The 3 finally crosses over: Say hello to the Mazda CX-30

Mazda’s latest crossover may just be its most stylish offering right now
by Niky Tamayo | Nov 28, 2019

“The CX-30 looks like a Porsche Macan”

Never mind the svelte, Jag-like Mazda 6, or the exotically alien Mazda 3 Sportback. The CX-30’s perfectly proportioned haunches stand in stark contrast to most other crossovers on the market, or even in Mazda’s showroom. And in the diffuse light coming through the translucent roof panels here at the Japanese carmaker’s impressive new warehouse in Laguna, the new crossover’s bewitching Soul Red Crystal paint sparkles and shines with a depth that makes most other automotive finishes seem like backyard resprays. If Mazda bottled this as a nail polish, they’d make a mint on it.

But the car is lovely in any color—sleek, almost coupe-like (but thankfully, Mazda doesn’t call it a ‘coupe,’ as some other manufacturers would). With its long snout, short deck, and sleek roofline, the CX-30 feels instantly familiar. A familiarity that takes me several minutes to finally put into words. “Macan,” I mutter.

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“What?” asks our photographer, fussing over finding just the right light.

“The CX-30 looks like a Porsche Macan.”

He nods in agreement, then goes back to shooting. Shame, I was hoping for a more involved argument. We instead resort to debating over whether Soul Red, Machine Gray, or Polymetal Gray is the better color. Others jump in and the argument ends in a four- or five-way tie.

PHOTO: Christian Halili

Despite its similarity in shape to the Macan, the CX-30 is undoubtedly a Mazda. The signature grille and headlights mimic those of the Mazda 3, on which the CX-30 is based. The Kodo bodywork, with its intersecting convex and concave forms, bends the light into sinuous S-curves racing across the body. Large black fender flares simultaneously frame lovely 18-inch wheels and slim the car’s haunches, giving it sexier hips than the 3. A subtly falling shoulder line echoes those on Mazda’s other crossovers, but instead of the overwrought intersection of curves on the CX-3., the new car emphasizes the size of its cabin with a more generous greenhouse.

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As if to reassure customers: “It may be small, but it’s not small.”

The interior bares this out. While the 2,655mm wheelbase may be a couple of fingers less than in the Mazda 3 hatch, it actually boasts more rear legroom. There’s also an extra 40mm of headroom back there, in addition to the extra sunlight coming in through the bigger windows. The rear-hatch glass is still a tiny slot in your rearview mirror, but the trunk underneath that is generously deep, with 430 liters of space, despite the pert rear end. Overall, it’s a much more realistic daily driver than the Mazda 3 Sportback or the CX-3, though nowhere near as practical as the CX-5. Where the bigger crossover aspires to midsize-level interior space, the CX-30 is still firmly a compact.

But what a compact it is. The interior, which mirrors that of the Mazda 3, is swathed in pleasing textures and finishes, with chocolate-colored contrast-stitched leather generously draped over all high-contact surfaces, offset by glossy black, gray, and brushed-steel bits. I’d be disappointed that there isn’t more differentiation from the 3 aside from the color palette, except that the interior is fantastic whichever way you cut it.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili

Slip in to the driver’s seat and the dark leather bolsters support you in all the places you want to be supported. Adjust the telescopic steering wheel and lean back into a comfortable position, and you can almost pretend that you’re in a sports car. The padded center console props up your elbow into the perfect position for long relaxed drives, or to flick the gearshift in ‘manual’ mode.

Okay, it’s not quite a substitute for an actual manual transmission, but slim paddles behind the steering wheel (available on all but the entry-level Pro variant) do the job nearly as well. Mazda has always been great at programming automatic transmissions, and here, the six-speed auto does not disappoint. It’s docile in Normal mode or when tootling along, but responsive to manual shifts and prods of the ever-reliable ‘overtake button’ underneath the floor-hinged gas pedal. While Mazda’s auto still holds higher revs than most on downshifts, it seems programmed for smoother clutch lockups than before. And throttle tip-in and response is second to none. Few engines love to rev as much as Mazda’s high-compression Skyactiv engines.

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You’ll appreciate the extra gusto of this 153hp, 200Nm 2.0-liter engine over the 148hp variant in the CX-3. The AWD Sport variant, however, is noticeably affected by its 1,479kg curb weight. And the steering feels more deliberate thanks to that weight and the wide (but sticky!) 215/55 R18 Dunlop Sport Maxx tires. It’s quite grippy and sharp, but you never forget that extra weight. The 2WD Pro, on the other hand, is just 50kg more than the equivalent Mazda 3, and with the smaller footprint of the 215/55 R16 BluEarth-GT tires, has a more delicate touch at the wheel. It’s reminiscent of the first-generation CX-5 FWD Pro released back in 2012. Invigoratingly playful without feeling harsh.

But Mazda has learned a few things since then. The CX-30 incorporates sound insulation and refinement to rival the new CX-5. A revised suspension geometry and new spherical-cored bushings give linear suspension response, allowing the CX-30 to squat rather than dive under heavy braking. The rear torsion beam suspension flares out into stamped end-pieces, unlike the straight channel beams on most cars. This wider cross-section better locates the rear wheels to minimize compliance steer, which causes the rear wheels to toe (or point) sideways under heavy cornering loads, causing unwanted oversteer or understeer.

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Granted, a multilink rear suspension is theoretically superior, but off the top of my head, I can’t name a single competitor that drives as well as the CX-30, anyway. And that torsion beam features far fewer moving parts than a multilink. Which makes the car quieter and more refined. Something you’ll appreciate after several years, when the bushings and end links on more sophisticated sports suspensions usually start squeaking and creaking.

PHOTO: Christian Halili

That refinement makes it easier to enjoy the CX-30’s fantastic infotainment system. Equipped with the latest generation of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s a cinch to hook up to, allowing you to simultaneously use Waze or Google Maps on the seven-inch in-car display and play music via Bluetooth on the excellent eight-speaker audio system. On some of my throwaway on-phone tracks, the system picks up crisp, quiet details that go unnoticed on most in-car audio systems.

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Other niceties include a reconfigurable instrument cluster, same as in the 3, with a center-mounted LED screen that can be switched between analog speedometer, information display, or driver-aid display. The CX-30 gets all of Mazda’s best tricks. Front and rear parking cameras and sensors, radar-assisted cruise control, and a lane-keeping system that will actively tug the steering wheel to keep you on track (but yes, you can turn it off). The patented i-Stop system also promises to keep fuel consumption at manageable levels in EDSA-level traffic, though we haven’t had a chance to test that out yet.

At launch, the CX-30 will come in four variants. The CX-30 2WD Pro starts at a reasonable P1,490,000, aimed straight at the Honda HR-V and the Subaru XV, which are the CX-30’s main competitors. It’s the only variant without leather seats, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, or 18-inch wheels. But it still gets you eight speakers, that lovely seven-inch infotainment screen, LED headlights, a rear camera, and seven airbags. Next up the rung is the CX-30 2WD Sport, at P1,790,000, packing most of the bells and whistles shown here, including leather, rear A/C, road-following adaptive headlights, and cruise control.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili

The full-fat CX-30 AWD, available in either Sport or Signature trim, adds all-wheel drive (natch), four more speakers, and the full suite of driver aids. The price? A hefty P1,990,000 for the Sport, plus an additional P15,000 for the Signature trim with white leather seats, plus a little more cash tacked on if you want Soul Red or Machine Gray paint.

That price tag means it probably won’t be eating into CX-5 sales all that much. In fact, Mazda figures that there is room underneath the CX-5 for the CX-30, which also sits clear of the CX-3 in terms of price and capability. At the very least, it will appeal to a much different demographic. Rather than the single women that the CX-3 targets, the CX-30 will more likely appeal to young couples—possibly those with one or two children, whose child seats will fit more easily in the backseat than in the 3—looking to upgrade from a compact car into something more utilitarian, luxurious, and, best of all, fun.

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Compact-car sales may be in a slump, but it’s prime opportunity for Mazda to carve a path into a new market segment—one populated mostly by inexperienced new players and older, more conservative designs from major players. I’ve driven a lot of new small crossovers over the past month, some roomier, some more powerful, some cheaper, but none which feel or drive quite as nicely as the CX-30.

And none quite as beautiful, either. No, the Macan doesn’t count. Price and luxury difference aside, not even Porsche’s spiffy color palette can hold a candle to Mazda’s crimson Soul.

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PHOTO: Christian Halili
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