Mazda CX-30 Review
Mazda produces the compact CX-3 SUV and the Qashqai-rivalling CX-5 SUV, both of which are great cars. Sitting in the middle, ever so slightly larger than the CX-3 and ever so slightly smaller than the CX-5 is this, the, er, CX-30.
Why the unusual name? Mazda already makes a CX-4, which is based on a CX-5, but slightly larger. We don't get that China-specific here, possibly just to avoid confusion, but it means the obvious moniker isn’t available. CX-30 it is, then.
There’s no electric option, no plug-in hybrid and no performance model. The CX-30 isn’t trying to fill a niche that doesn’t exist, it’s just a regular family SUV, but it’s got some interesting engine tricks and distinctive design to make it stand out from the masses.
Select's rating score* - 3.7 / 5
The CX-30 appears to be utterly conventional, with little in the way of innovative features to separate it from the masses of compact SUVs that litter the market, but that’s to do the Mazda an injustice.
As it’s done with the rest of the range, Mazda has taken something sensible and added a sense of style and quality to it that lifts it above its competitors, or at least those this side of a German badge.
Distinctive styling sets the tone, with a body that’s elegant, smart and technical. Importantly, there’s nothing there to scare people off as you might find on, say, a Honda C-HR. Five trim levels allow some fettling of equipment, but even the most basic model comes well equipped and makes the CX-30 feel like a premium model.
There’s little to get excited about, but much to be very pleased with.
The technology hidden under the bonnet is the talking point for the CX-30. Or at least it would be if, in the real world, it wasn’t entirely unnoticeable. That’s a compliment to the engineers who have made some groundbreaking technology that improves economy, emissions, power and refinement almost entirely invisible.
You know some manufacturers would adorn their cars with ‘Skyactiv-X’ badges all over them but that’s not Mazda’s style. It just gets quietly on with the job of making quietly impressive cars. Only a small badge on the boot lid gives the game away.
Elsewhere, it’s a regular crossover or SUV that, again, just gets on with doing what it’s meant to do.
Two petrol engine options might sound stingy, but the tech-laden Skyactiv-X version promises diesel-like economy with petrol-powered refinement, and it mostly works out that way.
Both options are 2.0-litre units, and both have ever-so-mild hybrid systems installed to reduce CO2 emissions a little. The entry-level model, badged as Skyactiv-G, develops 122hp and 213Nm of torque, which is enough to power the front-wheel-drive model to 62mph in 10.6 seconds.
The attention grabber is the Skyactiv-X-powered model, with its 180hp output. This uses a technically impressive ignition system that promises diesel-like economy levels without sacrificing the refinement that you expect from a petrol motor.
How it all works is incredibly dull to anybody but an engineer, so bear with me for this cut-down minimalist version; the engine compresses the very lean fuel and air mixture in the cylinder far more than is normal, then uses a spark to ignite a small bubble of the mix. This raises the temperature, increases the pressure further, and causes the rest of the mix to ignite due to the pressure, burning more quickly and evenly than a regular engine, expanding as it does so and forcing the piston down.
This Spark Controlled Compression Ignition system offers, according to Mazda, “10 to 30 percent more torque” with “better fuel efficiency” than Mazda’s diesel engines, as well as “a power increase of 10 percent.”
With 180hp, the Skyactiv-X engine is certainly more powerful but, with 224Nm of torque, there’s little to gain in regular driving. Yes, the 0-62mph dash drops as low as 8.5 seconds but, somehow, it doesn’t feel as lively, with a lethargic, sluggish response at low revs.
While the stopwatch favours the more powerful model, the reality is there’s little to choose between them on the road. Both will impress with how they drive, though, thanks to a fine driving position that allows you to feel much of what’s happening beneath you, precise steering that weights up nicely as speeds increase, and a chassis that provides secure, engaging, predictable handling without wrecking the ride quality.
The promises made by the Skyactiv-X engine are bold but, largely, accurate. However, while it does offer improved economy and power over the more traditional Skyactiv-G engine, there’s little in it.
Mazda’s figures suggest the regular car will return up to 45.6mpg, while the high-tech X model improves that to just 47.9mpg. In the real world, unless you’re thrashing the living daylights out of the car, there’ll be little to tell between them.
Choosing an automatic hits economy, too, increasing fuel usage by between five and 10 percent. There’s also a four-wheel-drive option that takes another chunk off, but none of the options could ever be considered thirsty.
At their best (which means a Skyactiv-X car with front-wheel drive and a manual gearbox) CO2 emissions sit at 133g/km, which means a BIK rate of 29% for company car users. The same engine with four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox pushes that to 160g/km, the highest in the range, which translates to a 35% BIK rate. Of course, as all the engine options are petrol-powered, there’s no diesel uplift.
Service costs tend to be reasonable at Mazda dealers, and you’ll only need to visit them every 12,500 miles or once a year. However, the three-year, 60,000-mile warranty looks a bit paltry compared to the five and seven-year options from its Japanese and Korean rivals.
Mazda has been turning out high-quality, stylish interiors for a few years now. At first glance, they’re arguably a little plain, eschewing the fancy diamond touch-panels you’ll find in a Golf, or the (admittedly smart) piano key switches installed in modern Peugeots.
Instead, you’ll find a cabin that’s simple, elegant and usable. Material quality is high, with plenty of soft-touch fake leather, pretend aluminium highlights and fabrics that feel hard-wearing yet plush. You would be forgiven for thinking the CX-30 comes from a premium German brand and, in places, it’s even better.
The instrument binnacle houses a trio of dials that are the definition of clarity - BMW, take note - and lend a calming air to the car. Above the dashboard sits the 8.8-inch infotainment screen that is generally unremarkable, but it’s housed in a plastic casing that’s angled slightly and has some curves to the edges, making it look like it’s leaning towards the driver. A small detail but, compared to the square slabs thoughtlessly placed atop most interiors, it’s a dash of style that makes a significant difference.
Interestingly, the screen isn’t a touchscreen. The system is operated by a rotary dial between the seats which, combined with a reasonably obvious menu system and big, clear selections on-screen, makes it easy to operate. Mazda contends that it’s a safer system than trying to tap a point on a screen while driving, and I’m included to agree. Of course, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are both installed as standard.
The only criticism you can make is that it can be a tad dark inside unless you specify the light ‘stone’ leather trim option. That’s not necessarily a good idea for families with small children, of course.
That aside, for a car with a starting price of less than £23,000, the combined effect of form and function is exemplary.
There’s a game of two halves going on here, with the front of the CX-30 being a wonderful environment to spend your time. There’s plenty of room to stretch out, and enough adjustment in the seats and steering wheel to get the perfect driving position.
A wide centre armrest keeps you away from your neighbour, while headroom is plentiful. As the CX-30 makes a stab at being an SUV, it’s also jacked up a little, making entry and exit a little easier.
The other half of the car is less convincing. Tiny rear doors open to reveal rear seats that are more compact than you might be hoping for. Headroom is a little tight, while legroom runs very short for all but kids, and asking three adults to squeeze in would be considered cruel and unusual punishment in many countries.
Still, it’s beautifully presented and well equipped, with air vents for the climate control, a couple of cupholders and LED lighting, although the privacy glass on higher-spec models can make it feel a little dark.
The boot is competitively sized, the 430-litres of capacity being the same as you’ll find in a Nissan Qashqai, although it looks a little tight compared to the Skoda Karoq’s 521-litres provision. Opt for the GT-Sport specification with its impressive Bose sound system and the subwoofer steals eight of those litres, reducing capacity a little more.
The floor is fixed and low, maximising capacity but also leaving a hefty lip to lug heavy items over. The rear seats also split and fold, leaving an almost flat floor.
Something is reassuring about driving a car with exemplary safety, and the 99% score for adult occupant protection that the CX-30 achieved in Euro NCAP testing hasn’t been bettered. As you would expect with that start, the Mazda was awarded a full five-star mark.
Safety kit is extensive and, apart from a couple of small exceptions, standard across the entire range. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, speed limit assist, lane-keeping aid and lane departure warning systems, and even radar-controlled cruise control are fitted to every car, along with automatic LED headlights and windscreen wipers.
The top of the range GT Sport Tech model adds a camera-operated driver monitoring programme, front cross-traffic alert and an extended automatic emergency braking system.
When the starting point of the range includes items such as heated mirrors, LED headlights and European navigation, you know the options list will be short. It’s so short, it technically doesn’t exist, with just paint choices to be made.
Everything else is a dealer-fitted accessory, although there are a couple that you might choose to add. A wireless charger for your smartphone is available, which slots into the centre storage box under the armrest, although the £207 it costs would buy you a lot of USB cables.
More useful could be the cargo system available for £366. This adds a false floor in the boot, reducing the lip height and providing hidden storage. It also offers flexibility, folding and sliding to create some separate areas in the boot to keep your cargo secure and stable.
If you want anything other than white paint, it’ll cost you, with prices starting at £570. Fancy that glorious Soul Red metallic paint that you’ll see in every photo of the car? That’s an extra £810.
Beyond that, any extras you want will need to be chosen by carefully picking the right model, from SE-L and SE-Lux, through Sport Lux and onto GT Sport and GT Sport Tech. The mid-spec model offers a fine balance of cost and equipment, gaining plenty of extra toys such as adaptive headlights, a powered tailgate and an electric sunroof.
Virtually every car is a rival for the CX-30, especially as there are so many formidable hatchback and compact SUV options to choose from. The Mazda is a style led option though, rather than being the most practical option, which limits the field a little.
The SEAT Ateca offers more space and practicality, comes loaded with just as much equipment, and has a distinctive style that might well appeal. A range of decent engines and a well-sorted chassis also means it’ll keep up on country roads. The dull interior and cheap materials can’t match the Mazda’s premium ambience, though.
Volkswagen’s T-Roc is every bit as distinctive, with the added benefit of offering plenty of customisation options. It’s also got some strong engines and a well-sorted chassis, but the ride quality can suffer and prices can get steep.
Even more expensive is the Volvo XC40, but it will appeal to the style-conscious with its Scandi-cool design and Swedish minimalist interior. Top-notch safety is a bonus, but it’s not that enjoyable to drive and can be very thirsty.
Comparing cars via a spreadsheet will show the Mazda doesn’t quite measure up to many of its rivals, but life isn’t all about numbers. The cramped rear seats might mean it doesn’t make it onto your shortlist, but that’s the only significant weakness in its armoury.
The refined nature and hushed comfort of the CX-30 will appeal to many, though, as will the striking design. Business users will appreciate the low CO2 emissions and low company car tax bills, and there’ll be many fans of the engaging handling.
However, everybody will appreciate its premium ambience. You could double the price and still be happy. That's where the Mazda’s real strength lies.
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Mazda CX-30
**Correct as of 04/03/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1912.47 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.