By Eric Peters
Sometimes, too close is not far enough.
This is why Mazda will stop selling the CX-3, its smallest crossover SUV, after next year in favor of the new CX-30, its next smallest crossover SUV.
The dimensional differences between the two proved to be so small that people had trouble telling the difference between them even though there were some other differences, such as the CX-30 having a much stronger standard engine than the CX-3.
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In any event, Mazda has decided to make just one small crossover rather than two so it doesn’t compete against itself for the same buyers.
What It Is
The CX-30’s general layout is similar to other small crossovers such as the Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota CH-R, Honda HR-V and Hyundai Kona, but the CX-30 differs from them by coming standard with an engine that’s more powerful than the available engines in all of those models.
And now it’s available with the strongest optional engine in the class.
Prices start at $22,050 for the base S trim, which comes equipped with a 186 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (without a turbo) and front-wheel drive.
Adding all-wheel drive bumps the MSRP up to $23,050.
The new-for-2021 Turbo — equipped with a turbo-boosted 227-horsepower version of the 2.5-liter engine — stickers for $30,050 and comes standard with all-wheel drive.
A top-of-the-line Turbo Premium Plus with the same drivetrain plus a 12-speaker Bose audio system, Head-up Display, adaptive headlights that turn with the steering wheel and a whole roster of electronic safety equipment, including Traffic Jam Assist lists for $34,050.
Most small crossovers are small under the hood — even with their optional engines. The CX-30 isn’t small with either of its two available engines.
The standard engine doesn’t need a turbo to make more power than its rivals’ optional turbocharged engines.
Though it’s a crossover and meant to be practical, the CX-30 has more style than other crossovers in the class.
What’s Not So Good
The rotary knob input system is more awkward than systems in rivals.
Some of the safety and assistance technology is naggy and can’t be turned off all the way or opted out of.
The newly available turbo engine is only available in higher-priced trims and only with all-wheel-drive.
Under the Hood
The CX-30 comes standard with a 2.5-liter 186-horsepower four-cylinder engine that is larger and much stronger than the standard engines in rivals such as the Crosstrek (2.0 liters, 152 horsepower), C-HR (2.0 liters, 144 horsepower), HR-V (1.8 liters, 141 horsepower) and Kona (2.0 liters, 147 horsepower).
The CX-30 also offers a turbocharged option that provides 227 horsepower.
With all that power, it is no surprise that the CX-30 is the speediest crossover in its class, posting a 0 to 60 miles per hour time of 5.8 seconds.
On the Road
Every crossover is practical. Few are fun. The CX-30 at least makes the effort.
It would be more fun if it were available with a manual transmission, but the CX-30’s six-speed automatic does shift . Almost all of its rivals have continuously variable transmissions that never shift. They vary ranges and often have an oatmeal-soggy feel when you stand on the gas; the CX-30 feels snappy as its transmission shifts through each of its six gears.
Also, it’s less necessary to stand on the gas when you have power to spare. Even the standard engine has plenty to spare, but in rivals, you pay extra to get what’s adequate.
At the Curb
Like other crossovers, the CX-30 offers literally three times as much space (and then some) as is in a sedan of the same size or even a larger size, in terms of its physical footprint.
It has 20.2 cubic feet behind the rear seats, and with the rear seats folded, the available space opens up to 45.2 cubic feet.
The Mazda also has more backseat legroom (36.3 inches) than several of its rivals, including, most notably, the C-HR (just 31.7 inches) and the Hyundai Kona (34.6 inches). The HR-V has the most in the class — 39.3 inches — but it also has the least powerful engine (1.8-liters, 141 horsepower with no upgrade offered).
The CX-30 also looks good on the inside, which is true of all Mazda models. It is attractively finished with what looks and feels like real metal (brushed nickel) trim that gives it a cut-above feel.
One of the few negative differences between the CX-30 and its rivals is its awkward-to-use rotary/push knob controller, which you have to use to make certain adjustments because the CX-30’s standard 8.8-inch display screen is not a touch screen.
To make these adjustments, you must first rotate the knob to access the menu item you’d like to select, push to select it and rotate and push again to alter the setting. You almost have to look at it to work it.
It could use some work.
The Bottom Line
It’s generally hard to tell much difference between Crossover A and Crossover B. But the Mazda CX-30 is different under the hood — and in how it looks. That makes it easier to write about.
And an easier choice to make.
Eric’s latest book, “Don’t Get Taken for a Ride!” is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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