multistage variety wherein the on/off flashing is not of the instantaneous standard LED variety but rather a smoothly staged process where it absolutely mimics an incandescent’s soft fade between illumination and darkness. Even more delightful, this carries over into the interior where the signal’s green indicator does the same exact thing, gently fading between pulses. Someone put a lot of thought into this and it is certainly worthy of recognition.
With the aforementioned large black expanses around the lower perimeter and the dark colored wheels, it carries a bit of the look of an urban hiking shoe, perhaps not an unwelcome parallel for a smaller vehicle that is well suited for tight spaces such as urban cores while carrying a slightly upscale aura.
Quantity of anything, specifically physical size, certainly has absolutely zero to do with the attendant quality of that offering (just as often the inverse is true), but something small and practical along with excellent attention to detail and little delightful aspects provides a certain je ne se quoi that transcends a price point and can make the monetary aspect less relevant. When the item in question then doesn’t actually cost a relatively huge amount, so much the better.
Getting in just reinforces that feeling. While this one was finished in two-toned black and brown leather seats, and had some of the door panel as well as dashboard and other surfaces also finished in the same brown hue, it wasn’t starkly contrasting, serving to accent rather than highlight the difference. The seat covers being perforated makes the color of the brown areas appear different in the photos, rest assured it works in harmony with the rest of it when viewed in person.
Although a small vehicle, the front seats of the cabin were remarkably spacious, my 6 foot 1 inch frame with 32 inch inseam had no issues getting comfortable and there was sufficient headroom below the sunroof frame for that aspect to be a non-issue. Supportive seats (heated) with a memory function and two position lumbar allowed a good position to be dialed in quickly, programmed for future reference and then forgotten about for the next week.
The steering wheel dead ahead (also heated) is of small diameter with a miniscule airbag hub and a lateral row of toggle switches with buttons below embedded in the horizontal spokes rendered in a metal/plastic combination with positive action for all. Gauges in Mazdas have lately been a paragon of simplicity and usability with the speedometer being a digital display that looks exactly like the other actual gauges in the triple-pod arrangement (tach, speedo, temp/fuel) but can be reconfigured to display differently.
While the “fade” aspect of the speedometer numbers segment that some of the other models we’ve seen had isn’t repeated here, the (moving) small red hash mark denoting the current speed limit is again used here along with its pull-a-thread like red indicator clearly showing how far in excess of the limit one is traveling at present, a fantastic touch.
Additionally, the distance to empty display mimics the fuel gauge showing how full the tank is; after all, while handy to know the tank is half full, vastly more handy is knowing what remaining driving distance that level will provide, the DTE display in the form of a gauge and number renders actually looking at the separate fuel gauge irrelevant.
Little things like that are welcome and appreciated every day and serve to remind the driver that the vehicle is an actual partner in the experience (the highest level it can be), not just a tool (conversely, the lowest level).
Wearing out its welcome is the current and latest version of Mazda’s infotainment system, while it’s a larger display (8.8″) with a more interesting shape set in a dash-mounted nacelle of its own (from the driver’s seat looking more integrated than just tacked on) it still operates with a sometimes aggravating cursor knob in the center console. That knob is of the highest quality and the action of it is excellent, that isn’t the issue, what is though is having to sort through multiple menus, click on some, dial on others, and eventually hope to find the desired function. It’s better than it was a generation ago, but as some others are starting to rethink the separate knob aspect and are bringing the screen closer in order to touch it instead, the hope is that this just starts getting phased out.
Of course there are quick-menu buttons around the knob for the commonly used major categories but that just gets one to a starting point or where one left off of each one. With time and continued use undoubtedly it would become second nature, the same as with similar systems in much more expensive brands (and this one isn’t inferior to those, just slightly different again). But without reading and learning the manual there is a learning curve, it is not intuitive and definitely less so than a regular touch screen.
Voice commands work in some instances but for example programming favorite radio stations so they appear in a particular order when others are already programmed in has no readily apparent procedure (Most touch screens for example simply have you press and hold the appropriate digital chiclet while on the desired channel and it overrides whatever was there before). I know it can be done as I managed it on a different Mazda recently but the procedure escaped me this time. Perhaps that’s nitpicky and not something a longer-term user/owner would face but there is an attraction to a vehicle that you can get into and simply use fully in regard to common items such as that.
The screen of course controls the navigation system (excellent), has the camera display (both fore and aft as well as the birds-eye view) with very good resolution, vehicle settings of all sorts, and the 12-speaker BOSE audio system with a myriad of configurations and settings that can be chosen. Suffice to say the audio quality was very good and left little to improve on.
Below the infotainment screen area is the wide horizontal sweep of the dash with really only the dual-zone automatic HVAC controls including the seat and steering wheel heat buttons incorporated into its leading edge. The knobs and buttons of that system are high quality items, extremely similar and perhaps even the same as in Mazda’s more expensive vehicles, certainly not cut-rate whatsoever. The experience in this generally mimics that of the vastly more expensive CX-9 for example.
Below that a solitary USB plug (there are more in the console bin between the seats) and then a decently sized well for a phone or whatever just ahead of the cupholders. Curiously there was no wireless charging mat, a nowadays fairly common accessory, at least on upper level trims.
Having transitioned to the horizontal plane of the console and moving aft there is the gearshifter, a traditional sort with a left-hand gate for manual shifting (as well as the option to use the shift paddles behind the steering wheel). To the left of it is a small toggle to engage Sport Mode, and behind that is the electric parking brake actuator and the cursor knob.
And finally the bin which is under an elbow pad that moves fore and aft but won’t tilt open unless pushed all the way rearward first. It won’t fit a gallon of milk or anything like that but is easily sufficient for smaller items such as sunglasses, wallets, and the daily bric-a-brac that tends to accumulate in spaces such as these.
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