2020 Mazda CX-30 storage

Mazda CX-30 First Drive: A Subcompact Fit for Micro Adventure

Mazda’s latest subcompact SUV ‘caters to active lifestyles’ of young couples who live in cities. We got behind the wheel of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 to find out what this new little crossover is all about.

Earlier this week, I got to spend a day behind the wheel of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium in Southern California. I experienced the vehicle in a wide range of driving conditions. I talked to the engineers and executives at Mazda about all the details of this all-new vehicle in its lineup.

2020 Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 falls between the super-tiny CX-3 and the super-popular CX-5 mid-size in the Mazda SUV lineup. It fits in the subcompact SUV vehicle category, which has exploded from around 200,000 to nearly 800,000 vehicles sold per year in the U.S. over the past 5 years.

There are about 10 current vehicles in this class, including vehicles like the Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade, and Hyundai Kona. About 31 percent of inflow into this vehicle class is from sedans, with 24 percent from bigger SUVs.

With fuel economy, looks, and driving dynamics becoming more and more similar to sedans, and with a taller seating position and more cargo room, this vehicle category is sure to continue to expand.

While the world got a peek at the CX-30 at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, its American debut was only a few weeks ago at the LA Auto Show. Mazda will make the U.S. vehicles in Mexico on the same production line as the Mazda 3.

The vehicle hits U.S. Mazda dealer lots this week. So you could probably go buy one today.

Mazda CX-30 Exterior Styling

The Mazda CX-30 is a “sleek crossover that has the flowing beauty of a coupe and the bold proportions of an SUV.” The reality is that this little SUV looks uniquely Mazda, while at the same time looking like every other Japanese subcompact SUV.

I find the design pretty beautiful, excluding the excessive plastic body cladding when looked at on its own. When lined up with its competitors, I think the CX-30 fares very well but is too similar to truly stand out.

2020 Mazda CX-30

The Kodo Design philosophy, “soul of motion,” that Mazda uses for all its vehicles produced a unique, clean, sharp nose and flowy sides. I like the super-simple and clean nose on the CX-30, including the well-proportioned, intricate grille and LED fog lamps integrated into the lower bumper.

Besides a few distinct lines, however, the overall shape and rear of the vehicle are very similar to the competition.

CX-30 Interior

Inside the all-new Mazda CX-30, you’ll find a well-appointed and upscale-looking interior. You get an 8.8-inch infotainment screen, a lot of buttons and dials, and optional rich leather dash and seats.

It’s also quite spacious for such a small vehicle. The CX-30 offers up 94.1 cubic feet of passenger volume and 20.2 of cargo volume, which puts it squarely in the middle of the back amongst its competitors.

A low, wide rear liftgate opening makes cargo loading super easy.

2020 Mazda CX-30 interior

The relatively big infotainment screen is not a touchscreen. It’s controlled by two dials and a variety of buttons behind the shifter, along with several buttons on the steering wheel. This system is not very intuitive, but once you’re accustomed to it, it works quite well. Mazda even admitted that research has shown that it takes about 3 weeks to learn the system.

Mazda stands by the decision to go this way, however, as research has also shown that 80 percent of collisions are due to distracted driving, and touchscreens are a major cause. Their research has shown that you must watch your finger when using a touchscreen.

By removing the touch requirement from the screen, the automaker is also able to mount it much farther forward and higher on the dash. This makes the screen require much less glance time, keeping your eyes focused on the road.

Mazda also offers up fewer than seven things on the screen at any one time. Based on short-term memory theories, this is designed to keep you focused on the road and not on the in-car screen.

The infotainment system, of course, offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but both of these systems can now be simultaneously controlled through your phone and the vehicle. Every button in the CX-30 offers up a nice, soft feel and clear click for optimal tactile feedback.

2020 Mazda CX-30 interior

The seats in the CX-30 are a new design that creates a slightly more upright seating position. This is accomplished with a shorter, lower seat cushion and thigh support angle adjustment.

These features move your pelvis back in the seat and rotated more upright. I found this setup to be extremely comfortable in the driver’s seat, but not so much in the passenger seat. This is because the lower seat cushion angle isn’t adjustable on the passenger seat.

Mazda is really proud of the new audio system in the CX-30. The system has moved the tweeters from the dash to the doors for a direct angle on your ears and moved the subs out of the doors and up under the dash on the sides of the car for more amplification.

Both of these small changes should improve the sound, but I wasn’t impressed. I only got to experience the top-of-the-line 12-speaker Bose sound system. The sound the system produced was front-heavy and a bit hollow. I have a bit of an ear for these things, as I used to sell and install home theater systems.

No matter how I adjusted the audio settings, I couldn’t produce more than a mediocre audio experience.


The headline on all the marketing materials for the CX-30 is “class-leading standard horsepower.” The CX-30 offers up the same 2.5L four-cylinder backed by a six-speed transmission found in the Mazda 3, Mazda CX- 5, and Mazda 6. In the CX-30, this engine puts out 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet torque, which is good for a top speed of 126 mph.

With a curb weight over 3,000 pounds, I wouldn’t call the CX-30 quick, but it has plenty of power to get you where you need to go. Highway speeds and passing are more than competent, but off the line, speed is not very impressive.

2020 Mazda CX-30 off-road

There’s a Sport Mode as well, but it just changes the electronically controlled shift points. I tried my hardest to tell a difference from Standard Mode. Honestly, the exhaust makes a little more noise more often due to slightly higher RPMs. Otherwise, there is no real noticeable difference in performance.

The vehicle I got to spend the day with had the all-wheel-drive system, which is available on all trim levels and offers true 50/50 power distribution. The system calculates individual tire loads in real time through a vehicle dynamics model.

It’s now working all the time versus just when wheel spin is detected. This programing makes for much more sure-footed driving in all conditions, including on dry pavement when you’re pushing the vehicle hard in corners.

The CX-30 is in front-wheel drive most of the time for optimal fuel efficiency. On road, if you floor the skinny pedal, the vehicle assumes you want maximum acceleration versus all-wheel traction.

When in Off-Road Mode, the CX-30 assumes you’re on a loose surface and sends power to the rear wheel immediately for optimal traction. Also in Off-Road mode, the traction control system allows full engine torque and aggressive braking to any spinning wheel.

2020 Mazda CX-30

While the CX-30 has the same super-competent chassis as the Mazda 3, it offers up a lot more ground clearance, at 7.9 inches. The CX-30 also only gets less mpg than its chassis mate, an EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined for the base front-wheel-drive model and 27 mpg combined for the top-of-the-line AWD with cylinder deactivation.

Mazda says it focused on “human-centric engineering” to develop the CX-30 passenger experience. This means it looked into things like ways to use the big calf muscle versus the weaker shin muscle when depressing the brake pedal.

It claims to have created a “short stroke high effort brake pedal feel.” While that might sound like a lot of marketing fluff, I can say that the brakes are really responsive and powerful on the CX-30.

The CX-30 also gets a softer sidewall tire, softer springs, and stiffer bushings than other Mazda SUVs. These changes are said to create a simpler impact profile, simplifying the motion transferred to the vehicle occupants. This less complex impact motion transfer keeps the vehicle balanced and makes the ride more comfortable.

Again, maybe marketing fluff, but I can verify that the CX-30 is an easy, comfortable vehicle to drive that I wouldn’t hesitate to take on a long road trip.

Technology-Packed Vehicle

Consumers expect the latest tech in vehicles at all price points, and Mazda delivers with the CX-30.

The vehicle introduces Mazda Connected Services with a 3-year complimentary trial, which connects the car for free infotainment updates. It also includes in-car Wi-Fi, with a 6-month or 2GB data plan included and paid subscription after.

2020 Mazda CX-30

Next week, the MyMazda app will also be available. The app offers lock/unlock, start/stop, and vehicle locator functionality. It will also allow you to send navigation from your phone to the vehicle.

Mazda has also included all the safety equipment you’d expect from a modern vehicle in the CX-30. While the safety features are all there, Mazda also has an Active Safety Philosophy.

For example, the vehicle respects the driver enough to limit the amount of torque the lane-departure-prevention system can send to the wheels. This lets the driver have more control in variable road conditions and disable the main driver aid/safety systems with a touch of a single button on the dash.

Mazda CX-30 Pricing

The Mazda CX-30 comes in four trim levels: standard, Select, Preferred, and Premium. A front-wheel-drive standard CX-30 will start at $21,900. For $1,400 more, you can upgrade to all-wheel drive across all trim levels.

I spent time in the top-of-the-line CX-30 Premium AWD on the press drive. This top-spec has a starting price of $29,600. The Premium package gets you a windshield-projected Active Driving Display, leather seats, a power liftgate, a power moonroof, an Adaptive Front Lighting system, roof rails, paddle shifters, cylinder deactivation, and LED Signature illumination headlights and taillights.

This pricing range, from $22,945 to $30,645, is about the middle of the pack in the subcompact SUV category. It’s also pretty much identical to the Subaru Crosstrek pricing structure, although the Crosstrek is AWD in all trim levels.

Mazda CX-30 Review: First Drive Impressions

Mazda thought out nearly everything well on the all-new CX-30. It’s a good vehicle at an economically competitive price. The driving experience of the CX-30 isn’t what I’d call inspiring, but I would say it’s more than competitive with anything else in its category and price point.

I love the comfy driver’s seat. I don’t like the passenger seat as much, although both are heated. The thin, large steering wheel and the relatively heavy steering are great, as they make the vehicle feel planted and responsive. The paddle shifters on the steering wheel are a fun addition. The ride is quite harsh off road; but on-road, the ride is comfortable and nimble. For this class of vehicles, the interior is very quiet.

2020 Mazda CX-30 storage

There is great visibility in all directions out of the CX-30. I love the large optional heads-up display and 7-inch digital gauge display. I particularly like the speed-limit indicator, shown by a little red line on the digital speedometer gauge. But I have to admit that I’m not a big fan of the infotainment system. Of course, I also didn’t have 3 weeks to get comfortable with it.

The excessive plastic body cladding on the sides of the CX-30 cheapens what is otherwise a really beautiful, high-quality, flowy form. The quality deep paint on the CX-30 also helps show off the beautiful lines of the vehicle. Sadly, if you parked the CX-30 next to all its similar Japanese competitors, it would blend into the crowd way too easily.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

The Mazda CX-30 is a worthy entry into the already-crowded U.S. subcompact SUV market. Although it doesn’t have any one thing that truly elevates it above the competition, it’s holistically a compelling vehicle. But will the quality package be enough for Mazda to attract more young active lifestyle buyers?

Also, be sure to keep an eye out for the similar Mazda MX-30. It’s Mazda’s first all-electric offering, which debuted earlier this year at the Tokyo Auto Show. It’s likely to find its way to the U.S. at some point, although no formal announcements have come yet.

Bryon Dorr

Bryon Dorr caught the outdoor adventure addiction through whitewater kayaking, and worldwide adventures to remote places ensued. He crafted his own professional path as a photographer, journalist, and marketing consultant in the automotive and outdoor industries, while full-time overland traveling for nearly 8 years. You’ll usually find him out exploring by 4x4, adventure motorcycle, or sports car while seeking out opportunities to ski, mountain bike, and kayak. Bryon now has a home base in Portland, OR with his wife and young daughter.