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The 2020 Mazda CX-30.

Jeremy Sinek

The first question when we consider the new Mazda CX-30 is simply this: Why? Surely Mazda already has the small-crossover segment properly covered with the subcompact CX-3 and the compact CX-5. Where’s the need for yet another nameplate that splits the size difference between the two?

For at least part of the answer, consider not the exterior dimensions of the CX-3 and CX-5 – which both conform closely to their respective class norms – but the interior of the CX-3. Among its peers, only the oddball Toyota CH-R has less passenger volume. And even the Toyota has the baby Mazda beat for cargo room.

The CX-3 is a stylish little thing, but a Ford EcoSport, for example, packages 3 cm more legroom and 30-per cent more cargo space into a body that’s 18 cm shorter. Then again, even EcoSport’s own mother would never call it pretty.

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So here we have the CX-30, at a smidgen under 4.4 metres one of the larger subcompact crossovers, but still some 20 cm shorter than the average compact. Among its peers, it’s closest in size to the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Jeep Compass and Nissan Qashqai.

Mazda's new crossover splits the size difference between the subcompact CX-3 and the compact CX-5.

Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Compared with the whole segment, its interior volume of 94.1 cubic feet is only average, so it’s still no master-class of packaging efficiency. But still, most sizes of adult will fit in back, helped by generous foot room underneath the front seat, and class-best rear hip room.

The so-so space efficiency may be a trade-off for Mazda’s mission to “take our designs to a higher artistic level,” as design chief Ken Saward puts it. In a segment where many alternatives look frumpy at best and acutely dorky at worst, the CX-30 is easy on the eye (and arguably looks bigger than it is).

Also on Mazda’s mission statement is to reposition itself as an entry-premium brand. “We take pride in craftsmanship as we move into this premium space,” Saward adds. Much attention to detail has been expended on the quality of the sound (speaker positioning), the feel of the switches, and even the shade of the white interior lighting (no, Brittney, it doesn’t have colour-shifting adjustable mood lighting).

Rich Brown, Navy Blue, “Greige” and White are options on the interior-materials colour palette, and the cockpit has an air of class you don’t expect at this cheap-’n-cheerful end of the market.

The surprisingly classy interior comes in a variety of colours, including Rich Brown.

Jeremy Sinek

Premium aspirations also imply cut-above powertrains, and on paper, at least, the CX-30 delivers: The 155 horsepower of the base 2.0-litre tops the outputs of most rivals’ base engines while the 186 hp of the 2.5-litre on most CX-30 trims is best in class. Either way, a six-speed conventional automatic is the only transmission option.

The CX-30 is offered in Mazda’s usual GX, GS and GT trims, with AWD a $2,000 option on the first two and standard on the GT. The GX has the 2.0 engine, the 2.5 is standard on the others, with cylinder deactivation on the GT. A $1,900 Luxury package for GS adds, among other things, a power sunroof and 10-way power driver’s seat with memory.

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The CX-30 will hit Canadian showrooms in January, and despite its premium aspirations, its pricing is right in the zone with the plebeian competition. If you’re shopping this corner of the market and you don’t add the CX-30 to your short list, that leaves us to close with one last question: Why on Earth not?

In a segment where many alternatives look frumpy at best and acutely dorky at worst, the CX-30 is easy on the eye.

Jeremy Sinek

Tech specs

  • Price: $23,950 – $33,850
  • Engines: 2.0-litre 4-cylinder; 2.5-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmission/drive: 6-speed automatic/FWD or AWD
  • Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 2.0 FWD: 8.9 city/7.1 hwy; 2.0 AWD: 9.4 city/7.7 hwy; 2.5 FWD: 9.3 city/7.1 hwy; 2.5 AWD: 9.9 city/7.7 hwy; 2.5 GT AWD: 9.5 city/7.4 hwy (with cylinder deactivation)
  • Alternatives: Chevrolet Trax, Ford EcoSport, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Sportage, Lexus UX, Mitsubishi RVR, Nissan Qashqai, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota C-HR.

Looks

The CX-30's design is subtle and sleek, with a cleanly flowing front end.

Jeremy Sinek

Mazda’s current design language eschews sharp character lines in favour of subtle but sleek surfacing that we’re told looks like it could only have been done by human hands, not a computer. The clean front end flows from a philosophy of “beauty by reduction.” The overall effect can look bland, but is transformed when the light catches it the right way.

Interior

Jeremy Sinek

The analog gauge cluster features a fuel-range display.

Jeremy Sinek

The driver gets a relatively low seating position, an absence of any digital screens in the well-stocked gauge cluster (which, unusually, does feature a fuel-range gauge) and an 8.8-inch display screen that you can’t easily reach out and touch. But the latter doesn’t matter because it’s not a touch-screen anyway, and its high-and-forward position makes it viewable with minimal diversion from the road (the GT also has a head-up display). The twist/toggle/tap controller that is the only interface with the screen is down on the centre console behind the conventional shift lever and you’ll quickly learn to use it by touch alone.

Performance

The 2.5 engine in the GTs we drove isn’t especially musical, but its ample torque and the seamless transmission help keep the revs and decibels down in routine driving. Expect a maximum-effort 0-100-km/h time in the low eight-second range. Chassis-wise, Mazda has worked to give its vehicles natural, predictable steering that makes them easy to drive smoothly. Mission accomplished. This gearhead, however, would like keener turn-in response to heighten enjoyment of the otherwise taut, athletic moves of the chassis.

Technology

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard.

Jeremy Sinek

Most driver-assist mod cons, including adaptive cruise and pedestrian detection, are standard on the GS trim and up. That said, Mazda tries to make it as unintrusive as possible, and provides a button to deactivate four of the “nannies” most prone to needless nagging. On the communitainment side, CarPlay and Android Auto are standard while the GT adds SiriusXM Satellite Radio/Traffic Plus/Travel Link, an exceptional Bose 12-speaker audio and Navi (which also can be dealer-installed on less trims). No WiFi hot spot, however.

Cargo

The rear seatbacks can fold flat to improve the so-so cargo space.

Jeremy Sinek

The 20.2-cu.ft. cargo volume (behind the rear seat) is so-so by segment standards, but it’s a practical shape and easy to access (though there’s no hidden storage below the floor) The seatbacks fold flat, albeit with a modest step up from the cargo-deck floor.

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The verdict

Mazda’s rightsize newcomer introduces a touch of class to a segment in which cheap ‘n’ cheerful is usually the name of the game.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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