Mazda’s modern GLC: 2021 CX-30 is a Great Little Crossover

2020 Mazda CX-30

by Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2021 Mazda CX-30 different?

Possibly more than expected, given that the 2021 Mazda CX-30 will be in just its second season. A new, more powerful engine option is rumored. Even a name change is conceivable.

This stylish and solid compact crossover SUV debuted for model-year 2020 to positive reviews. Attractive styling, fine road manners, and competitive pricing are among its strengths against class sales leaders such as the Subaru Crosstrek, Chevrolet Trax, Honda HR-V, and Jeep Renegade.

The ’21 CX-30 will return as essentially a higher-riding version of the Mazda 3 hatchback compact car but with a more SUV-like body and all-wheel drive available on every trim. It’ll eventually replace the smaller, dowdier CX-3 as the automaker’s entry-level crossover. That could occur as soon as model-year 2021, and possibly coincide with the CX-30 assuming the CX-3 badge. That rename would more logically fit it into Mazda’s crossover lineup below the larger compact CX-5 and midsize CX-9.

Reports also have Mazda trying to invigorate demand for the slow-selling Mazda 3 by offering the 2021 model with an optional 200-plus horsepower turbocharged engine. Given their common engineering, the turbo engine could also be offered on the ’21 CX-30, potentially making it the subcompact-crossover performance leader.         

Note that driving impressions and other subjective conclusions in this review are based on test drives of 2020 CX-30s provided by Mazda. In areas where the ’21 CX-30 may differ, we withhold judgement.

Should I wait for the 2021 Mazda CX-30 or buy the 2020?

2020 CX-30

Wait for the ’21 if you’re intrigued by the possibility of a new engine option. The standard engine would remain a 186-horsepower naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder, itself likely repeating as the highest-horsepower base engine in the segment. Making available the turbo 2.5-liter four already available in other Mazdas, including the CX-5, could give the ’21 CX-30 as much as 250 horsepower, a huge boost that would complement its already impressive driving dynamics.

A name change is less consequential but potentially more confounding. Mazda befuddled some fans by not calling the CX-30 the CX-4; it said it didn’t wish to confuse it with the larger crossover by that name it sells in China. With the CX-3 apt to be discontinued as early as model-year 2021, its name could migrate to the CX-30, restoring numerical order to Mazda’s crossover hierarchy. Or, Mazda could adopt a double-digit identity for all its crossovers. It’s slated to add an all-new one for model-year 2022 and could give it a two-number CX suffix to signal that like the CX-30, it’s part of the brand’s next-generation SUV family. A switch to double digits for the next-generation CX-5 and CX-9, due for model years 2021 and ’22, respectively, could follow.

In any event, expect the 2021 CX-30 lineup to return Base, Select, Preferred, and Premium trims, each with the 186-horsepower engine and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). If Mazda makes available the turbo engine, it could link it to a new top-line trim, perhaps called the Signature.

Will the 2021 Mazda CX-30 styling be different?

“S” reflection reveals “Sori Curve” body-side sculpting

If a Signature trim or the like is added it could get its own wheels, perhaps a bit of extra exterior brightwork, and maybe exclusive interior touches. Otherwise, the carryover CX-30 models will return visually unchanged.

It’s a handsome look, penned in Mazda’s German studio and representing the next phase of its “Kodo” design language. The automaker says the simple nose exemplifies “beauty by subtraction” and the body sides incorporate a sword inspired “Sori Curve” to reflect light in an “S” form. The taillamps are positioned to imply rear height and width. Every model gets black cladding intended to make the CX-30 appear lighter and more aggressive. Instead, the plastic sheathing seems out of proportion, especially against body colors other than black or dark gray.

Model differentiators should again include wheels: 16-inch alloys on the Base trim, 18s on the carryover grades, and perhaps 19s on a Signature. Side-mirror turn-signal lamps are standard on all but the Base grade, and the Preferred and Premium get a gloss-black-finished grille. All ’21 CX-30s should return with full-LED exterior lighting.

2020 CX-30 Premium interior

Road noise on coarse pavement made its way into the cabin of our test CX-30s, but the interior was otherwise a pleasant environment thanks to upscale materials and calm, sophisticated design. Instrumentation is clear and sporty, per Mazda practice. The driver enjoys a cockpit feel but the front passenger doesn’t feel isolated.

All ’21 CX-30s should return an 8.8-inch central dashboard infotainment display supporting Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on Select trims and above. Voice commands, steering-wheel buttons, and the automaker’s well-thought-out console control cluster handle the interface. Mazda says touchscreens distract the driver and that shunning them means the display can be located higher and further forward, more in the driver’s line of sight. It all works here, and even though the bottom 20 percent of the screen is blocked from view by a dashtop lip, its live area is unaffected.

2020 CX-30

Base models should return with cloth upholstery, Select and Preferred with leatherette, and the Premium (and a possible Signature) with perforated leather. The front seats are firm and balance roominess and lateral support without resorting to prominent side bolsters. Smartly shaped outside mirrors contribute to fine outward visibility. The rear seat is shaped to promote a chair-like posture, providing more knee clearance and foot space than the specs might indicate. All but the Base get rear climate vents, rear privacy glass, and a center armrest with cupholders.      

2020 CX-30

Cargo volume is modest, at 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat and 45.2 with the 70/30 split seatbacks folded, it’s less overall than in such rivals as the Crosstrek, HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport, Ford EcoSport. But the space is efficiently shaped, the hatch opening is large, and 

the Premium comes with a power liftgate, unusual in this class.

Any mechanical changes to the 2021 Mazda CX-30?

2020 CX-30

A version of Mazda’s innovative Skyactiv-X engine that blends properties of gas and diesel combustion to maximize fuel economy and power is probably in this crossover’s future, but not for several years. So, unless the turbocharged 2.5-liter engine becomes available, the ’21 CX-30’s powertrain will be unchanged.

The turbo’s output would likely mirror its rating in the CX-5: 227 horsepower (250 with 93-octane gas) and 310 pound-feet of torque. It would link to the six-speed automatic transmission used with the CX-30’s current engine, probably with the paddle shifters presently exclusive to the Premium trim. Based on test drives of 2020 CX-30s, we don’t doubt the little SUV could comport itself admirably given the extra power. In this competitive set, only the Mini Countryman is available with more than 200 horsepower.

The 2020 CX-39 weighed up to 3252 pounds with front drive and up to 3353 with AWD, meaning the ‘21 CX-5 will likely remain among the heaviest vehicles in its competitive set. Acceleration with the carryover engine’s 186 horses and 186 pound-feet of torque should remain perfectly adequate, though, with good pickup off the line and enough muscle to drain the drama from higher-speed merging and passing. Use of a conventional automatic transmission means sharper throttle response than is sometimes available with the mushier continuously variable automatics employed by some rivals.

2020 CX-30

Unlike the best of those rivals, however, the ’21 CX-30 will again use a torsion beam rear axle instead of a more sophisticated and expensive independent rear suspension. Mazda defends this choice not as cost-cutting but as a byproduct of the ride and handling character it sought.

Frankly, it’s difficult to find much fault with the result: the CX-30 steers, corners, and rides with confidence-building control. Most every input and ensuing reaction is quick and slop-free. Our test examples stayed the course through bumpy turns and remain composed over high-speed humps and dips, settling nicely with minimal rebounding. Standard again on all ’21 CX-30s will be the latest iteration of the automaker’s G-Vectoring Control Plus, with subtly manipulates engine and brakes to hone initial turn-in. Overall, no subcompact crossover has better road manners.

Off-road, the ’21 CX-30 will benefit from electronics that transfer power to wheels with the most traction, even compensating for tires that aren’t in contact with the ground. Still, this is by no means a severe-terrain vehicle, with a modest 6.9 inches of ground clearance and AWD suited mostly to improving grip on snowy pavement or gravel paths.

Will 2021 Mazda CX-30 fuel economy improve?

2020 CX-30

Not unless the turbocharged engine becomes available. It would almost certainly would further penalize fuel economy already no better than midpack. Expect 2021 CX-30 EPA ratings with the carryover naturally aspirated engine to repeat those of the 2020 model. Look for ratings of 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 24/31/26 with AWD.

Ratings for the ’20 Premium model with AWD were a bit higher, at 25/32/27, attributable to the cylinder deactivation feature exclusive to that trim level. The system shuts off two cylinders when sensors decide all four aren’t needed. The transition between two and four cylinders was undetectable in the 2020 CX-30 Premium AWD we tested.

Will the 2021 Mazda CX-30 get new features?

2020 CX-30

If there’s a turbo-engine addition and a Signature grade associated with it, expect the new flagship to feature some exclusive flourishes, such as unique wheels, sumptuous leather, maybe even real wood interior accents. Indeed, some 250 horsepower and genuine veneers would underscore Mazda’s belief that the CX-30, at least in Preferred and Premium trim, is upscale enough to interest buyers drawn to similarly sized premium-brand crossovers, such as the Audi Q3 and BMX X1.

For now, the automaker says the CX-30’s typical target customer is a young couple starting a family. To that end it’ll continue to equip every 2021 model with its iActivsense suite of safety features. This includes autonomous emergency braking and lane-departure warning with lane-maintaining automatic steering correction. Also standard across the board is adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go traffic.

2020 CX-30

Few rivals include full LED lighting, automatic highbeam headlamps, and rain-sensing automatic wipers even on their least-expensive trim levels, but the CX-30 does. And while blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection will probably remain standard on the ’21 CX-30 starting with the Select trim, that’s lower on the model ladder than with most competitors.  

In addition to the equipment already noted, every ’21 CX-30 will come with an electronic parking brake, push button ignition, two front USB inputs, and an in-car Wi-Fi hot spot. Also standard is Mazda Connected Services with MyMazda app support, allowing remote control of door locks and engine and monitoring of oil status and tire pressure.

Power liftgate was standard on ’20 CX-30 Premium

Expect the 2021 CX-30 Select trim to again include aforementioned features, plus full keyless entry, leather steering wheel and shift knob, and dual-zone automatic climate control. Look for the ’21 Preferred to again include all that, plus a Bose 12-speaker audio upgrade, heated front seats, eight-way power and memory driver’s seat with lumbar support, memory position door mirrors, and satellite radio.

The ’21 CX-30 Premium will return with a head-up instrument display, a power moonroof, roof cargo rails, steering-linked headlamps, and LED signature illumination headlights and taillights.

Will 2021 Mazda CX-30 prices be different?

2020 CX-30

Bet on modest increases that’ll still leave the 2021 CX-30 priced at the heart of the segment, in the $23,000-$31,000 range. That’s good news, considering Mazda’s labored move upmarket. That march – to a hazy realm just short of premium – must convince American shoppers who still view Mazda as a mainstream economy brand. The strategy already claimed its first casualty in the latest Mazda 3, where overly optimistic pricing and positioning seems at the root of its disappointing sales.

CX-30 seems to strike a smarter balance, its styling, décor, and dynamics delivering value commensurate with its price, and arguably, beyond its price. For reference, here are 2020 CX-30 prices (base prices include the $1,045 destination fee).

The ’20 CX-30 Base model started at $22,945 with front-wheel drive and at $24,345 with AWD, the Select at $24,945 and $26,3435, respectively. Base price for the ’20 CX-30 Preferred was $27,245 with front-drive and $28,645 with AWD. The ’20 CX-30 Premium was priced from $29,245 with front-drive and from $29,645 with AWD.

Optional CD card provided satellite navigation for ’20 CX-30

Technically, Mazda considers these trim levels to be packages, while at the same time limiting options to dealer-installed accessories. Foremost among these is an SD card that upgrades the standard infotainment system with satellite navigation that does not depend on a cellular signal to provide real-time GPS matching. Suggested retail is $450, but we found the cards available from third-party sources online for $382, or “refurbished” on eBay for under $100.

Also available is a frameless automatic-dimming mirror at $275, or $375 w/Homelink remote, and a wireless charging pad for $275 Base.

When does the 2021 Mazda CX-30 come out?

2020 CX-30

Release date for the 2021 Mazda CX-30 will likely be in the fall of 2020.

What are the best competitors to the 2021 Mazda CX-30?

Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona and Venue, Jeep Renegade, Kia Seltos, Mini Cooper Countryman, Nissan Kicks and Rogue Sport, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR

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About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]