Skip to main content
car review

The 2021 Mazda CX-30 GT 2.5T.Photography by Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

As Mazda aspires to move its brand up into the premium space, it’s not enough to have upscale interior furnishings and sophisticated road moves. It also needs to offer something extra under the hood.

While the 186-horsepower 2.5-litre in the CX-30 GT is more than sufficient among mainstream small crossovers, this new turbocharged version is the true enabler of Mazda’s upward mobility.

The 2.5-litre turbo four-cylinder engine first came to our attention in the 2017 CX-9 mid-size crossover. Since then, it has also done duty in flagship versions of the CX-5 compact crossover and Mazda3 compact sedan.

In the CX-30, the 2.5T has 400 kg less mass to motivate than in the CX-9, and is still rated at 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque – though only if you spring for 93-octane fuel; it’ll run fine on 87-octane, but ratings fall to 227 hp and 310 lb.-ft.

Officially labelled GT 2.5T, the turbo is a $2,400 option on the GT trim. Standard GT amenities include a power liftgate, adaptive and auto-levelling headlamps, front wiper de-icer, navigation, leather-trimmed upholstery, 10-way power driver’s seat with memory and a heated steering wheel.

At $36,250 – almost $12,000 more than the base CX-30 – it seems spendy for a subcompact crossover. But it actually nails the sweet spot between the top trims of most blue-collar subcompacts, which ask up to $34,000 without offering anything extra under the hood, and blue-blood alternatives that start close to $40,000 with fewer standard features and, at best, the same power as the Mazda.

But none of them come close to equalling the Mazda’s torque. By turbocharging a relatively large engine (most four-cylinder turbos range between 1.2 and 2.0 litres), with a higher-than-usual compression ratio and clever plumbing of the turbocharger itself, Mazda maximized torque where you most want it – when off-boost, and on-boost at low-to-middling rpm.

Mazda engineers will also bend your ears about how intelligent all-wheel drive (iAWD) and G Vectoring Control work together to enhance handling, though these technologies are common to most Mazdas these days. The only suspension upgrades specific to the 2.5T were to handle its 64 kg weight gain, plus the iAWD was retuned to send more torque to the rear.

With up to 34 per cent more power and 72 per cent more torque, it’s a given that the CX-30 Turbo is quick. But does that make it a “poor man’s” BMW X1 or Mercedes GLA? After all, at its core this is a car built to compete at the cheap ‘n’ cheery end of the small crossover segment.

The GT 2.5T is powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that first appeared in the CX-9.

Well, Mazda has nailed it – though possibly not in the way you expected. This is not an edgy, overachieving pocket-rocket punk of a car. Instead, it feels mature. It has a feeling of substance. It feels like a bigger, more grown-up vehicle.

Some of that was already baked into the CX-30, notably its upscale interior décor, a roomy cockpit that gives the sense of sitting in the vehicle, not perched on it, and a planted, autobahn-ready feel on the highway. And the turbo engine really seals the deal. It’s smooth, it’s quiet, and who cares if it runs out of puff above 5,000 rpm – just enjoy the opulent surge of torque from idle speed and up.

Its style of effortless performance feels less like a (relatively) small turbocharged engine than a large naturally aspirated one – as the saying goes, “ain’t no replacement for displacement.”

Of course, it’s not flawless (and neither are the competition). While the Mazda feels mechanically relaxed at highway speeds (2,200 rpm at 120), a bit less tire and wind noise would be nice. As for handling, sampled on winter rubber in late January, it’s composed, consistent, competent and confidence-inspiring. But it lacks the vivid steering response and delicate cornering balance valued by serious enthusiasts. From past experience of a non-turbo GT, I’m not confident that judgement would be dramatically changed by warmer pavement and summer rubber.

For the record, the price of the CX-30 2.5T could also get you into a well-equipped mid-size sedan or compact crossover, a lower-trim mid-size pickup or a Volkswagen Golf GTI. But if you’re set on a small crossover and the premium experience is more important than the premium nameplate, this stylish little Mazda is in a class of its own. The “zoom-zoom” mantra served Mazda well for years, but the automaker has moved on and moved up.

Looks

A tailgate badge and black wheels differentiate the turbocharged CX-30 from the standard edition.

As in its siblings, Mazda’s “beauty by reduction” design language translates into subtle but sleek surfacing that can look bland but is transformed in the right light. Visual cues to the Turbo are limited to black wheels and door-mirror housings, wider tailpipes and a tailgate badge.

Interior

The display screen is controlled using a central knob that's easy to learn.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Interior space is only average for a subcompact crossover, but adults in the back benefit from unusually generous foot room – even when the driver’s seat is at its lowest setting. And low is the operative word; yes, drivers can power the 10-way seat up higher, but you may lose thigh support. The A-pillars are slender, and the door mirrors well placed, but broad B-pillars demand shoulder-check vigilance. A shallow 8.8-inch display screen positioned high-and-centre on the dash-top minimizes eye diversion from the road, and no worries that it’s hard to reach – it’s not a touch screen anyway. The screen interface is a twist/tap/toggle controller on the centre console that’s easily learned by touch alone. The well-stocked gauge cluster looks all-analog, although the big central speedometer is actually a screen-based image.

Performance

We already discussed the Turbo’s terrific performance feel in real-world driving, but its track numbers are pretty respectable, too; we measured 0-100 km/h in a no-muss-no-fuss 6.8 seconds, and that in a still tight, low-mileage test car on a tankful of (we later discovered) mostly 87-octane gas. Even so, 6.8 seconds beats most upper-class rivals, never mind all the blue-collar ones. The six-speed autobox is at least two ratios shy of most rivals but makes smoothly effective use of what it has.

Technology

The driver’s-aid inventory includes all today’s expected mod cons plus some above-and-beyonds: adaptive cruise with stop-and-go, active lane-keeping assist, traffic-sign recognition, following-distance monitoring, an information-rich head-up display plus automatic braking for obstacles and hazards from pretty much every direction. Standard infotainment assets include a 12-speaker Bose audio, HD Radio, navigation, CarPlay, Android Auto and the full suite of SiriusXM features – but no wireless phone charger or WiFi hot spot.

Cargo

The cargo volume in the CX-30 is barely average for its class.

The 572 L seats-up cargo volume is barely average for the class, and there’s no hidden storage below the deck. But the hold is a practical shape, and the seats fold flat with only a modest step up from the rear floor.

Tech specs

2021 Mazda CX-30 GT 2.5T
  • Price: Base $36,250/As tested $36,700
  • Engine: 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged
  • Transmission/drive: Six-speed automatic/all-wheel drive
  • Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 10.5 city/7.9 highway
  • Alternatives: Audi Q3, BMW X1, Cadillac XT4, Hyundai Kona Ultimate, Jaguar E-Pace, Jeep Compass Limited, Kia Seltos SX Turbo, Lexus UX, Mercedes-Benz GLA, Range Rover Evoque, Volvo XC40, Mini Countryman

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

Stay on top of all our Drive stories. We have a Drive newsletter covering car reviews, innovative new cars and the ups and downs of everyday driving. Sign up today.