2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: A Potential Game-Changer With One Major Flaw

It's a solid addition to Mazda's lineup — but it needs something we don't currently get

2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: A Potential Game-Changer With One Major Flaw
[Photos: Mazda]

If you wanted a crossover from Mazda’s stable, you might have thought you were already pretty well catered for. For large families, there’s the CX-9, then you have the mid-range CX-5 and the much more compact CX-3. But here’s the rub: The CX-3 is just too small to meet most people’s needs, and the CX-5 — especially if you’re aiming for the top end of the line — is getting seriously expensive. In its appeal to young, active buyers, this 2020 Mazda CX-30 aims to tackle both issues. To find out just how well it performs out in the real world, Mazda brought us out to San Diego, California.

Confusing name aside, the new CX-30 is another good effort from Mazda’s dynamics and design teams. It’s a well-priced, capable crossover that can handle itself in pretty much any situation you throw at it. Mazda says it “spared no expense” for the car, but while it is a good effort, it does have an Achilles’ heel.

A new, yet familiar look

Take a look at the 2020 Mazda CX-30, and you’ll immediately notice styling cues from Mazda’s other models. There’s quite a bit of CX-5 up front, with the grille shape and lower chrome bezel and the slim LED lights. One thoughtful touch is actually lower down at the turn signals, as they slowly pulse when you flick them on, rather than simply flashing. Lower still is the matte gray cladding that extends around the entire car, which Mazda says distinguishes the upper and lower parts of its design.

2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: A Potential Game-Changer With One Major Flaw

From the front or back, the black plastic looks reasonable against the rest of the CX-30’s bodywork. Look at it in profile, however, and you can’t help but think there’s too much cladding. The parts around the wheel arches in particular take up half the visible area around the fenders and rear quarter panels, and even makes the 18-inch wheels look tiny. It does give the car a slightly more rugged appearance, but for where the CX-30 will spend most of its time, the lower part of the design makes the car look like its trying a bit too hard to be a rugged outdoorsy vehicle.

2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: A Potential Game-Changer With One Major Flaw

Hands down, the best interior in its class

The interior design leaves little, if anything, to really complain about. Mazda still lauds the interaction between man and machine (Jinba Ittai) as one of its core driving philosophies, but the company’s gone one step further with their latest models. The materials on hand in the 2020 Mazda CX-30 are exceptional, from the steering wheel to the comfortable leatherette seats and the contrasting black and brown accents in the car we tested.

Engineers redesigned the seats in this car to support a more natural, upright posture like when you’re walking, so your body better responds to the g-forces acting upon you while driving. Without too much adjustment, I felt comfortable, but more importantly the upright posture kept me more alert and focused on actually driving. That’s a welcome change from hard sports seats that give me chronic back ache or cushy seats that offer little support, and ultimately give me chronic back ache.

New infotainment system

Beyond the materials, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 also uses a digital multi-function display in the gauge cluster for the speedometer, flanked by analog tachometer, fuel and temperature gauges. Top-end Premium models get a windshield-projected head-up display, and this model gets a standard 8.8-inch infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support on Select and higher models. Now, this model does not have a touchscreen display. Instead, everything is controlled through a rotary dial on the center console. As annoying as that may be to some, it makes sense when you consider how distracting and dangerous it can be to adjust settings while you’re moving…or just keeping the screen clear of fingerprints.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 also features a redesigned sound system from previous generation models. The tweeters have been moved out onto the doors rather than under the windshield, and the subwoofers have been moved out of the doors up under the cowl closer to the firewall. That means much clearer directional sound, without the annoying distortion or ratting you get from door-mounted units.

2020 Mazda CX-30 Review: A Potential Game-Changer With One Major Flaw


In the U.S. market, at least, you only get one engine option in the 2020 Mazda CX-30. Since it’s based on the Mazda3, you’ll recognize the powertrain as the same 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G unit from the ordinary Mazda3, and indeed the company’s last generation models. It puts out 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which does put it well ahead of its direct competition. The only car that really comes close is the Jeep Renegade, while others like the Honda HR-V, Buick Encore and Subaru Crosstrek don’t get anywhere near that output. Like all other Mazdas, the engine still mates up to a six-speed automatic transmission.

And therein lies the problem. It’s not a terrible engine, and it even returns decent fuel economy. While all trim levels are available with all-wheel drive, standard front-wheel drive models manage 25 City / 33 Highway / 28 Combined mpg, per EPA figures. That said, the engine just doesn’t feel as responsive as you’d expect, even when you flick the toggle switch next to the gear lever to engage sport mode. Floor it, and even at sea level I found myself in for a frustrating wait for the car to get up to speed.

Like with the Mazda3 launch, I also stop and wonder where exactly Mazda’s 2.0-liter SkyActiv-X engine has gone. This powertrain, which promises performance more or less equivalent to the 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G with much lower emissions and much improved fuel economy, is on sale in Europe but is conspicuously absent from the U.S. lineup. When I asked Mazda representatives about that, they said the European models were meant to gauge a potential launch here, but it’s up to Mazda’s corporate executives in Japan to determine whether a U.S.-compliant version will ultimately arrive.

Rent it, lease it, buy it, or forget it?

The engine is the major complaint I had with the 2020 Mazda CX-30, which was an altogether strong effort to build another remarkable small crossover. Some of you are probably wondering whether this is replacing the existing CX-3, but that model is indeed safe, at least for now. Mind you, the CX-30 addresses a lot of concerns you may have by going with a CX-3, meaning the already small market for that model may shrink further, especially when you consider pricing. Mazda is pricing the CX-30 from $22,945 including destination.

2020 Mazda CX-30 models are hitting dealers right now.

That starting price point translates to pretty good value considering the standard equipment. Apart from the 8.8-inch screen, you also get in-car Wi-Fi, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers and remote keyless entry as standard equipment. The CX-30 Select, one up from the base model, adds driver assistance features like blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and leatherette seats. Step up to the Preferred trim and you get a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system and power-adjustable memory seats, while the top end Premium adds the head-up display, leather seats, a power liftgate, moonroof, paddle shifters and even cylinder deactivation.

Even with my complaints about the engine, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 is a comfortable, agile and practical crossover that stands out above most of its rivals, and I’d still give it a firm recommendation. If SkyActiv-X or another new powertrain makes its way to the U.S. market, I may even consider buying one myself.

Come back to TFLcar soon for even more Mazda CX-30 coverage, including a closer look at how this small crossover performs off-road.