In the fiercely competitive small SUV world, Mazda’s CX-3 has been a sales champion despite an obvious flaw: it’s tiny.
Well-priced, nicely finished and fun to drive it may be, but the boot’s a shoebox and rear seats aren’t much use to adults.
The new and slightly larger CX-30 is Mazda’s answer. Its baby brother CX-3 is based on the Mazda2, but this one’s underpinned by the excellent Mazda3. Space, finally, for the family? Our testers sample a G20 Evolve front-wheel-drive version.
Iain: If you think the CX-3 is too small and the CX-5 too big, which Mazda SUV do you get?
Jules: Clearly a CX-4.
Iain: Wrong! A CX-30, of course. The CX-4 name’s been reserved for the Chinese market
Jules: We’re not in China.
Iain: Fair point. Anyway, the CX-30’s based on the excellent Mazda3, but you sit 25mm higher and there’s big slabs of plastic around the wheel arches and body’s base.
Jules: How much extra do I pay for such privileges?
Iain: Over $3000. Our CX-30 Evolve grade costs $35,100 on the road. The equivalent Mazda3 with the same engine and auto gearbox is $31,800.
Jules: Ah, the SUV tax. I have to say it looks excellent, especially the front end. Smooth, curvy and attractive grille and lights.
Iain: Mazda is doing much fresher, cleaner designs than the angular eye-sores of some Asian rivals. I know many love the SUV shape, but for me, the CX-30 can’t match the Mazda3’s beauty.
Jules: The doors have strange curves. I’m sure it’s incredibly complex metalwork, but it looks as though something’s hit the side of the car.
Iain: In a certain light, maybe. Price-wise, CX-30s aren’t cheap. The entry’s $33,550, while you need a G25 grade (from $40,757) for a zestier engine or all-wheel-drive (from $42,817). Rivals – all cheaper – include the Kia Seltos, Toyota C-HR, Hyundai Kona and Mitsubishi ASX. The new Volkswagen T-Roc should be an intriguing “semi-premium” rival.
THE LIVING SPACE
Jules: My parents own Mazda’s smaller CX-3. This feels far less claustrophobic.
Iain: Definitely an improvement, but adults will still find rear legroom cramped.
Jules: I know the CX-30 is pricier than rivals, but you can feel the quality difference in the cabin.
Iain: True. The doors, dashboard and arm rests are all soft to the touch. Mirroring the exterior, the design is clean and simple, while buttons have a classy feel. Only the cloth seats, while comfy, feel a little cheap.
Jules: The two-tone cabin may shock some buyers. Ours is blue graded with black. I’m not sure that’ll age well.
Iain: I’m a fan. A plain black cabin looks too austere.
Jules: I’ll praise the 8.8-inch widescreen infotainment screen. No touchscreen, but a centre console dial makes using the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto easy enough. Built-in sat nav, rear camera and digital dashboard show where your money’s going.
Iain: Talk about a revolution. Mazdas once suffered terribly from invasive cabin noise. This CX-30, like the Mazda3 it’s based on, is whisper quiet inside. Limo like.
Jules: A smooth operator. Until you hit a big bump. It doesn’t absorb the hits like a proper 4×4 SUV.
Iain: Our front-drive CX-30’s more for empty nesters and parents with small kids: the highway or suburbia are its habitats.
Jules: It’s a great cruiser, but the radar cruise control can get confused and brakes quite aggressively.
Iain: When it wanted to return to speed it’d accelerate noisily as well. Strange. Here’s a car with so much finesse, yet this technology lets it down.
Jules: The air con’s not powerful either, but I love the colour head-up display on the windscreen.
Iain: Remember when we bought wagons instead of SUVs? They had bigger, better boots.
Jules: The CX-30’s is fine for most things. But no, your bike won’t fit in.
Iain: For an extra $1500 you can option an enhanced safety pack with 360-degree camera, front parking sensors and it’ll alert you and brake if it thinks you’re going to drive out into traffic. It already has this for reversing, plus rear sensors and camera as standard. No excuses for Coles carpark bingles.
Jules: Engine’s not got much poke.
Iain: It’s a safe choice: a 114kW non-turbo four-cylinder 2.0-litre. The gearbox is good, but the engine won’t win any personality contests.
Jules: There’s no spark or fun for around town, unlike small turbocharged engines.
Iain: Mazda’s 2.5-litre turbo from the CX-5 would transform the CX-30 into something special. It handles and steers superbly – not far off the Mazda3 – but our 114kW engine can’t make best use of these talents.
Jules: At least there are paddle shifters to take control. But who buys a CX-30 for twisty roads anyway? It’s such a good looker my Sundays would be spent parking in fancy suburbs showing off its curves.
Iain: Strong safety kit as standard, and the CX-30’s adult occupant protection in ANCAP’s crash test was a near-perfect 99 per cent. Well done Mazda.
Jules: Our kids are eight and five, so size-wise the CX-30’s okay for now, but they’d soon outgrow it.
Iain: The family budget won’t like the relatively expensive purchase price, but warranty, service and fuel costs are all reasonable. Although we returned 7.8L/100km rather than the quoted 6.5L/100km.
Jules: Far more practical than the too-small Mazda CX-3, this bigger SUV looks beautiful inside and out, is well-equipped and lovely to drive. The engine just needs more personality, and there are good rivals for less money.
Iain: If you don’t need an SUV – and I appreciate many with dodgy hips or knees do – get a Mazda3. The same money buys the higher-grade leather-lined G20 Touring hatchback, plus you lose the CX-30’s plastic bits that sully the design a tad. Otherwise, the CX-30’s a quality – if pricey – small SUV.
MAZDA CX-30 G20 EVOLVE FWD VITALS
Price: $35,097 drive away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yrs/u’ltd km warranty, $1991 for 5 yrs/50,000km
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl petrol, 114W/200Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, rear camera, blind spot monitor, radar cruise control, rear cross traffic alert, speed sign recognition, lane departure warning, lane keep assist