The 2023 Mazda CX-30 GT Turbo is a bit of an oddball, much like many other Mazdas. The Japanese car company that makes spunky, fun-to-drive vehicles has done it again with the CX-30, but where this thing slots in the car world is a bit of an oddity.
It’s essentially a lifted Mazda3 hatchback, slightly taller and surprisingly a tad shorter in overall length. It isn’t nearly lifted enough to be considered a crossover in my books, even if that’s what it’s officially called. It’s small for a crossover, to the point you may wonder why it even exists alongside the Mazda3, and you shouldn’t feel foolish for thinking that.
There are many more popular players in this segment, like the Honda HR-V, Toyota Corolla Cross, and the just-redesigned Hyundai Kona, but few hold a candle to what the CX-30 offers. Most are plebeian and boring to drive, with uninspiring powertrains that make it obvious they’re little more than lifted econoboxes. Not so with the Mazda: the CX-30 offers up a tasty treat on the road.
Before we get to what’s under the hood, let’s take a minute to appreciate Mazda’s very clean aesthetic. The CX-30 manages balances sportiness and luxuriousness without resorting to fads like angry grilles or sharp lines and creases everywhere. It looks good and will age well; the CX-30 does share much of its corporate design language with almost every other Mazda in the lineup today, but boy, does it work well.
The front end — the grille, chrome trim, and slim headlights — look both striking and sedate, while out back, the simple tail lamps use circular lighting elements that look good during the day and even better at night — more on this in a bit. Think of the CX-30 as a slightly more rugged Mazda3, riding slightly higher and wearing minimal plastic body cladding. Personally, I could do with some nicer wheels: the gloss black 18-inch wheels (plus the surprisingly large sidewall) do nothing for me, or for the CX-30’s handling.
Lower-trim CX-30s come standard with a normally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, but our GT tester gets a turbocharged version, pumping out a very healthy 250 horsepower at 5,000 RPM and 320 pound-feet of torque at 2,500 RPM on 93-octane gas. You can colour within the lines on regular-grade fuel as well, but output drops to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Power is routed to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
When you first get moving, the CX-30 surges ahead in a way you just wouldn’t expect from, ahem, a crossover. Then you take a corner and realize it handles pretty darn well, so you start hustling a little harder and as your smile gets bigger, you realize what should be a ho-hum people-hauler is actually more like a hot hatch dialed back a few notches. Yes, it’ll get wasted by a real hot hatch, but the overall feeling you get isn’t worlds apart.
And this is where Mazda somewhat shoots themselves in the foot. The six-speed automatic would be perfectly fine in a ho-hum people-mover, but because the CX-30 is so close to a Mazdaspeed hot hatch — it’s turbocharged, AWD, and handles great — you’re left wanting more out of the transmission. The shifts are smooth but not quick enough, both in automatic and manual modes, to match the engine’s personality. I found myself thinking if the CX-30 had a dual-clutch transmission similar to what you’d find in a VW GTI, in addition to stickier tires — it would be a riot. I swear Mazda is teasing us, but between Mazda’s upmarket focus and being a spunky little company, a Mazdaspeed CX-30 won’t happen anytime soon.
Inside the CX-30, Mazda’s simple (and perhaps budget-saving) aesthetic continues inside the CX-30 with trim bits and tech you’d find in other Mazda models, such as the shift lever and switchgear, and the rather narrow 10.25-inch infotainment display, and the part-digital, part-analog instrument cluster. The rest of the interior is relatively simple as well, but it feels well-made and the Garnet Red leather — it’s more maroon than red — looks good wrapped around comfortable seats both up front and out back. Much like the exterior, the interior is devoid of gimmicks and will likely age well, minus the infotainment. I’m sure with more budget, we’d see more CX-90-inspired interior appointments.
But Mazda does what it can, injecting clever and cheeky engineering and design details wherever they can. Take the turn signals: they’re LEDs, but rather than the instant on-off you’d expect, they fade in and out like old-school halogen bulbs. This even goes for the green arrows in the instrument cluster, too. There’s no point to this, it’s not necessary, but Mazda did it anyway and I love it.
On tech, the CX-30 is loaded up with all the active safety features and driver assists you’d expect. Mazda’s radar cruise control is among the best I’ve used, speeding up and slowing down gracefully. Infotainment is OK at best; it only functions as a touchscreen when you’re in park, and it was slow to connect to Android Auto. Ditto the Bose sound system; it’s OK at best, but the cheaper Volkswagen Taos‘ Beats audio system beats the Mazda.
I don’t know how exactly to define the 2023 Mazda CX-30 GT Turbo. Is it a lifted Mazda3? Is it a crossover? I don’t know, but I do know it’s pretty darn good. For those in the market for something that blends the best of both worlds, this would be it. Priced at $42,953 as-tested, it’s a genuinely fun and good-looking option.