If the Mazda 3 hatchback were to grow up, it would become the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 crossover. First, it would have to go through an awkward but small rebellious phase as the CX-3.
With the CX-30, Mazda has matured its small crossover to become more practical and responsible, but it still retains some youthful driving fun. The CX-3 is still around for now, and represents a smaller, European take on the crossover. We prefer the extra size afforded by the CX-30, but not the extra cost of top trims versus other small crossovers, such as the Hyundai Kona and Subaru Crosstrek.
Mazda’s cleanly designed and spartan interior nudges top trims into the premium space, which made perfect sense with our tester’s Premium package. It earns an above average TCC Rating of 5.8, and after spending a week with it, I recommend it for its sporty character and improved space despite the slightly higher price.
Hit: Fun to drive. The 2020 CX-30 is more fun to drive than most other subcompact crossovers. With a 186-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission powering all four wheels, it’s not quick but it’s never dull. Mazda has squeezed so much out of the naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that it hasn’t needed to add gears like the competitors to eke out more fuel efficiency. Flicking the Sport button in the console delays the shift points, and hits the power’s sweet spot at about 4,000 rpm—when the engine really adds grunt. Like most Mazdas, whirring, ticking engine sounds are ever present if not loud, except when highway road noise cancels them out. It’s a nimble handler even with a torsion beam rear axle instead of an independent suspension, and it tucks into turns with more athleticism than most in the small crossover class. With solid steering feedback and a comfy ride, the CX-30 strikes a really good balance for a daily driver.
2020 Mazda CX-30
Miss: Missed opportunity on the cluster. Mazda prides itself on orienting the cabin around the driver, which may explain the traditional design of the instrument cluster. The large speedometer is flanked by the tachometer on one side and fuel and temperature gauges on the other. A small sidebar between the tach and speedo displays limited vehicle info. It has only four submenus; most automakers offer much more info in that valuable real estate. It’s a missed opportunity. Otherwise, the info is relegated to the infotainment system, which is a…
Hit: Infotainment control interface. My colleagues mostly disagree, and may even mock me, but I prefer Mazda’s larger controller dial to control the new 8.8-inch display screen than using a touchscreen. It’s safer, plain and simple, and you can zoom the map display and scroll through your station list without reaching forward. Fiddling with the screen requires more visual attention than toggling the dial and glancing at the screen embedded so deep in the dash it’s like glancing at over the hood.
2020 Mazda CX-30
2020 Mazda CX-30
2020 Mazda CX-30
Hit: Clean cabin. The deeply embedded display screen keeps the dash clean so it doesn’t appear like a tablet tombstone mounted on the center stack, like so many other vehicles in this class. There’s only a thin line of climate controls below the band of vents. Clean, uncluttered spaces define Wyoming and luxury cars alike, and Mazda’s use of dark soft-touch materials with contrast stitching and simple controls give it an attractive sheen.
Miss: Learning curve. Voice commands and radio stations require a learning and programming curve. You can’t just say “Go to” address; you have to choose “navigation,” then say “find address,” then actually say the address. Set your audio presets before hitting the road; organizing favorites is still an annoyance.
Hit: More cargo room. The CX-30 has about 3 cubic feet more cargo volume than the CX-3, and about the same as the Mazda3 hatchback, but there is more usable space in the CX-30. It isn’t as long as the Mazda3, but has more height, so it’s easier to stack items. The sloping hatch of the Mazda3 would squeeze out boxier items. Rear visibility is also much better than in either of the 3 body styles.
Miss: Annoying emergency brake. On start up, the emergency parking brake comes on regardless of how you left it and stays on even when you put the CX-30 in reverse, until you hit the gas or press the button. It’s an annoying but smart safety feature that makes sure the brake is on when the car is off, and stays on if the transmission is in neutral, if the driver’s door is open, or if the driver hasn’t fastened their seat belt. It’s annoying to have to latch the seat belt when you only need to move the CX-30 a couple of feet in your driveway.
2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium with AWD
Base price: $23,000, including $1,100 destination
Price as tested: $30,700
Drivetrain: 186-hp 2.5-liter inline-4 with 6-speed automatic and AWD
EPA fuel economy: 25/32/27 mpg
The hits: Sporty ride, spartan interior, display screen instead of touchscreen, cargo volume.
The misses: Instrument cluster, voice commands, emergency parking brake.