2020 Mazda CX-30: What's It Like to Live With?
After a year, the CX-30 confirmed our initial impressions. This was one of our favorite pint-sized SUVs.
Latest Highlights (updated 02/28/22)
- One of the most fun-to-drive small SUVs out there
- Not to mention practical and affordable
- We'd recommend the CX-30 without reservation
- Specify the turbocharged engine to maximize your smiles per mile
What We Got and Why
• Our test vehicle: 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium Package AWD
• Base MSRP: $23,000 (with $1,100 destination fee)
• MSRP as tested: $32,020
The Mazda CX-30 is the new standard bearer for extra-small SUVs. In a class mostly focused on the lowest possible price of entry, the CX-30 delivers an upscale interior, an extensive roster of tech features and a more engaging driving experience than rivals. Practicality is only average and optioned-up the CX-30 is pricey, but the CX-30's mix of style and substance makes it a unique proposition among subcompact crossovers.
What Did We Get?
We opted for a 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium Package AWD, which starts with an MSRP of $29,600. Front-wheel drive is standard across the range, and all-wheel drive costs an additional $1,400. From there we added Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint for $595 because it looks good in pictures and it's one of the best shades of red you can get outside of the luxury market. We also got navigation for $450 and a rear bumper guard and cargo cover, which together added $275.
With the $1,100 destination charge, our total MSRP came to $32,020. That's enough to get you a pretty nice compact SUV, so the Mazda CX-30 is going to have to prove its smaller package is worth the money.
But holy cow, does this little Mazda have features! An 8.8-inch infotainment screen with smartphone integration, 12-speaker Bose stereo, head-up display, leather upholstery, power liftgate, dual-zone climate control, moonroof … And i-Activsense, Mazda's name for its suite of safety aids, is standard across the range, with forward collision alert, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and even adaptive cruise equipped on all trim levels. Only blind-spot monitoring and rear-cross traffic alert require upgrading, and even then just to the second-tier Select Package.
Some features, such as all-wheel drive and adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, have become common in other segments but still aren't universally available among subcompacts, adding to the Mazda's value proposition. And even though a turbo version is coming soon, the standard 186-horsepower four-cylinder engine is more powerful than any affordably priced competitor short of the Mini Countryman S, which isn't really all that affordable.
The CX-30's price point also makes sense in terms of Mazda's own lineup. The CX-3 is more affordable but offers fewer features and less performance. The bigger CX-5 offers more space, more available features and more refinement overall, but for a bit more money.
Why Did We Get It?
Everybody knows SUVs are the future! At least, until they're not and everyone starts buying something else. But for now, they're the future! Mazda already occupied both the compact and subcompact classes with the very good CX-5 and not-so-great CX-3, respectively. But the automaker clearly saw room for a new product to slot in between the two.
Its solution was to turn its perennially popular 3 sedan-slash-hatchback into a subcompact SUV, and we knew we had to try it out.
For most of the nameplate's life, the Mazda 3 was the "zoom zoom" option in the compact car class: Better to drive than rivals, if only average otherwise. In the last generation, the interior materials and design moved more upscale, making the car feel more like an entry-level luxury offering. For 2019, the redesigned 3 doubled down on the upscale interior and made a few small compromises on the whole "zoom zoom" thing, trading some driving character for plush materials and tech while preserving the car's price point.
The CX-30, then, is a logical progression. It carries over the near-luxury interior into a body that's taller and heavier without gaining any more power. Of course, it's also competing against vehicles including the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, where acceleration and handling are usually treated as afterthoughts to price and practicality. That gives the CX-30 more of a performance edge against other subcompact SUVs than the Mazda 3 has against other small sedans.
But performance isn't the story here. What's important about the CX-30 is that it's bringing that luxe-lite comfort and refinement to the subcompact SUV class, which is usually more associated with a plasticky, pragmatic cheapness. In doing so, the Mazda CX-30 became our top-rated extra-small SUV.
Storming right to the top of our rankings right out of the gate is no mean feat, but now that it's at the top of the heap, the CX-30 can expect more significant scrutiny. We've acquired one for our long-term fleet so that we can both get to know it better than a normal testing period allows, and so we always have one on hand to test back to back with any new challengers to the crown. SUVs are the future, and the subcompact segment has grown quickly and ferociously in the last few years. Will the CX-30 finish out its year with us still in the lead, or is the new king right around the corner?
What did we learn?
The CX-30 shares a common platform with the Mazda 3 — a small sedan that has been a longtime favorite among Edmunds staff members. At its core, the CX-30 is lifted Mazda 3 with more cargo space, which sounded like a home run to us when we first asked Mazda to loan us one for a full year. But would the CX-30 also retain its sibling's penchant for driving fun?
Yes and no. There's no doubt the CX-30 is one of the most fun-to-drive pint-sized SUVs out there. Its composed handling means it corners flatter than just about any other vehicle in its class. We also like that the communicative steering weight and feel carry over from the 3. So does the powertrain, which drew mixed feelings from our staff. The 186-horsepower engine helps make the CX-30 quicker in a straight line than rivals, and it comes in just a few ticks slower than the 3 in a drag race. But you're also more likely to travel with friends in the larger CX-30, and the extra weight really begins to tax the engine. Thankfully, Mazda introduced the 3's turbocharged motor to the 2021 CX-30, so buyers can now spend their way out of this problem.
Even though the CX-30's interior design is essentially a copy and paste from the 3, we never stopped being impressed by the level of refinement and detail that Mazda has given its newest and most cost-effective vehicles. The materials feel nicer than other models, with our Premium package-equipped tester looking especially handsome. Only a handful of editors found things they didn't like. Most CX-30 models (Premium included) feature a sunroof, which reduces the modest amount of headroom even further. Drivers over 6 feet tall fit with varying degrees of success. The decision to set the infotainment screen farther away from the driver — and necessitating its operation using a dial controller — was also met with grumblings. Some editors liked this approach, which kept distraction to a minimum. Others preferred the logic of the CX-5, which offers both touchscreen and dial controller operation. Lastly, the CX-30's smaller size is perfect for solo drivers or families just starting out, but the lack of rear seat room and so-so cargo storage means it isn't the perfect option for families with growing children.
At the end of the day, the CX-30 proved to be a reliable runabout, and we recommend it without reservation to anybody looking for a practical and affordable small crossover. Just make sure to specify the turbocharged engine to maximize your smiles per mile.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
"One of our editors was driving the CX-30 on the highway when a rock was kicked up by a big rig and struck the windshield. The resulting chip soon turned into a significant crack on the upper third of the windshield, in front of the driver. We knew we would have to address the crack before we returned the vehicle to Mazda. The CX-30 was also due for its first service and needed to have a recall and two technical service bulletins addressed. I decided to take it to my nearest dealer — Puente Hills Mazda — to get all the issues taken care of in one shot.
"My service adviser, Kevin, was able to set up the appointment with the glass installer, who would come straight to the dealership to replace the windshield. Mazda would then recalibrate the sensors for the safety equipment — which needs to be done whenever the windshield is replaced. Then came addressing the TSBs and recall, and finally the first service, which consisted of a simple oil change and tire rotation. I dropped the car off just after the service center opened at 7 a.m. I needed Kevin to hold true to his promise that the car would be ready at the end of the day, because I had to catch a flight the next morning.
"Kevin really underpromised and overdelivered here. He called back at 12:30 p.m. the same day. The entire work order was completed in a hair over five hours. I went back to Puene Hills Mazda, forked over a considerable amount of money, and was on my way.
"The windshield was not inexpensive. The glass itself cost $872.41, the installer charge was an even $140, and the calibration cost $165.30. All in all, a loose piece of asphalt triggered $1,177.71 in repairs.
"It would have been less expensive by about $100 if I had gone with Safelite instead, but I chose the dealer for three reasons. At Mazda, I was getting OEM glass. Mazda also had the windshield in stock nearby, and I was able to make it work with my schedule. I would have had to wait about a week for Safelite to ship the glass. And third, I would have to go to a local Safelite installation center to recalibrate the driving aids. The nearest center to me is considerably farther than Puente Hills Mazda, which would have necessitated staying at the Safelite center for repairs to be completed. Plus, I'd still have to go to the dealer anyway to have the service performed and TSBs/recall addressed.
"Other charges included the first service at $95.21 ($60 for labor, $33.96 for parts and $1.25 for oil disposal) and $86.11 in taxes. The grand total came out to $1,359.03." — Cameron Rogers, senior news editor
"We already broke down the costs of a windshield replacement and first service, but we also took the CX-30 to the dealer to have two technical service bulletins and a recall addressed. The details of each follow:
SAFETY RECALL: CX-30 POWER LIFTGATE MAY LOWER
Mazda Recall #: 4621B NHTSA Recall #: 21V-086 Recall Date: 02/18/21
A person accessing the rear storage area of the vehicle may unexpectedly hit the liftgate and increase the risk of injury if the power liftgate partially lowers from the fully opened position when parked on an incline in high ambient temperatures. There is no risk of the liftgate unexpectedly lowering completely as a result of this defect.
The power liftgate drive units (both right and left) must be inspected for the product lot number. If the power liftgate drive unit(s) is verified to be included in the affected production range, it will be replaced with an improved part. After the inspection, and/or replacement of the power liftgate drive units is completed, the MDRT will be used to update the power liftgate control unit with modified software.
SAFETY RECALL: CX-30 BOSE SPEAKER NOISE
Special Service Program (SSP) Recall #: SSPC4 NHTSA Recall #: Recall Date: 01/25/21
This is not a safety recall
Reprogram the audio amplifier software with a USB stick.
SAFETY RECALL: REPROGRAM CONTROL UNIT
Special Service Program (SSP) Recall #: SSPC5 NHTSA Recall #: Recall Date: 02/04/21
This is not a safety recall campaign
The vehicle control units for the described concerns will be updated with modified software"" — Cameron Rogers, senior news editor
Despite a once-off warning light, we aren't having any oustanding issues with our long-term CX-30. However, it does have a few open recalls that will need to be addressed when we take the CX-30 in for its first scheduled maintenance visit. Additionally, one of our editors was driving on the freeway and a rock kicked up by a cargo truck struck the windshield. The iniital chip has since spread to a crack. We will get the windshield replaced soon. — Cameron Rogers, senior news editor
"After starting the CX-30 up one afternoon, I noticed an alert in the instrument panel: 'Windshield Washer Fluid Low.' I went to a local auto parts store and purchased a $3.49 gallon jug of 32-plus-degree washer fluid. From there, it was a simple matter of popping the hood and filling up the reservoir. The CX-30 took the entire jug. Alert message gone." — John Adolph, supervising producer
"I had a strange warning pop up say 'In-vehicle network malfunction. Have the vehicle inspected.' I didn't notice any changes in the way our CX-30 drove, and eventually the message went away. However, after searching online, it appears this warning can sometimes result in Mazdas going into a limp mode. One owner of a Mazda 3 with this error reported driving power was down about 50 percent, with the problem related the operation of the Mazda's Skyactiv-G engine cylinder deactivation. We will continue to monitor to see it this issue persists." — Jonathan Elfalan, senior manager, test team
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"What a difference an engine makes. It wasn't an option for our 2020 model, but the 2021 Mazda CX-30 is available with the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that you can find in just about every other Mazda product. What feels good in the three-row CX-9 is absolutely dynamite in the pint-sized CX-30.
In Edmunds' testing, a CX-30 with the standard engine and all-wheel drive accelerated from 0-60 mph in 8.5 seconds, which is a full second quicker than class-average. But the turbocharged version sprints to 60 mph in just 6.4 seconds. That makes it far and away the quickest subcompact SUV we've tested — the turbocharged Hyundai Kona comes closest at 7.2 seconds.
If you're looking for a small crossover with a bit more pep than others, or are considering a wallet-friendly alternative to a luxury subcompact SUV, the Mazda CX-30 Turbo is undoubtedly the way to go." — Cameron Rogers, news and reviews editor
"I usually don't like small crossovers, but I'm cool with the CX-30, and the standard 186-horsepower 2.5-liter engine is a big reason why. Just look around this segment and try to find a better base engine. Hyundai Kona? Most models come with a 2.0-liter unit that makes a meager 147 hp. Honda HR-V? You're looking at 1.8 liters and 141 hp. Driving around in those little runabouts, the performance deficit is palpable — you feel it every time you prod the accelerator for more oomph and realize it's already floored. But the CX-30 doesn't have that problem. It gets off the line smartly and doesn't let up, holding passing power in reserve even at highway speeds. That's no great surprise, of course, since the CX-30's engine is borrowed from the larger CX-5. But it really helps set this Mazda apart from its generally underpowered peers." — Josh Sadlier, director, content strategy
"I'm in the market for a new car, and the CX-30 has been on my short list ever since I took it on a long road trip last December. Here's my inner debate: Sometimes I feel cramped inside this small crossover, and sometimes not. Maybe it's the mood I'm in or how I slept the night before, but it seems like it's 50/50 on my daily commute of an hour each way. I'm 6-foot-1 with a freakishly long torso. My hair brushes the roof with the seat all the way down. If I wear a baseball hat I don't notice it as much, but I'm still only a quarter-inch away from the headliner. Mind you, our CX-30 Premium has a sunroof that cuts into headroom just a bit. I love a sunroof in concept, but I also hate bonking my head. Sadly, the moonroof comes with the Preferred and Premium packages, as well as the Turbo trim. Since my ideal CX-30 is one of the better-equipped models, I'd have to choose between missing out on some desirable features or wearing head protection." — John Adolph, supervising producer
"For the most part, our CX-30 has an agreeable ride quality. The suspension tuning is firm, so you'll definitely notice bumps and ruts. But that firm tuning also provides the CX-30 with sharp handling manners, and that's a trade-off I'm perfectly fine with. As extra-small SUVs go, the CX-30 is certainly comfortable enough on long drives. I've put in a few multi-hour stints behind the wheel and found the driver's seat to be comfortable, too." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content
"Navigating through Apple CarPlay with the CX-30's dial controller is definitely an inferior experience compared to using a touchscreen. I thought I would get used to it, but I found the operation much less user-friendly than in touchscreen-equipped rivals. I hope Mazda goes back to a touchscreen at some point. This latest infotainment interface is a step backwards." — Jonathan Elfalan, senior manager, test team
"The infotainment dial is the defining feature of the CX-30's interior. It's the only way to control the 8.8-inch display screen, as Mazda declined to include a touchscreen function. Personally? I love a good dial. This one is perfectly placed, it fits right within my natural grip, and moving it around delivers satisfying clicks with quick response on the screen. Best of all, I don't have to interrupt my sitting position. To me, that's an underrated luxury feature — the ability to sit comfortably, undisturbed, and still use the screen. Instead of leaning and twisting to reach a touchscreen, it's almost like having the screen come to you. Big plus." — Ryan ZumMallen, reviews editor
"As I'm between vehicles at the moment, I used the CX-30 to run errands and pick up my daughter. She's only 6 years old, so unlike some people on staff who hear complaints from adults in the CX-30's back seat, the lack of rear passenger space doesn't bother her at all.
"From the front seat, I really enjoyed the CX-30's driving performance and comfort. This little Mazda doesn't feel small despite being a big guy myself. I don't really like the location of the front cupholders (they're squeezed in front of the shifter), nor the small door pockets. That said, neither aspect is a deal-breaker.
"Not to sound like a broken record, but that knob to control the infotainment screen does take some getting used to. I was eventually able to figure it out, but man ... there's definitely a learning curve before you can operate it effectively." — Doug Tyler, producer editor
"I ran errands this weekend with my 2-year-old daughter, which naturally involved considering the CX-30 differently than when I'm tooling around solo. Even though the CX-30 is a smaller vehicle, getting the car seat in and set up was a breeze.
"The little covers over the LATCH anchors are removable and the body-colored anchors themselves are easy to find. I was able to align and lock without having to wrangle the car seat's hooks through 2 inches of overlapping upholstery, as you do in many other cars. The roofline isn't excessively raked, so there are no bumped heads going in or out!" — John Adolph, supervising producer
"The CX-30 seems practical, in the sense that it has four doors, good ground clearance and a liftgate. Beyond that, utilitarianism feels like a low priority for Mazda. Aesthetically pleasing, sculpted design takes precedence over anything else. This is exemplified by the high beltline, which makes for a striking impression on the outside but makes the interior feel claustrophobic. This feeling is exacerbated when you have long items crowding the interior. For instance, my 6-foot surfboard occupied my personal space above my right shoulder. I get that the subcompact CX-30 isn't meant to do it all, but I can fit the board in an E46 BMW 3 Series coupe without it encroaching upon front-row space.
"It's not all doom and gloom, though. The seating position and ample headroom are great for my 6-foot-2 frame. And I like other aspects, like the 2.5-liter's peppy responses around town. I'm just not sure if the CX-30 is ideal for my active lifestyle." — Conrad Trzeciecki, senior social content strategist
"There's a decent amount of space behind the rear seats for typical daily errands. Gear for a day hike, grocery bags, a couple of small suitcases — that's the kind of stuff that'll fit. The CX-30's utility is certainly fine as far as extra-small SUVs go. But as a family guy with two kids, I just know that there would be plenty of situations where I'd want a bigger SUV to hold stuff." — Brent Romans, senior editor, written content