For those who still think of Mazda mainly as a purveyor of sporty sedans, it might be a shock to discover that of the three cars and four crossovers that Mazda sells stateside, cars account for a mere 21 percent of sales, with crossovers grabbing the rest.
But of the crossovers, two accounted for two-thirds of sales in 2020: the CX-5 and the CX-30. And for 2021, the CX-30 gains the 2.5-liter turbo engine initially launched on the CX-5 and then added to the Mazda3, with which the CX-30 shares a platform.
Given the CX-30’s popularity, it’s no surprise it gets the new mill, transforming it from a stylish commuting pod into something far more alluring.
The CX-30 was launched last year, slotting between the smaller CX-3 and larger CX-5 and wearing the latest rendition of Mazda’s Kodo, “Soul of Motion,” design that feels far more upscale than you’d expect given its affordable price. But Mazda has been slowly migrating its products upmarket in appearance, even if not always in price, and the results can be seen in its strikingly elegant cabin, which is a marvel of sublime understatement, without the overwrought modernism that clutter too many automotive interiors. There’s generous use of French seams, a striking two-tone interior, and climate controls that look like an old school radio, with two knobs flanking the horizontal readout and a row of five small buttons underneath.
The same is true outside, where revised black lower-body cladding, matte black alloy wheels, and larger exhaust tips are your only clues as to the added power available once you plant your right loafer.
Hit the CX-30’s starter button and put it in gear, and you’ll very quickly forget about the base model’s normally aspirated 2.5-liter four rated 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. In its place is a far more potent 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission and standard all-wheel drive generating 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. However, you’ll have to use premium fuel to get that. Using 87 octane bumps those numbers down to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. The EPA rates the CX-30 at 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. My heavy throttle foot led it to return 22 mpg.
Nevertheless, because Mazda’s competitors aren’t putting high-powered engines in their subcompact crossovers, it makes the CX-30 a unique proposition and far more fun to drive. Think of it as a taller Mazda3, and you have the right idea. Its ample supply of power is delivered in a smooth linear fashion. Body motions are well controlled, and bump absorption is commendable, with only the worst road abrasions impacting through to passengers.
And its all-wheel-drive system is designed with different algorithms, depending on whether you’re on-road or off. If you driving on a civilized road, the vehicle is designed to handle any road, no matter what that road is covered with. Engineers consider the vehicle’s weight transfer from tire to tire as the driver accelerates, cruises or corners to preemptively predict where the torque needs to go. But off-road, engineers use a simpler strategy to maintain traction, ensuring that power won’t be funneled to a wheel rotating freely in the air as you crest a hill, for example. This is no rugged boulder basher, but is more than capable of maintaining forward momentum once the sidewalk ends.
Thoughtfully, the CX-30 has an enhanced surround-view monitor that’s particularly helpful in off-road situations, as well as when squeezing into a tight parking space. The CX-30’s 8.8-inch infotainment screen is controlled though a knob on the center console. Its graphics are crisp and easy to discern, but it takes far too many hits and scrolls to do something simple, like change a radio station.
It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position, and front-seat occupants will have no problem getting comfortable. The same can’t be said of the second row, where legroom is in short supply, but if the second row is only an occasional use item, or you have small children, this is not an issue. The view out is fairly good in all directions with the exception of rear-quarter visibility.
Interestingly, the CX-30’s 20 cubic feet of cargo space is the same as the Mazda3 Hatchback.
Overall, however, this is a near-luxury-level crossover at a reasonable price. But before you opt for one, consider this: The 2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo starts at $29,900, with my well-equipped tester listing for $35,995, well over the starting price of the larger CX-5 with the turbo motor, which starts at $30,760. However, both are less expensive than the Mazda3 Turbo Hatchback, which starts at $31,050.
Still, the new powerplant dramatically changes the CX-30’s personality for the better, making it unique in its class, not only for its welcome newfound power, but how that power makes it competitive with crossovers costing 50 percent more.
2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo
Base price: $33,900; $35,995 as tested
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 22/30 mpg
Observed fuel economy: 22 mpg
Length/Width/Height: 173/71/62 inches
Ground clearance: 8 inches
Cargo capacity: 20-94 cubic feet
Curb weight: 3,505 pounds