As the “crossover craze” continues, the lines between a crossover and hatchback from an enthusiast point of view are becoming more blurred. Manufacturers may want to stick to the crossover name, but the reality is many of these crossovers are dimensionally not far off from some beloved hot hatches of the past. High-end manufacturers like Porsche have seemingly mastered car-like handling with their Macan “crossover.” However, Mazda themselves is no stranger to fun hatchbacks with the current Mazda3 and previous Mazdaspeed3. They were gracious enough to lend me their 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo to see just how much of that heritage leaked into their most recent crossover offering.
What Is It?
The CX-30 is Mazda’s subcompact crossover based roughly on the Mazda3 hatchback. The CX-30 sits five inches taller and is two inches shorter than its sibling. Its suspension is damped a little softer, allowing for more care-free driving over rough pavement and steep driveways.
My loaner CX-30 was the 2.5L Turbo Premium Plus trim, with 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of diesel-like torque. All wheel drive comes standard on the Premium Plus package and helps put the turbo’s low-end torque to the ground through a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission. The Soul Red Crystal metallic paint draped on our loaner is a $595 option and worth every additional penny in my eyes. Mazda’s swooshy body work is highlighted tremendously by the color’s deep metallic flake in the sun. All of this comes together for a top of the line as-tested price of 35,995.
The base S trim starts at $22,050 and comes with a 2.5-liter naturally-aspirated four-cylinder and front wheel drive as standard. It is paired to the same six-speed automatic, and makes 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque. All wheel drive is a $1,399 option on all trim levels that don’t include it as standard.
Liveability and Visibility
While the lines between hatchback and crossover seem to be fading, Mazda has done their best to differentiate their two platform mates. Even though the CX-30 is taller than the Mazda3, it’s actually shorter in length. From a practicality and functionality standpoint, you’d be hard pressed to find many other differences though. Think Mazda3 “Safari”.
Much like the Mazda3, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 has a low and sleek body design both inside and out. I loaded the car up with a family of four adults who ultimately fit just fine, but not without some small quips about rear headroom and visibility in general. The consensus from those riding in the back was that they expected more interior room based on its crossover-like appearance on the outside.
From an enthusiast standpoint, the relative lack of visibility is just par for the course with a low and sleek design like the CX-30’s. The only time I personally had an issue with visibility was in a parking garage trying to read tall signs hanging from the ceiling. The cabin did feel a bit cocoon-like in that sense, but otherwise completely livable with features like blind spot monitoring and heads up displays. Even though the Premium Plus trim comes standard with Mazda’s suite of driver assistance features, I admittedly preferred to turn most of them off as I found them slightly too intrusive for congested city driving.
Rear cargo room was spacious enough to fit eight 16” Vredestein tires in the back. Four tires easily fit where my rear passengers once sat with the seats folded down, and the remaining four lined up nicely along the hatch.
Aside from the relatively tight-feeling interior, sitting inside the 2021 Mazda CX-30 is a comfortable and outright luxurious place to be for its price point. Much like the Mazda6 I tested back in 2020, this interior punches a class above its own. Soft touch points and nicely stitched leathers are littered all throughout the cabin. Thankfully, Mazda has not abandoned physical buttons for all touch-screen infotainment or climate controls. All of the switchgear inside has a tactile and satisfying feel, something sorely missed compared to the “bleep” of most touch screens.
In the spirit of a “Safari’d” Mazda3, the stand-out driving features of the CX-30 are its ultra-torquey turbo engine and its ability to dance over suburban potholes, driveways, and rough pavement in comfort. The five inches of added height is noticeable in terms of turn-in feel and body roll compared to its shorter sibling, but never left me wanting for more performance in this application. The balance Mazda struck between feel and refinement is spot-on for the sporty crossover crowd, but not quite hot-hatch levels of feedback. That added height does give you the peace-of-mind to quickly zip up inclined driveways or parking lots without worrying about scraping your front bumper.
The sure-footedness of the all wheel drive system combined with the turbo’s low-RPM grunt make for effortless acceleration pulling away from stop lights and powering out of corners. Its smooth, well-damped suspension allows you to chuck the CX-30 through a corner, anticipate the lean, and power-out in rally car style. Predictably, understeer is the primary handling characteristic, but the point of the CX-30 is to tackle less than ideal road infrastructure, not win races. Its 3,600 pound curb weight gives it a feeling of heft and solidity without feeling too heavy to have fun. Luckily, Mazda’s actual race-winning heritage still peaks through enough that even the most hard-core enthusiast can appreciate its chassis feedback and overall composure.
The six-speed torque converter automatic is beginning to show its age, but still a welcome pairing over a dreaded CVT. The transmission tuning in automatic mode leans heavily on the turbo-four’s torque band and never holds a gear all the way to redline. A click over into manual mode fixes that, where you’ll find the transmission responds respectably quickly to manual inputs. The speed and smoothness of shifts otherwise garnered no complaints from myself or my passengers.
Overall, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 does an admirable job bridging the gap between car and crossover. While even more subcompact crossovers are popping up to compete in the CX-30’s space, Mazda brings a level of refinement, interior quality, and driving dynamics that are unique and true to themselves in recent years. As we drive further down the road of “all things crossover” I’m excited to see more accessible manufacturers like Mazda offer options that don’t leave enthusiasts hanging.