Affordable crossovers have to be a lot of things to a lot of people. Some focus on excellent cargo space (Honda HR-V), while others make their mark with flashy style (Toyota C-HR). Still, it's rare that one of these subcompact SUVs actually gets me excited to go driving. But that's where the Mazda CX-30 comes in.

The CX-30 is Mazda's latest small crossover, slotting between the CX-3 and CX-5. If you're wondering why it isn't just called CX-4, it's because Mazda already sells a vehicle by that name in other markets, and the company tells me that CX-30 marks the beginning of a new naming convention that will eventually be applied to the whole lineup.

The 2020 CX-30 is available with either front- or all-wheel drive, powered by a 2.5-liter, naturally aspirated I4 engine with 186 horsepower, 186 pound-feet of torque and a six-speed automatic transmission. This is the same powertrain you'll find in the Mazda3, and for the most part, it's fine. There's enough power on tap once you're up and going, but off the line, this CUV is a little slow -- largely a product of the engine's torque not being fully available until 4,000 rpm.

Once it's up to speed, the CX-30 shines. I'm not sure there's a better-handling new crossover that can be had for less than $30,000.

On a backroad drive from San Diego, California, out to the desert of Palm Springs, the CX-30 is truly fun to drive. A lot of credit goes to Mazda's G-Vectoring Control Plus tech, which essentially reduces torque to the engine the tiniest little bit when steering input is detected. In turn, that generates a bit more load onto the front tires. Meanwhile the all-wheel drive system helps prevent understeer. Once I start to unwind the wheel, GVCP ever so slightly applies the front, outside brake, while the all-wheel-drive system transfers more torque to the rear wheels.

It's a lot of electronic wizardry, but the result is smoother, more accurate cornering characteristics. Throw the CX-30 into a decreasing-radius turn and it'll rotate like a boss. The steering is perfectly weighted, and the chassis rolls just the right amount.

Off the canyon roads, the CX-30 proves to be a viable commuter, as well. I may have to throw the hammer down to get up to speed while merging onto the highway, but once I'm there, the standard adaptive cruise control can do a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Mazda's lane-keeping technology (also standard) is less intrusive than the systems I've experienced in other subcompact crossovers, and the available blind-spot monitoring chime is very mellow. Normally, I'm so annoyed with any beeps and boops that I turn off audible alerts right away, but the Mazda's chime is almost pleasant.

Mazda's navigation system includes traffic sign recognition technology, and the company goes one step further than just displaying the speed limit on the available head-up display. A red vertical line is placed at the speed limit on the speedometer, and then follows the needle horizontally as you exceed it. No excuses for a speeding ticket here, folks.

The 8.8-inch infotainment screen is set far back on the dash.

Mazda

The CX-30 comes standard with an 8.8-inch color screen running the Mazda Connect infotainment system. The important thing to remember here is that it is not a touchscreen. It's slightly more complicated to learn than other systems, with everything is operated by a dial on the center console. However, Mazda believes that once customers learn the system, the non-touchscreen will prove to be less distracting.

And Mazda might just be right. After I get my radio presets dialed in I quickly realize that a click to the right of the dial brings me to my preset page, and another click to the right brings up the next preset. Press the dial to select and I've switched from Classic Rewind to Yacht Rock, and I haven't taken my eyes off the road a single time.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are along for the ride in all but the lowest trim level. It's easy to switch between the smartphone apps and the native system just by holding the home button to the right of the console dial. However, since these third-party interfaces are largely based on touch ability, it's a bit hard to navigate them using the dial. You'll spend a lot of time clicking the wheel through every single tile until you get to the one you want. Ironically, this is where the system gets pretty distracting.

Not too big, not too small.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Beyond the tech, the CX-30 punches above its price point inside, with fine materials and superior craftsmanship. I love the seats, which are designed to bring drivers' spines into alignment but still maintain a pillow-soft feel. A 12-speaker Bose stereo system is available, providing a killer soundtrack. Behind the rear seats you've got about 20 cubic feet of space, which is average for the class, and folding the rear seats flat nets you 94 cubes.

I'm not really a fan of the interior color schemes, however. Your options are black or white with either navy or brown highlights. My tester features black seats, dash and doors, with a brown center console and dash pad that continues on to highlight the side panels. Even with white as a base, the brown just doesn't do it for me. Perhaps the white seats with a black dash and navy highlights would be more pleasing. But hey, to each their own.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 starts at $21,900, not including $1,045 for destination. My tester has a few extra options and all-wheel drive, as well as the gorgeous Soul Red Crystal paint, bringing it to a still-pretty-affordable $30,920. Frankly, to get anything that handles as well and looks as good as the CX-30, you'd have to jump up to a German luxury crossover. Sure, the BMW X1s and Mercedes-Benz GLAs of this world have more power, but this little Mazda is just as potent, looks better and costs a heck of a lot less.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.