A few car makers have recently started adding bits of cladding and a minor suspension lift to standard hatchbacks to create something they claim is “SUV-inspired”.
At first glance, you might think that’s what’s happened to the Mazda3, but look again and you’ll see that the CX-30 is a completely different car.
It’s not as long as the 3, for a start, but is significantly taller. It’s also got a bolder interpretation of the family front end and a more swooping coupe-like roofline along with that hefty black plastic cladding.
Nonetheless, there’s a distinctly familiar look to this compact SUV, destined to sit between the existing CX-3 and CX-5 (the CX-4 name is already in use in China). Still, that’s no bad thing as Mazda builds some of the prettiest mainstream family cars out there.
The CX-30 also shares the 3’s basic platform and some drivetrains, including the groundbreaking Skyactiv-X engine.
Mazda CX-30 GT Sport
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 115mph
0-62mph: 10.6 seconds
CO2 emissions: 141g/km
This all-new engine has been developed in-house by Mazda and uses unique spark-controlled compression ignition technology in an effort to offer diesel-like economy and CO2 emissions from a petrol engine.
The on-paper figures are impressive. Mazda says it’s up to 20 per cent more efficient than the regular petrol engine and the WLTP combined economy figure is a diesel-challenging 47.8mpg for the two-wheel-drive manual, falling to 40mpg for the four-wheel-drive auto. For comparison the 2.0-litre diesel (which the UK won’t get) returns between 43mpg and 55mpg. On CO2 emissions the petrol outperforms the diesel in all but four-wheel-drive auto form, with a low of 133g/km.
Our brief test drive of a pre-production version got closer to 35mpg but it’ll take longer at the wheel to see if this is a true reflection of the engine’s abilities.
On the road, there’s nothing to tell you this engine uses revolutionary ignition technology. It’s as pleasantly smooth and refined as the regular petrol engine, linked to Mazda’s impeccable six-speed manual gearbox.
The Skyactiv-X engine packs 178bhp and a relatively weedy 165lb/ft of torque. That lack of torque is especially evident at low revs where it feels sluggish. It’s only once you start working the engine and get into the higher revs that it begins to feel as lively as the figures hint at.
The regular 2.0-litre non-turbo 120bhp Skyactiv-G has the opposite problem. It feels more responsive initially but runs out of puff quite abruptly.
If you can find their sweet spots, though, you can make decent progress, helped by a nicely balanced chassis and responsive steering. There’s a definite bit of SUV lean in tight corners but there’s plenty of grip and, at least on good European roads, the ride is finely balanced between comfort and control.
At a more sedate cruise, the CX-30 is wonderfully refined. Even at the motorway speed limit the cabin is superbly insulated from noise and the suspension does a great job of smoothing out bumps.
The serene feeling is helped by an interior that stands out in look, feel and operation. Mazda make a big noise about human-centric cars but, for once, it feels as though there’s substance behind this marketing spiel. The instruments and controls are symmetrical, which is visually and ergonomically pleasing as well as being less distracting than some overly complicated rivals. The materials, too, are a cut above the mainstream, with all but SE-L and SE-L Lux cars getting leather that covers the seats, door panels, arm rest and wing-shaped dashtop. Chrome effect highlights on the air vents and controls sit alongside gloss black plastics to good effect, adding a high-end feel.
Front seat passengers are well accommodated, with as much shoulder room as in the larger CX-5 and plenty of space to stretch out. Rear space isn’t so generous, particularly considering this car is as long as the much more spacious Nissan Qashqai.
But the CX-30 isn’t really aimed at Qashqai buyers. Its real rivals in design and price are other coupe-styled SUVs such as the Toyota C-HR and Honda HR-V which sacrifice a little space for added style.
Pricing for the CX-30 starts at £22,895, which might seem steep for a B-and-a-half-segment car but it reflects not only the car’s premium feel but a generous specification that packs some high-end technology into every model.
Even entry-level SE-L cars come with a windscreen-projection head-up display (vastly improved over older Mazda pop-up units), radar adaptive cruise control, LED headlights, sat nav, an eight-inch screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and an eight-speaker stereo.
Standard safety systems included lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, intelligent speed assist, traffic sign recognition, driver attention alert and GPS-enabled emergency call.
The move up through the four other trim levels brings the usual goodies such as bigger alloys (a jump from 16 to 18 inches), keyless entry, powered tailgate, adaptive headlights, signature LED running and rear lights, heated leather upholstery and a 12-speaker Bose stereo. On top-spec GT Sport Tech a 360-degree camera, cruising and traffic driver assistance, rear cross traffic braking, smart city braking and front cross traffic alert also appear.
It’s a high-end specification for what looks and feels like a high-end car.
The only questions around the CX-30 remain about Mazda’s refusal to go down the small, turbocharged engine route and whether we really need another compact crossover in a crowded market.