Tested: Mazda’s head-turning new SUV
Mazda's CX-30 shares its base structure, front-wheel drive and much of its interior with the Mazda3 sedan and hatch - you could call it a Mazda3 wagon. Of course that term, which evokes old-fashioned two-box family freighters from yesterday's brands such as Holden, would be the kiss of death for a new model today, so the CX-30 is - and always will be - referred to as an SUV.
The Mazda3 was a finalist in our 2019 Car of the Year awards, so it follows that the CX-30 should be on the front row of the compact SUV grid too, yes? Well … yes and no.
Prices start at $29,990 plus on-roads for the base G20 Pure, with a 114kW 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder/six-speed automatic. The Evolve is $31,490, Touring $34,990 and Astina, tested here, is $38,990.
The G25 variants, with a 139kW 2.5-litre engine, start at $36,490 for the Touring; the Astina is $41,490. All-wheel drive adds $2000 to this grade.
What Mazda has done here - and it's applying a successful formula used by many car makers, in all price and size segments - is to take a fine car, dumb it down as an SUV and whack a higher price on it.
You pay an extra $3200, for example, for the CX-30 G20 Evolve, compared with the equivalent Mazda3. In Touring specification, the SUV costs $4400 extra.
For the Mazda3, there's no Astina G20 2.0-litre but you can get into the top spec G25 Astina, also with the 2.5-litre, for $400 less than our test CX-30.
Our test car is also pricey compared with its main rivals. Subaru's XV 2.0i-S, with all-wheel drive, costs $2460 less, Toyota's C-HR Koba hybrid, also AWD, costs $2550 less and the slightly larger Kia Seltos Sport+, with 130kW 1.6-litre turbo and AWD, is $3500 cheaper.
Mazda mandates 10,000km service intervals, compared with 12,500km-15,000km for rivals.
Surely an SUV is bigger than a hatch? Not necessarily.
The CX-30's wheelbase is 70mm shorter than the Mazda3's, so rear legroom is extremely tight for taller adults, though access is easier due to the SUV's slightly higher roof. Vents are provided but no device connectors.
The SUV's boot has just 22L greater capacity than the hatch (with the rear seats in use) and 127L less than the sedan.
As with other Mazdas, the CX-30 excels at quality, design and safety, and you're certainly not short-changed for standard equipment in the G20 Astina. You sit low, as though you're in a sports car rather than an SUV, in a firm, supportive, leather-faced, heated driver's seat.
The sleek, minimalist dash wouldn't look out of place in an Audi. Controls work with a light, precise touch. User-friendly, cursor-based and fully featured, the infotainment includes Bose audio, digital radio and voice control that works for all functions, including navigation.
There are two USB sockets and ample handy storage but no wireless phone charging.
The Astina gets 360-degree cameras, comprehensive information in the head-up display, adaptive (or conventional) cruise control and an array of other driver assistance tech you can adjust to your preferences.
The adaptive matrix LED headlights are great at night, with responsive, accurate automatic adjustment of beam direction, spread and depth.
The 2.0-litre does the job around the 'burbs and cruises easily and quietly on flat terrain. Put your foot down and there ain't much zoom-zoom, despite the best efforts of the six-speed auto.
The Mazda is slow and unresponsive, particularly in the lower half of the rev range, against turbo-powered rivals such as the Kia Seltos, VW Tiguan and the Subaru XV/Toyota C-HR hybrids.
It's fractionally thirstier than the Mazda3 but still frugal by class standards, averaging about 5L/100km on the highway and 7-9L in town, on regular unleaded.
As with any SUV, the CX-30's elevated stance and extra weight has an intrinsically adverse effect in corners. Mazda has tried to counteract this by fitting stiff suspension. It works. One of the better handling compact SUVs, the CX-30 still lacks the agility and poise of the lower, lighter sedan and hatch counterparts. The suspension changes also come with a price: a hard and occasionally jarring ride, especially at the front end.
The steering lacks the precision, progressive weighting and feel of the Mazda3, and exhibits a trace of shake in bumpy bends, exacerbated by the front's lack of compliance.
I want an SUV that doesn't look like an SUV or feel like one from the driver's seat
I'm after a premium quality compact SUV but I'm not interested in paying over the odds for a German brand. The Mazda is well-made, loaded and big enough for me.
The CX-30 shows that when you take a class-leading car and turn it into an SUV, you don't necessarily get the same result.
Kia Seltos Sport+, from $35,490
More interior space than the Mazda and decent go-forward from a 130kW/265Nm 1.6-litre turbo/seven-speed dual clutch auto/AWD. Best drive in the class. Seven years' warranty.
Subaru XV Hybrid, from $35,580
It's hybrid-lite but a few volts give the Subaru notably more responsive, tractable performance than the regular 2.0-litre version. More rear seat space than the CX30, plus AWD and a smooth ride.
Mazda CX-30 G20 Astina vitals
Warranty/servicing: 5 years, $1635 for 5 years/50,000km
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, AEB, adaptive cruise, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and braking, 360 degree cameras, head-up display
Originally published as Tested: Mazda's head-turning new SUV