Skyactiv-X engine still can’t match turbocharged rivals but Mazda’s small SUV fights back with a premium interior and strong driving experience
The Mazda CX-30 is one of those cars that rather sneaks up on you.
But after a few days pottering around in it you find yourself increasingly impressed and actually enjoying yourself.
From the way it looks to the way it drives, the baby brother to the CX-5 and incoming CX-60 manages to feel a cut above most of the mainstream alternatives without straying into the silly money that BMW or Audi will charge for such a machine.
The appeal starts from the outside, where Mazda’s much talked about Kodo design is in full effect. Sticking firmly to the school of thought that says less is more, the CX-30 is simple and sleek with a fluid shape and no unnecessary angles or lines just for the sake of design. It’s a good looking car in any color but Mazda is rightly proud of the vivid Soul Red that stands out in any car park.
If anything, the interior is even more of a triumph. There isn’t a single mainstream rival that can match the look and feel of the CX-30 and the materials and construction are worthy of consideration against established premium players.
Like the exterior, Mazda keeps things simple with the CX-30’s cabin design so there’s a simple user-friendly layout with decent physical dials for the heating system, a rotary controller for the media/nav screen and a straightforward three-dial instrument binnacle. A standard-fit head-up display gives additional information and despite its relatively simple appearance, there’s the usual suite of driver assistance systems beneath the surface.
The CX-30 was the first car to use Mazda’s Skyactiv-X spark compression engine and while it failed to wow us then, it has been updated since. The upgrades have unlocked an extra 6bhp, taking it to 183bhp, and 12lb ft of torque which, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t a lot. However, they’ve also improved the way the engine behaves. More torque is available from lower revs, especially helpful when you need a quick burst of acceleration without shifting down. It makes the CX-30 an easier, more relaxing thing to drive, as does a welcome step up in refinement. Compared with the turbocharged units in rivals, however, it still lacks some overall flexibility and you’ll find yourself using all the revs to get the most out of it.
The upgrades also reportedly bring an improvement in efficiency and emissions from the mild hybrid setup, with the two-wheel drive variant offering an extra 2.5mpg and a 6g/km drop in CO2 output. That means combined consumption of 49.6mpg and CO2 of 128g/km, in line with the likes of the mild hybrid Puma.
You can specify a CX-30 with all-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox but our test car kept things simpler with front-wheel drive and a six-speed manual.
In that guise, the CX-30 must be one of the most hatchback-like cars in its class. It feels light and nimble and the combination of well-balanced steering and Mazda’s trademark sharp gearshift mean it’s far more enjoyable to drive than you might expect.
In fact, the only real sticking point is that the Mazda3 hatchback is even better to drive. The flip side to that is that the CX-30 offers a little more space for rear passengers and an extra 100 liters of boot space, plus added ground clearance so you can pretend to live a rugged lifestyle.
The CX-30 starts at £24,645 for the SE-L trim with the basic 121bhp Skyactiv-G engine but our more powerful GT Sport was a more substantial £31,415 before you add £870 for the spectacular Soul Red paint. The GT Sport adds features such as power adjustable leather seats, heated steering wheel and a 12-speaker Bose sound system to the already impressive Sport Lux, which has adaptive LED headlights, 18-inch alloys, powered tailgate, heated seats and dual-zone climatic control. It’s towards the higher end of the compact SUV price bracket but you can see and feel where your money is being spent.
Buyers in the market for a compact SUV market aren’t short of options and there’s a car for most budgets, tastes and requirements. But the Mazda CX-30 stands out for its impressive blend of premium looks and feel and an excellent driving experience.
Price: £31,415 (£32,225 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol, mild hybrid; power: 183bhp; torque: 177lbft; Transmission: Six-speed manual; Topspeed: 127mph; 0-62mph: 8.3 seconds; Economy: 49.6mpg; CO2emissions: 128g/km