We started our 15 months with our long-term Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD wondering if the handsome new subcompact SUV could convince us Mazda is truly on the march upmarket to become a luxury automaker. Now 19,163 miles later and with our CX-30 departing the MotorTrend garage, we feel safe saying although Mazda has made serious strides in some areas, the overall CX-30 experience left us cold—a new feeling for us, considering how much we loved our old CX-5, CX-9, 3, and 6 long-term cars.
The CX-30 has had an admittedly weird stay in our long-term fleet, with more than half of a year overlapping with safer-at-home orders. But despite sticking close to home base in Los Angeles for the first six months or so of its loan, our CX-30 got some meaningful road trip time in, including long stretches up to northern Oregon and shorter stints to San Francisco and out to the Mojave Desert in support of our Of The Year programs. Over that time, we got to know the CX-30 quite well. We really appreciated our CX-30's premium styling. Although the swooshy waveform on its flanks is controversial among staff (some think the reflections make it look like the SUV was sideswiped), the CX-30 has a distinctive and unmistakably Mazda look. The interior styling won high praise, too, outdoing segment rivals such as the Buick Encore GX and Lexus UX in design and material choice. We were also charmed by our long-termer's engaging steering feel, which is usually something of an afterthought in the subcompact SUV segment.
But despite the bright spots, the CX-30 wore on us over the months. Its styling promises luxury, but the drive experience doesn't deliver. We grew tired of apologizing to passengers for the buzz-prone powertrain, the transmission's sloppy shifts, and inconsistent stops due to a mushy brake pedal. The standard 186-hp, 186-lb-ft 2.5-liter I-4 also felt a bit underpowered when loaded with four people—an impression that the hunt-happy six-speed automatic didn't help. Mazda now offers a 250-hp turbocharged I-4 on the CX-30, but it's still saddled with the increasingly dated six-speed auto.
The CX-30's cabin also wasn't as nice a place to spend time as it first appeared to be; passengers frequently complained that the tight cabin was claustrophobic, due to the stylish high beltline. (The driver's seat is thankfully height-adjustable.) We've also found Mazda's infotainment system difficult to use while driving, requiring far too much time looking at screens and twiddling a knob than is safe to do while on the road
Although our CX-30 has been mechanically trouble-free over its time with us, its cabin is showing signs of early wear and tear. The white leather seats have started to stain from sliding across them in jeans, and the bolsters have been marred from rubbing up against the SUV's B-pillar. We were also disappointed to see the CX-30's faux carbon-fiber plastic trim quickly became an ugly rainbow of scratches, especially in high touchpoint areas around the shifter and cupholders. We had identical issues with our 2020 Mazda 3 long-termer.
Mazda's failure to improve materials quality is disappointing. However, we continue to be pleased with the dealer experience. For a mainstream automaker on the march upmarket, Mazda's dealership fell squarely on the luxury side of the spectrum, impressing us with the swiftness of its service and the attention to detail. Granted, we didn't spend much time at the dealership during our loan. Our two visits to the dealer were for routine service (an oil and filter change, tire rotation, and inspection) and recall work (one for a Bose audio system glitch, the other to improve the spotty adaptive cruise control).
We spent about $375.00 maintaining our Mazda (we say "about," because a careless former employee neglected to file the paper work for our CX-30's second service). That's significantly more than we spent on our long-term 2020 Kia Soul ($198.19 for two services) and 2018 Subaru Crosstrek ($281.85 for three services). It's also about $100 more than what we spent maintaining the 2020 Mazda 3. All of these vehicles covered about 20,000 miles.
The EPA rates the CX-30 AWD at 25/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined, and in our time with it, which heavily skewed toward urban driving, we netted 25.8 mpg. Unsurprisingly, that's worse than our Mazda 3 hatchback (28.8 mpg), but it's about dead even with our old Crosstrek, which achieved 25.9 mpg in our hands.
Overall, Mazda has made notable strides with both design and the dealership experience. But if we're looking at it as a luxury SUV, its lack of polish and drivetrain refinement seriously detract from the ownership experience. At the same time, the compromises resulting from Mazda's move upmarket make the CX-30 less enjoyable to drive day to day. As a result, this is probably the least engaging Mazda we've experienced in a decade; improvements in design and dealerships don't outweigh that.
Ultimately, the CX-30 is less a jack-of-all-trades vehicle than a master of none. We won't miss this Mazda, but there's always the next one.