At first glance, the CX-30 easily fits Mazda’s current design theme, with a face shared with several other models — including the top-selling CX-5 compact crossover. The CX-30 is slightly smaller, and really feels like a tall car as you can see over the roof, unlike most crossovers, and actually replaces the departed CX-3 in the lineup. Mazda is also offering a similarly sized MX-30 hatchback that will be the brand’s first totally electric-drive model.
After only a few miles, two thoughts dominate impressions of this upscale five-door. Mazda is clearly aiming for more than budget shoppers, as the CX-30’s premium interior, chocolate brown and black leather trim offsetting white leather seating and white headliner gives the car a decidedly luxurious appearance. Simple and efficient buttons and controls (except for the screen control) are augmented by a comprehensive array of features in our Premium Plus tester ($36,345 versus a base price of $23,275).
The second takeaway is how uncannily similar this subtle little hatchback is to the infamous Mazdaspeed 3 five-door of a decade ago. The Mazdaspeed 3 was very fast for the combative niche that it competed in, against compact hot-rod hatchbacks from VW, Ford and Honda. Packing a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder making 263 hp and a healthy 280 pound/feet of push-you-in-the-back torque, that front-drive-only car quickly earned a legion of fans who loved whopping on Honda Civics. The six-speed manual could barely handle the abundant torque-steer from the engine, and it was common to fry the front tires trying to make a quick getaway.
The CX-30 also uses a turbo-four, a 2.5-liter engine that makes 227 hp as well as 310 pound/feet of peak torque. Teamed with a six-speed automatic and full-time AWD, the CX-30 puts the ample power to the ground much better than the Mazdaspeed 3, while the rich torque curve provides a strong but more lineal punch to your nerves in the backside.
Strangely, the modern CX-30, with a host of electronic driving aids plus the advances in safety gear inherent in more than a decade, weighs exactly as much as the Mazdaspeed 3 — 3,280 pounds. The Mazdaspeed 3 was also 4 inches longer, at 177.6 inches, however the CX-30 has 1 more inch of wheelbase, 105 inches, which helps with ride dynamics. The CX-30 has roughly 10 percent more cargo room behind the upright rear seats, gets 5 miles per gallon more on the EPA highway cycle (22/30 mpg vs. 21/25 mpg for the previous gen) but also has a starting price roughly $10,000 more for top editions than the Mazdaspeed 3 of a decade ago.
While the CX-30’s surfaces are visual treats, the rest of the car offers surprises — and compromises. Packing a lengthy list of components, the CX-30 will impress many shoppers with its content — like the Korean brands have done. Heated steering wheel and heated memory seats, big sunroof, navigation, 12-speaker Bose, power liftgate as well as G-vectoring controls for the selectable AWD system, Mazda gives the CX-30 a fighting chance against entry-level luxury cars you might also consider, like the Audi A3 Sportback. Include the ever-present assortment of electronic sensors for driving assists, and the CX-30 checks a lot of boxes.
One of these systems, the Mazda’s lane-keeping assist system, was fond of detecting pavement seams and activating its various warnings. Thankfully, you can turn this system off.
You cannot, however, turn off the console knob that handles the central dash screen. Most screen functions are handled with this twisting, sliding dial, which requires too much eye attention onto the console buttons as well as the screen, to monitor your multiple steps for ordinarily simple selections. Buyers can debate how they prefer various computer-like controllers over another, but far too many are needlessly cumbersome, and at the least, too distracting to use while driving — which is contrary to their supposed intent.
The rear seat proved to be surprisingly comfortable, which would not be your impression at first exposure. But careful sculpting of both the backs of the front seats, as well as the headliner, presents more than enough knee and head room for even 6-footer occupants. The cargo hold, however, is narrow and requires folding the rear seatbacks for any articles of size.
The Mazdaspeed 3 is the kind of car you seek out on Bring-A-Trailer as an affordable performance car from an era that Mazda, and other automakers, are only too happy to leave behind. The finely honed portfolio of the CX-30 is the mature, grown-up version of a car — and a company — that seeks a different buyer and a richer future.
Next week: Genesis GV70 Prestige