How does Mazda do it?
Once more, the little car company that can from Hiroshima, Japan has delivered a svelte little automotive bon-bon sure to win the hearts of automotive enthusiasts and design junkies. Dubbed the CX-30, it's larger and rides higher than the CX-3, but is smaller than the CX-5. You'd think they'd call it the CX-4, but another Mazda with that name already exists, albeit overseas.
Of course, they could have called it Goldilocks, for this compact crossover is the perfect size for city/suburban commuting warfare, with a starting price of just $21,900 for the base front-wheel-drive model. But wait, it gets better. There's plenty of goodness for that low, low price, including automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, remote keyless entry with push-button start, power windows and door locks, eight-speaker sound system with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio, HD Radio, Pandora integration, and two USB ports. There are also the sort of standard driver-assistance features you'd be surprised to find at this price, such as electronic brakeforce distribution with brake-assist, driver attention alert, stability control, traction control, lane departure warning system with lane-keep assist, and radar cruise control. Yes, it has a rear-view camera, but that's now a federal requirement, as is the tire-monitoring system.
If your new CX-30 just has to have Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, blind spot monitoring. rear cross-traffic alert, dual-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, or leatherette seats, or rear air-conditioning vents, you'll have to add the Select Package. And it gets nicer from there thanks to the Preferred Package (eight-way driver power seat with power lumber support and driver seat memory, heated front seats, overhead console w/ sunglass holder, Bose premium audio with 12 speakers and SiriusXM satellite radio and vanity mirror illumination among other features) or the Premium Package (head-up display, adaptive front lighting, cylinder deactivation, led lights, leather seats, paddle shifters, power liftgate, radar cruise control, power sliding-glass moonroof and roof rails).
Mazda has mastered the art of sublime understatement, strikingly elegant, and looking far more expensive than it is. It's not just the generous sue of French seams; it's small touches, such as the padding on the side of the center console where your knee rests, or the spear of chrome that runs across the instrument panel, much like a 1960s American sedan. There are also some modern interpretations of classic forms such as the climate control, which looks like an old school radio with two knobs flanking the horizontal readout and a row of five small buttons underneath. It's very clever. And the use of four colors on our Premium model test vehicle was a welcome change from the ubiquitous black, gray or beige interiors that infect too many car interiors.
Controls are easy to understand and operate, with the exception of Mazda's infotainment system. The sleek graphics and crisp display are easy to see, and operate using a knob mounted on the center console. But it takes far too many hits and scrolls to do something simple, like change a radio station, especially while driving. It's not a deal breaker; it's more of an annoyance than anything else.
Nevertheless, all in you'll come in around $30,000 – not bad for so much premium content. But this isn't some basic bargain; it's a Mazda. So there are certain things that you can expect: namely good performance and respectable fuel economy.
Unlike its competition, Mazda engineers wisely bypassed using a turbocharged engine. Instead they endow the CX-30 with a normally-aspirated 2.5-liter four rated 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. There's good power once at speed; it feels punchy enough to deal with the cut and thrust of daily commuting, particularly in Sport mode, although you have to mash the throttle for strong sprints off the line. But that's easily overlooked thanks to the CX-30's agility. Grip is impressive, and body lean very well controlled. Steering is nicely weighted without feeling heavy or artificial. Ride is firm and jiggly over bumps, but impressively quiet and subdued otherwise. It makes for an engagingly fun drive, much like an MX-5 Miata with lots of passenger and cargo space.
The only real hiccup occurred during an intense thunderstorm, when two messages flashed on the instrument cluster: "safety and driver support systems temporarily disabled" and "front radar obscured. Drive safely." Given the weather was exactly when you'd want these systems to be active, it was a bit disconcerting. That said, having driven safely for five decades without them, I wasn't worried.
It's easy to find a comfortable driving position, and front seat occupants will have no problem getting comfortable. The same can't be said of the second row, where legroom is in short supply, but if the second row is only an occasional use item, or you have small children, this is not an issue. The view out is fairly good in all directions with the exception of rear-quarter visibility.