2020 Mazda CX-30 First Drive

The CX-30 is a new small crossover from Mazda that slots in the lineup between the CX-3 and the hugely-successful CX-5 (before you ask… the “CX-4” nameplate belongs to a compact Mazda crossover exclusive to the Chinese market). It shares underpinnings with the new Mazda3, and joins the 3 as the second vehicle in the lineup designed with ‘Phase 2’ of Mazda’s Kodo design language.

The exterior design is really the star of the show for me, because Mazda has continued going in a direction apart from the rest of the industry. The hallmarks of ‘Kodo Phase 2’ are the absence of hard-edge character lines, combined with nuanced surfacing that bends light and reflections depending on how you approach the vehicle. Mazda calls this visual tension “charge and release,” and employs highly skilled craftspeople to carve and perfect these shapes out of clay during the design process — all by hand. This is the first time I have spent significant time around a Mazda with this new design philosophy, and I enjoyed the chance to view and experience it on a variety of environments.

 

The body is divided into upper and lower sections: painted bodywork on top, and a lower section in gray, utilitarian, molded cladding. The lower part adds to the crossover-cred, but it reduces the amount of contiguous, sculpted sheetmetal, which is what makes the Mazda3 so stunning. Overall the visual impact of the CX-30 isn’t as dramatic as the Mazda3.

As a photographer, the dramatic ‘S’ highlight that appears in the side surfacing at certain viewing angles is generally only visible from eye-level — great for casual onlookers, but it forces adjustment for car photographers who have years of built-in muscle memory, accustomed to crouching low to get the shot!

 


Interior

Inside the CX_3, Mazda has gone to great lengths to study human anatomy and behavior. The focus on the human fuels countless small design decisions — steering position, button feel, interior lighting, pedal pressure, sightlines, and where the connectivity controls and switches fall to hand. Learning about their approach forces me to think about what’s left unsaid: on an evolutionary level, humans were never meant to be hurtling past one another at 70 miles per hour above the ground in little metal rooms that we control. There’s nothing natural about it. But if we can make that experience as comfortable and is intuitive as possible for the driver, it will be safer, more relaxing, and more natural to properly react in an emergency.

Mazda believes that ultimately, connection to the vehicle makes for not just the most engaging, comfortable, and least-distracted driving experience, but also the safest one.

 


On the Road

Power comes from a 2.5-liter inline-four Skyactiv-G engine, making 186 hp, which pulled strongly and never struggled when crossing over the mountains between San Diego and Palm Desert, California. Likewise, the brakes felt solid and consistent, although they admittedly weren’t pushed too hard in the wet, blustery conditions we drove in. I appreciated the steering feel, especially because it doesn’t have the numb, overly aggressive return-to-center characteristic found in many of its competitors. The car trusts you more than that. Forward outward visibility is very good with minimal intrusion from the A-pillars, which is especially noticeable when you’re looking through windy, mountain corners.

 

One of the ride and handling features is something called GVC+ (G-Vectoring Control) — a technology that seamlessly and imperceptibly decreases throttle when you make a steering input, which sends weight transfer forward to the front wheels, giving subtly more grip, and generally making the car behave more like your brain expects it to, on a nearly subconscious level. We hear all day about technologies that make a track car faster over a lap, but it’s refreshing to see tech that makes for a more connected driving experience in everyday conditions.

Our drive wasn’t quite long enough to get a sense of the efficiency in normal conditions, but the CX-30 Premium i-Activ All-Wheel Drive that we drove is EPA rated at 25 city 31 highway.

 


Conclusion

Overall, Mazda’s human-focused design and is repeated throughout many aspects of the vehicle, and that helps it stand apart from a crowded field of competitors. I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s a driver’s car, but the CX-30 is, more than anything else segment, designed for the driver.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 starts at $21,900, plus destination.

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