Review update: 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo balances sport and utility

Size matters. Especially with small crossovers. Their popularity has motivated car makers to offer two or sometimes three models differentiated by inches. Take the 2021 Mazda CX-3 as Exhibit A, and the 2021 Mazda CX-30 as Exhibit A0. 

The CX-30 expands on the fun driving characteristics of the CX-3 with more space for passengers and gear. Mazda was ahead of the curve when it launched the CX-3 for the 2016 model year, but it was 8 inches shorter in length and had significantly less cargo room than the Mazda3 hatchback. It rode a little higher, was more cramped, and less fun.  

Last year, Mazda issued a correction by launching the larger CX-30. This year, Mazda screwed a turbocharger to its inline-4 engine to deliver V-6 levels of output in both the Mazda3 and the CX-30. 

As impressive as it was behind the wheel, this small SUV’s utility proved equally impressive behind the seats. During a week spent shuttling the teens and their gear to events, I also hit Sport mode to create my own event. The top of the line Turbo Premium Plus Package has too many names and costs too many dollars, the safety systems can be overkill, and the infotainment system is best left to the passenger, but there are more hits than misses with the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo.

Hit: Bigger engine, smaller car

Mazda offers the 2.5-liter turbo-4 in everything from the Mazda3 to the CX-9 three-row crossover SUV. On 93 octane, it makes 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque; on lower octane fuel, output drops to 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. Regardless of what’s in the tank, the CX-30 Turbo packs greater punch and loses only 1 mpg combined compared to the free-breathing 186-hp 2.5 liter in the base model. 

Behind the wheel, the numbers translate to at least a one second drop in 0-60 mph time to less than 6 seconds, and a responsive throttle that surges ahead on a full head of steam at about 2,500 rpm. The 6-speed automatic transmission doesn’t use as many gears as the competition, but they’re not missed, especially with paddle shifters on my tester. It can rev to 5,000 rpm without spazzing out, and in normal driving it maintains the optimal gear for efficiency. The buzzy 2.5 Turbo wails when pushed, but the CX-30 as a whole remains relatively quiet for its size.  

Hit: Hits like a hatchback

There are quicker crossovers, but few balance the sporting elements as well as the CX-30 Turbo. Standard all-wheel drive with brake-based torque vectoring helps the CX-30 balance its weight in corners to mitigate the feeling of plowing ahead common in many front-wheel-based crossovers. The system brakes the front outside wheel to maintain both grip and speed before sending torque rearward again coming out of turns. It feels balanced, which instills confidence, which inspires autocross dreams. 

These minute adjustments coupled with Mazda’s precise steering add up to fun on cloverleaf onramps and long and winding roads. There’s still some body roll, due in part to 8.0 inches of ground clearance and a vehicle height 5.5 inches taller than the low-slung Mazda 3 hatch, but it never feels top heavy.

2021 Mazda CX-30

2021 Mazda CX-30

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

Miss: Safety overkill

For as much as Mazda touts making the driver and car one, its safety systems are the automotive equivalent of a chastity belt. The emergency brake remains locked every time the engine starts, and won’t disengage if you put it in gear, as is the case in a few other makes. You’ll get used to it eventually, I suppose, but not so much with the power tailgate. It won’t open with the engine running. Even in Park. Then there’s the infotainment system.

Miss: Set the presets

Mazda eschews the touchscreens used by other automakers because reaching and swiping distracts more from the road than sitting back and twisting a dial. Mazda’s improved system is still as much a nuisance as a convenience. Setting the presets on the 8.8-inch display screen and toggling through favorite radio stations is easy enough, as long as it’s in park, but using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is a cumbersome series of twists and pushes and back arrows, instead of the swiping we’re so used to. 

The steering wheel controls have arrows that rewind or fast forward a song, but not to change radio stations. That’s a waste of real estate. The analog-looking instrument cluster has three gauges, but the center speedo can be changed to monitor driver-assist systems. The views are limited in the name of safety, presumably, and these complaints might not be a bad thing for drivers who prefer fewer potential distractions. Just set the presets. Or the playlist. Or let the passenger handle infotainment and just drive. 

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

Hit: Relative space

I fit my daughter’s enormous hockey goalie bag in the back, then plopped her skater teammate’s bag on top, took off the cargo cover, and both 13-year olds fit in the back seat with enough comfort to Tik the Tok. The sticks rode shotgun.

On another, more daring trip, three 15-year-old boys fit in the backseat for a half-hour trek. The tallest kid rode shotgun and though the interior suffered, the teens didn’t complain. Four adults could fit, or a family of four could escape urban crowds for a long weekend in the country. 

It’s large inside for its size, and its 20.2 cubic feet of storage space behind the rear seats exceeds the Hyundai Venue, Jeep Renegade, and Chevy Trax. But the Chevy Trailblazer and Honda HR-V are roomier. Fold down the 60/40-split rear seats, however, and the CX-30 comes up short by about two cubic feet to the Mazda 3 hatchback. 

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo

Miss: Frequent pit stops

The all-wheel-drive CX-30 Turbo gets an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined. That’s decent, but the 12.7-gallon is small. Fill it up and the trip meter will likely show less than 300 miles of range. 

Like the smallest crossover it will replace and the hatchback it counters, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo is an ideal urban car for drivers who like driving and for a couple to grow into. 


2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus

Base price: $ 31,225, including $1,175 destination

Price as tested: $35,995

Drivetrain: 227-hp 2.5-liter turbo inline-4 with a 6-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive

EPA fuel economy: 22/30/25 mpg

The hits: Performance, relative space, power

The misses: Safety restrictions, infotainment

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