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Hey, do you like the Mazda3 but prefer a taller seating position and the ability to do some light off-roading? Are you into turbocharged engines, excellent cabin designs and the best red paint job in town? All this and more can be yours in the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo. With style and substance in spades, this is one of the hottest subcompact crossovers available today.
The CX-30 slots just below the CX-5, effectively taking the place of the smaller and soon-to-be-discontinued CX-3. The CX-30 shares a platform with the Mazda3, though it's a bit shorter in length, 5 inches taller and has 2.5 inches more ground clearance. So yeah, it's basically a lifted Mazda3.
The CX-30 originally launched with a naturally aspirated 2.5-liter engine, but Mazda added a turbo option for 2021. Boosted CX-30s distinguish themselves visually with a little "turbo" badge, black wheels and mirrors and slightly larger tailpipes, which you'll need a keen eye to really notice.
Discreet looks aside, the turbo engine really stands out. This 2.5-liter turbo I4 pushes out 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, though that's only if you're running 93-octane fuel. (Expect 227 hp and 310 lb-ft on regular ol' 87 gas.) This engine makes for quick acceleration off the line and a ton of midrange punch, especially when you're driving in Sport mode. There aren't any subcompact crossovers that offer this much power at this price point, though I'm very eager to drive the upcoming Hyundai Kona N with its rockin' 275 hp.
The turbocharged CX-30 is only available with all-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox is a little archaic, especially in light of eight- or even nine-speed transmissions that eke out better fuel economy. The CX-30 Turbo is rated at 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined, which isn't super great. During my week of testing, I saw 26.4 mpg, so at least those numbers are easy to see in the real world, even with only six forward gears.
With its taller ride height, the CX-30 can't quite match the Mazda3 in the handling department, but it's still a hoot to push on a backroad. Mazda gave the CX-30 Turbo a new differential to handle the increased torque, retuned the suspension to support the engine's added weight and switched up the programming of the transmission. Even so, the on-road experience just kind of feels like the regular CX-30, just with more power.
Frankly, that's A-OK by me. The CX-30 Turbo is happy to be chucked into corners, and nicely handles them thanks to Mazda's G-Vectoring Control Plus tech. This technology essentially transfers a tiny bit of weight to the car's nose on turn-in, ensuring more grip over the front wheels and less understeer. On corner exit, a bit of brake is applied to the outside front wheel to help transfer weight back to the rear. I can't really feel it happening, but combined with direct steering and lots of feedback, I have to make very few mid-corner corrections and, generally speaking, the CX-30's handling is nice and smooth.
The CX-30 also has an off-road mode. This switches up the all-wheel-drive system to reduce wheel slip and can apply the brakes to an unloaded wheel (read: up in the air) to force torque to the wheel that still has contact with the ground. On a few easy roads in the high desert of California, the CX-30 Turbo has no problem scrambling up a few lightly rocky hills and speeds down a flat dirt track without issue, even on my tester's Bridgestone all-season tires. The CX-30 is hardly a rock crusher, but it should get you out to the lake and back.
My one gripe about the drive experience is the electric parking brake. It engages itself automatically, which is fine, but then I have to remember to manually turn it off. Other manufacturers with automatic electronic parking brakes will also disengage when the driver puts the car in gear and touches the throttle. Mazda, take notice.
Every turbocharged CX-30 gets advanced driver's aids like full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane-departure mitigation and blind-spot monitoring. My Premium Plus tester adds rear cross-traffic braking, a 360-degree camera system and traffic jam assist, which keeps the car centered in its lane and controls the throttle and braking at speeds under 40 mph. If part of your commute is regularly spent in stop-and-go traffic, this feature is for you.
When it comes to cabin tech, however, Mazda really needs to up its game. Housed on an 8.8-inch screen, the Mazda Connect system is controlled by a rotary dial on the center console and a smattering of hard buttons. No touchscreen here, folks. Combined with a menu structure that isn't very intuitive, tasks take much longer to accomplish than they ought to. The native navigation tech is fine and the voice recognition is able to understand weird street names. However, methinks most folks will just bypass Mazda's system and use the standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I know I would.
Device charging is a little sparse in the CX-30. There is only one USB-A port up front and it's located in a little storage cubby where it's actually kind of hard to find. There is a second USB-A port and a 12-volt outlet in the armrest, and wireless charging is available for an extra $275. Rear seat passengers, meanwhile, get nothing.
Inside, the CX-30 is wonderful, with clean lines and high-quality materials. There isn't much frippery here, but the minimalist aesthetic works well. When sitting in the rear seat with the driver's seat set for my 5-foot, 9-inch driving position, I have about 2 inches of head- and kneeroom. Folks over 6 feet tall might have problems.
Cargo space is similarly on the smaller side, with 20.2 cubic feet of space with the rear seats up, expanding to 45.2 cubes when folded down. That's smaller than the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek, but I am still able to load 16 boxes of flooring tiles, measuring 48 inches long and weighing 51 pounds each, with no problems.
The 2021 CX-30 Turbo starts at $31,225 including $1,175 for destination. And nice as the more premium trims are, I'd just stick with that base version. I can live without a head-up display, heated steering wheel and the native navigation system. The Turbo model already comes with a lot of the CX-30's niceties. All I want is that $595 Soul Red paint.
When you look at the competition here, nothing can really compete with the Mazda. The 275-hp Hyundai Kona N will put up a good fight when it arrives in the US, but otherwise you have to jump up to more premium cars with higher price tags to match the CX-30 Turbo's power. It's a great crossover that gives you a whole lot for your money.