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Driven: The 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD Is a Crossover You Should Consider

Mazda’s new small crossover has enough zoom to fit the brand and to battle the Buick Encore GX.

Todd LassaWriterManufacturerPhotographer

Prediction: After years of SUV atomization, with virtually every auto marque filling every segment and then some with tall, AWD-optional wagons masquerading as SUVS, we are about to see a slight contraction. For example, why offer a Chevrolet Trax when you could sell a slightly larger, more expensive Trailblazer? Why a Buick Encore when you have Encore GX? To the point of this review, why Mazda CX-3 when you can sell a 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD, especially when Mazda is trying to go upscale?

Indeed, Mazda looks like it's phasing out the CX-3 in the U.S. market, where it only offers the base Sport version for this model year. At just $21,740 for the front-wheel-drive model, it's $860 cheaper than the base Mazda3 sedan, and $1,260 less than a base FWD CX-30. It comes with a 148-horsepower, 2.0-liter Skyactiv I-4, and it has 17.5 cubic-feet of cargo volume behind the second row versus the CX-30's 186 hp, 2.5-liter Skyactiv I-4 and 20.2 cubic feet.

Tweener Crossover

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD, like the Chevy Trailblazer and Buick Encore GX, fits into that amorphous "crossover" category, distinguished by its raked, 61.7-inch tall roofline (62.2 inches with the infotainment shark-fin antenna). That compares with 60.9 inches tall for the CX-3 and 66.2 inches tall for the Mazda CX-5 compact SUV. With its standard roof rails, the CX-30 offers a backup in case your bike doesn't fit in inside, or if you prefer kayaking instead.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD has a nice, semi-premium interior with which it could pass for a model from a premium brand. Pardon the use of this crutch for describing a level of plushness that's somewhere between full-on luxury and bargain-hunter commodity brand interiors, but this critic's drive came back-to-back with a week in a 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec. Like the Acura, the Mazda CX-30 is actually a pretty good value. Thirty-large for a top-trim tweener-subcompact crossover isn't bad these days.

Premium Mazda

Premium features include heated front seats, advanced keyless entry, moonroof, power liftgate, driver attention alert, radar cruise control with stop/go function, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, and blind-spot monitor with cross-traffic alert. There's also Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD also comes with the now-familiar rotary knob (the only Mazda, ahem, rotary still in production) that controls the infotainment system, often requiring two or three steps and taking your eyes off of the road to do what once took the twist of a knob. Equally annoying is the electronic parking brake that sets itself automatically when you park the car—but doesn't release automatically when you try to drive away.

The actual drive, though, is rewarding, with all the attributes of the CX-5, but minus a few hundred pounds. Handling is tight and taut. You can toss the 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD onto an off-ramp and push until it pushes back a bit, its front tires warning through the steering wheel of impending understeer. This comes with a suspension soft enough to keep the ride comfortable over most roads. Tires are P215/55 R-18s.

Best-in-Class Power

Mazda claims best-in-class power for the 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine, and it is decent, though the Premium package with AWD pushes the CX-30's curb weight past 3,400 pounds. The engine makes a nice sound when you command it to go hard, and combined with enough power to accelerate into tight traffic confidently, the four-cylinder is even somewhat rewarding.

Inexplicably, only the Premium AWD version of the CX-30 comes with cylinder deactivation, so it gains 1 mpg city, 2 mpg highway over non-Premium AWD CX-30s.

On the freeway, a bothersome warning signal sounded. I thought it was for lane-departure, even though I wasn't departing any lanes without signaling. It later went off as I looked at the instrument panel, and I then realized it was a "keep hands on the wheel" warning. Trouble was, my hands were definitely on the wheel.

That silly glitch aside, the 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD is fun to drive; I hesitate to even add the qualifier, "for a crossover." If you like the way the CX-5 drives, and don't need so much cargo space, the CX-30 is worth a look. On the other hand, the front-wheel-drive-only, Automobile All-Stars-winning Mazda3 Premium hatchback lists for $2,100 less than the CX-30 and is available with a six-speed manual. It also has 20.1 cubic-feet behind the back seat versus 20.2 for the CX-30. If your bike doesn't fit in the 3, you can spend the scratch you save on a clever rooftop bike carrier and maybe a set of winter tires.

2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD Hits:

  • Fun to drive
  • Ride/handling balance
  • Premium interior

2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD Misses:

  • Not a lot of cargo space for a crossover SUV
  • Finnicky driver-assistance systems
  • Annoying automatic parking brake
2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD Specifications
ON SALE: Now
PRICE: $30,700/$31,295 (base/as tested)
ENGINE: 2.5L DOHC 24-valve I-4/186 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
LAYOUT: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA MILEAGE: 25/33 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 173.0 x 70.7 x 62.2 in
WHEELBASE: 104.5 in
WEIGHT: 3,408 lb
0-60 MPH: 7.8 sec
TOP SPEED 126 mph