The CX-30’s cabin is where Mazda’s upmarket push is most apparent.
Mazda doesn’t dominate sales charts quite like its mainstream rivals, but the scrappy Japanese automaker has been absolutely knocking it out of the park lately with vehicles punching in well above their weight. The 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is no exception, proving in a very short time it can do many things right. It wasn’t exactly missing anything, but for 2021, the CX-30 is now packing something that makes bad cars good, and good ones even better: more power.
Not that the CX-30 absolutely needed it. Sure, 155 horsepower from the base engine is a bit of a snooze-fest, but the uplevel 2.5-litre four-cylinder puts out a respectable 186 horses – that’s already more than most of its key mainstream rivals, plus it’s punchy enough to make even the most mundane grocery runs reasonably fun. But Mazda isn’t stopping there; in its seemingly neverending quest to push its products upmarket, the CX-30 is now available with Mazda’s ubiquitous 2.5L SkyActiv turbo-four.
There are a few good reasons why the boosted four is available almost everywhere in Mazda’s lineup. Putting out a stout 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque – pump in 93-octane gas, and that’s bumped to 250 hp and 320 lb.-ft. of torque – it puts a serious spring into the CX-30’s step, easily eclipsing not only mainstream rivals like the Honda HR-V, Kia Seltos, and Subaru Crosstrek, but also the key players in the entry-level luxury segment, namely the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA.
The boosted CX-30 is the furthest thing from a hot hatch, but with peak torque available as early as 2,000RPM, anything from stoplight drag races to the perilously short on-ramps on downtown Toronto’s Gardiner Expressway is absolutely effortless. Power delivery is fairly linear and smooth, too. It’s almost diesel-like, with a strong initial and mid-range punch before starting to run out of breath once the tach needle scoots past 5,000 rpm. The CX-30 Turbo is obviously thirstier than the non-turbo model, but fuel economy is still commendable, the trip computer settling at 9.8L/100 kilometres after a week. Official ratings peg it at 10.5 in the city and 7.9 on the highway.
As with the rest of the CX-30 lineup, the Turbo is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s beefed up a bit to handle the extra kick, but it’s otherwise the same old song and dance: smooth and invisible when you just want to sit back and relax, yet eager to kick down and hold onto gears when you need to skeddadle. You could play with the paddle shifters and Sport mode, but honestly, Sport mode makes the CX-30 almost too jumpy, particularly when you chuck it into a tight on-ramp and want to maintain questionably sane speeds. Leave it as-is, put your foot into it, and the CX-30 quickly figures it out on its own. The six-speed auto is well-matched to the 2.5 and proves you don’t always need a zillion gears at your disposal.
As you’d expect from Mazda, handling is an absolute treat. The CX-30 Turbo stays pretty flat when you push it, the standard all-wheel-drive system adds a layer of confidence, and while the steering is on the numb side, there’s a good weight to it. Ride quality is well-balanced; the CX-30 is firmer than most, but all but the biggest unpleasantries are filtered out, and road and wind noise are virtually nonexistent, especially on the highway.
Mazda likes to make a big deal about styling, and the CX-30 certainly delivers. It’s largely well-executed – bits like the almost invisible swoosh along the side that plays tricks on your eyes using reflections, or the way the LED turn signals softly fade out like incadescent bulbs, are clever. The CX-30 is a genuinely attractive vehicle, but perhaps the only bone to pick is Mazda’s liberal use of body cladding. I can’t imagine it’ll all look good in a decade or so, when the black inevitably fades to grey.
Besides the seriously impressive driving manners and attractive sheet metal, the CX-30’s cabin is where Mazda’s upmarket push is most apparent. Fit-and-finish and materal quality is so far above anything else in the segment, it isn’t even close. Hell, it’s a far better environment here than in a base (or even a mid-range) Audi Q3, BMW X1, or Mercedes-Benz GLA – everything is screwed together tightly, there’s plenty of bright trim to break up the sea of black, and the overall layout is smart and intuitive.
The CX-30’s interior appointments may be a home run, but there are a few catches. For one, interior space is competitive, but not class-leading – most of the CX-30’s competitors offer more cargo space, and for taller passengers, climbing into (and out of) the rear seats could be challenging. As well, if you’re keen on minimalism, you’ll dig the CX-30’s cleanly designed and functional interfaces, but you won’t have the ability to configure them in a million different ways, as you’d find in more premium brands. Finally, the knob-based infotainment system is a vast improvement over its predecessor – graphics are crisp and sharp, and everything is quick to load – but there’s a bit of a learning curve to it.
It’s tough to argue against the CX-30 Turbo’s bottom line, though. At $36,700 as-tested, it undercuts more premium luxury crossovers by a significant margin, with the base BMW X1 and Mercedes GLA 250 punching in far closer to the $40,000 mark. And while the CX-30 Turbo will cost you a decent bit more than a fully loaded Kia Seltos, Nissan Qashqai, or Subaru Crosstrek, it actually lines up fairly closely to a well-equipped Chevrolet Trailblazer or Jeep Compass – both of which feel nowhere near as well-put-together as the Mazda. That said, the CX-30 is missing a few key features you’d find elsewhere. You don’t get a panoramic sunroof regardless of how much you’re willing to spend, and despite the closely related Mazda3 now having a 360-degree camera for 2021, it’s missing from the CX-30.
The 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo isn’t perfect, but it does many things right and a bunch of extra power is just the cherry on top. If you need a crossover and actually enjoy driving, it’s tough to go wrong with the CX-30.