My Car Quest

April 16, 2024

Driving Impression: 2020 Mazda CX30 SUV

by Wallace Wyss –

Photos by Richard Bartholomew and Wallace Wyss –

The trouble with being an enthusiast is if you’re married to someone who is let’s say, less than enthusiastic about fast driving than you are. So that leaves out cars with too loud an exhaust or too harsh a ride.

Fortunately there is a car we just test drove that fulfills both roles. It’s a family SUV, a compact one, and the wife can drive it and never know, if she doesn’t flick a certain button that this pussycat is a tiger underneath.

Mazda CX30 SUV

And it’s good looking. I would have to say that from the windshield forward it’s the equal of a modern Maserati. The grille is particularly Italianate. There’s little touches that enhance the headlights and tights, should I call them “eye shadow” but they make them more intriguing. Proportionately you still have a stubby compact SUV but a good looking stubby.

Mazda CX30 SUV

Inside a stunner

This car competes with the Honda HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport and Subaru Crosstrek but comes across as more refined inside and out. It is one of three SUVs Mazda sells, fitting between the CX-3 and CX-5. I have to hand it to Mazda’s designer that they manage to carry over some of the design language of their Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback to this SUV and make it look stylish.

Mazda CX30

The driver’s seat was completely relaxing, had more controls than the front passenger seat.

Mazda CX30

Stitching and materials are top notch for a car that starts in the low 20k’s.

I admit I sometimes step into a test car blindfolded. Oh, don’t mean with my eyes covered but I mean I don’t read up on it in advance. I drive it and guess what it cost. Right from the outset, I thought “This is nice for $32,000”. The stitching on the dash, the fit and finish, the expensive look of the gauges, it all made some the rival interiors in the same price range look so cheap.

Mazda CX30

Binnacle for instruments somewhat reminiscent of early Ferraris. Easy to read and traditional.

I particularly liked the driver’s bucket seat, the most comfortable seat this 6-footer has sat in for decades. Unfortunately the passenger seats didn’t have all the same electric switches.

Now in the back there was not enough leg room once I had the front setbacks leaned back, so I would say this is a SUV for families where the kids are grade school age.

I wouldn’t try three passengers across the back. The trunk is also a bit limited in size, 20.2 cubic feet which expands to 45.2 cubic feet once you fold the backseats. That’s where the competition makes some strides. Honda (57.6), Nissan (53.3) and Subaru (55.3) so I would call this SUV more of “personal SUV,” because it’s smaller and not up to say business use where you have to haul around things to customers.

The Confounding Radio

One of the big battles in the car industry is–what are you offering technology wise? I think many new car purchases are being made on this. And this is where I had a little trouble, all CX-30s get a Mazda Connect infotainment system with an 8.8-inch center display, but it isn’t a touchscreen and I need that so, for instance, I can make the map bigger or smaller. When I’m driving I don’t have time to figure out how to make things on screen bigger and smaller with other controls. A touchscreen is intuitive. What I really was stumped by was the radio when on Sirius mode, I could get one channel but couldn’t get the others so the last four days got only the E-street band.

In the old days if you didn’t like the radio your car came with you could change it at the dealer but now the radios are designed into a system. It’s useless for me to complain, just like the parking brake in this car is electronic. It automatically sets it when you park. You release it with a tiny button in the console. No mechanical foot brake, those days are going but it was always with trepidation I moved that electric switch forward to disengage the parking brake. Will it work?

I am not saying Mazda should fire its interior designers but they should be commanded to write the word “Intuitive” on the blackboard 100 times so that a stranger to the car can get in and drive it. What if you rented this car at an airport and had to drive across a strange town to a business meeting? You have no time to read an owner’s manual. It needs to be simplified. Drivers do have the option of handing some infotainment controls over to Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Mazda CX30

The screen is big enough though at first glance it looks like someone dropped a laptop down a hole in the dash. Problem is it takes so many operations to get what you want on the screen.

I don’t use that many electronic things when I drive but another tester complained that there are only two USB ports and one 12-volt outlet up front, with no power points within easy reach of passengers in back. But I say this is not a car for four or five adults to drive on a long trip, so I don’t know how much kids have their electronic demands in the back seat.

Standard is adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist. In the Premium Package you can get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a head-up display.

The Driving

In the ordinary driving, not in the Sport mode, it feels competent, and has a very quiet engine. The inline four is 2.5-liters, naturally aspirated, rated at 186 horsepower with 186 pound-feet of torque. It is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission which, in regular mode does shifts so smooth you hardly are aware of them. But once you go into Sport, it makes you aware of them, pleasing to the enthusiast. As I said, I go into a test car without reading the manual. Hence it was only three days after receiving the car that I found the two paddles hidden by the steering wheel. Once you use those while in Sport Mode, it becomes a whole different animal, one eager to get up and go and show you what it’s got.

Mazda CX30 SUV

Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available for all trim levels. On this one, an all-wheel-drive Premium model, admittedly I lost probably 2 mpg because of the penalty for the extra weight of all wheel drive but to me it was well worth it in the confidence it gives you, particularly in the Midwest or East Coast in winter. Remember All Wheel Drive is not the same as 4WD. All four wheels powered, yes, but this SUV does not have the ground clearance for going on unpaved trails or straight across the road-less desert.

The EPA estimates are that it’ll deliver 25 miles per gallon in the city and 32 mpg on the highway. I was happy with a 26 mpg combined.

Mazda CX30

Engine access is good, the cover covering the top of the engine is removable, makes maintenance far easier.

If it is in non-Sport mode, it is a bit slow to get the message. It isn’t until you wind up to 4000 rpm that it begins to pick up steam. But flick the Sport switch and it happily lunges forward, and lets the transmission hang in a gear longer, so the engine can deliver more torque to get you up to speed. But I doubt most women will use that switch so you wonder if they will mistakenly think the car is slow?

Mazda CX30

Headlamps have a sort of “eyelid” over them that is every bit as effective as a lady’s eye shadow and false lashes in adding allure.

The suspension tuning on the CX-30 is also a bit controversial. It is designed to be compliant, quiet and comfortable around town, which you expect but it is surprisingly assertive around corners. That’s where the all wheel drive says “I’m here to help.” The steering is light you know it’s responsive because of its sharp turn-in, enabled by something called the G-Vectoring Control Plus system. That device reduces engine torque to the front wheels slightly once you dial in some steering input. The wheels on the test car were 18-inchers wearing 18-inch Bridgestone Turanza EL 400 tires. The tires delivered good grip. I have never been in a compact SUV with such inspiring cornering..

Mazda CX30

The taillights also have their own “veiled eye” look. Think femme fatales of ’40s film noir movies.

So overall this is a remarkable vehicle. Better styling than normal, better drive train, a better suspension, sports car like steering response and strong brakes. A guy could own this and drive it like a sports car, unlike competitors like the Honda HR-V, Rogue Sport or Crosstrek. It’s just that radio I hold against it.

The Price is key

Now I was a little misleading on price. True, the base vehicle is $21,000 but with the loaded all-wheel-drive CX-30 Premium Package you climb up ten grand to $31,025, including $1,100 for destination. I don’t think you need that many extras

You could save another $1400 leaving out all-wheel drive. But I think you need it to get that sharp cornering.

I would ask the dealer if you can drive differently equipped models to see which features you can get long without. Suffice to say that the CX-30 demonstrates that an SUV is not a “penalty” for an enthusiast driver if set up like our test car, It’s got the looks, interior build quality, and fun driving capability.

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is co-host of KUCR FM’s “AUTOTalk” show.


THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Richard Bartholomew is an artist and photographer based in Southern California. Visit his YouTube channel here. He is open to interesting consignments and can be reached at

Mazda CX30 SUV

It’s far from being the longest SUV, I would say built for two adults and two kids, not for four adults

Driving Impression: 2020 Mazda CX30 SUV
Article Name
Driving Impression: 2020 Mazda CX30 SUV
The 2020 Mazda CX30 is a compact family SUV and the wife can drive it and never know, if she doesn't flick a certain button that this pussycat is a tiger underneath.


  1. This sounds like a terrific SUV for the money.

  2. Mike Clarke says

    I have owned a CX5 for over a year now in the same colors and love it. The handling is superb and I find the ergonomics perfect. A lot of thought went into the design unlike the Hyundai and a few others I drove. Mazda puts all the controls right were you need them and they don’t over do it with to many switches or hard to find knobs. Mine has the heads up display which I love and has the safety package, side alerts and adaptive driving. I use the adaptive driving all the time and love it for freeway travel. It allows you to keep distance from the car in front and with the click of a button you can tell it how much distance you want to keep. The only negative thing I can say is that on hills the CX5 its a bit underpowered, but with that comes 36-38 MPG. I paid 34K for it loaded with every option, quite the bargain . There is a new version with a turbo and more HP . In short its one of the best cars Ive owned, I really enjoy driving it.

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