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Mazda CX-30 X20 AWD SUV static Mazda CX-30 Skyactiv-X priced with a push into premium territory

Those seeking a Mazda SUV with a properly cutting-edge engine will have their answer in September. That’s when this Japanese marque will release the 2020 Mazda CX-30 X20 Astina AWD into the Australian market, bringing an innovative new two-litre engine to the fray that claims to combine diesel-like torque and efficiency with the response and high-revving character of a petrol engine.

That’s a claim we’ve already tested: you can read our review of the Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X hatch over here. The same two-litre Skyactiv-X powertrain that will be released in the Mazda 3 small car next month will be slotted into the CX-30 crossover’s engine bay just weeks later in September – with the biggest difference being that the CX-30 will exclusively have all-wheel-drive capability. Both cars will sport a 24-volt battery and belt-driven integrated starter motor that powers a mild-hybrid system.

Mazda Skyactiv-X X20 engine
The new Skyactiv-X powertrain combines diesel and petrol tech.

Badged X20, the new CX-30 Skyactiv-X will be based on this crossover’s flagship Astina grade. The new engine will be priced with a $3,000 impost over the more conventional CX-30 G25 Astina petrol (reviewed here). The CX-30 X20 Astina AWD will be priced at $46,490 plus on-road costs, meaning the wheels will hit the road at a touch over fifty grand.

That pricing pushes the CX-30 firmly into the entry-level premium crossover market, where it will compete for aspirational buyers alongside the likes of the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and the Mercedes-Benz-GLA. In fact, you can read our comparison of the CX-30 vs Q3 vs X1 here, where the CX-30 2.5-litre petrol performed well.

Mazda CX-30 X20 AWD SUV driving
The benefits of the CX-30 X20 will include stronger low-end torque.

The new two-litre Skyactiv-X engine is an innovative foray in combining some benefits of diesel engine technology within a petrol motor. At low revs, the CX-30 X20 utilises diesel-esque compression ignition for stronger low-end torque. When the driver demands more power, the system seamlessly hands off to the traditional spark ignition more familiar to petrol engines.

Final power and torque figures are still being confirmed for Australia, but we expect that the CX-30 X20 will largely match the European version, which produces about 132kW/224Nm. Unlike the front-wheel-drive Mazda 3 with this new engine, the CX-30 Skyactiv-X will be all-wheel-drive only, befitting its status as the top tier variant.

The CX-30 X20 will sit atop two other petrol four-cylinder engines in the lineup: the front-drive G20, a two-litre naturally aspirated unit producing 114kW/200Nm, and the 2.5-litre G25 that produces 139kW/252Nm and is available in either front- or all-wheel-drive forms.

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Mazda CX-30 vs Audi Q3 vs BMW X1: SUV comparison

Mazda’s new CX-30 – the brand’s premium-aspiring small SUV – takes on its premium rivals: the German-made Audi Q3 and BMW X1.

What does ‘premium’ really mean? Comfort, ease and refinement – most people would assume the inclusion of those virtues in a premium vehicle. To us, though, premium encompasses all the little surprise and delight features that you uncover with an extended drive of a vehicle. It might be cutting-edge technology, a well-judged chassis that invites you to drive great roads, a safety feature you didn’t know you need – or something as simple as mirrors that dip automatically when you select reverse gear.

The new Mazda CX-30 is the second model to join the ‘Mazda Premium’ philosophy

When Mazda, one of the great success stories of the Australian car market in recent decades, announced in 2018 that it would be adopting a premium philosophy, there was quite a cohort of sceptics. Wasn’t the thing that made Mazda great their affordable lineup that offered sportier dynamics than most – cars that provided a soulful alternative to the default choice of a Toyota or Hyundai?

Senior Mazda executives acknowledge that the aforementioned mix has been good to the brand – but the challenge now is how to retain that spirit while growing into new demographics for the 2020s. The goal is to broaden their pricing – hang on to the mass volume mainstream while, at the top end, offering cars that can compete and win against entry-level luxury cars. The new Mazda 3 hatch and sedan was the first wave of cars sporting the Mazda Premium virtues to hit Australia. The new CX-30 – an in-betweener SUV that slots beneath the CX-5 size-wise – is the next.

So, is Mazda Premium a load of hot air, or can the critical new CX-30 take the fight effectively to two bench-setting German small SUVs? To find out, Mazda threw the top-shelf $41,490 CX-30 G25 Astina into the ring against our favourite new small SUV of 2019 – the $46,400 Audi Q3 – and the venerable, but recently facelifted, $48,500 BMW X1.

Design and styling, inside and out

Kerb appeal is a must-have for a premium small SUV. Comfort and driving dynamics are important – and we’ll get to those – but to deny that having ‘the look’ is important in this set of aspirational vehicles would be to ignore a critical factor.

Mazda’s evolving Kodo design language has resulted in a decade of distinctive designs from the Hiroshima-based manufacturer. The earliest Kodo-era vehicles – with perhaps overly-smiley grilles – weren’t what you’d call premium, but as Mazda’s ‘Takumi’ sculptors have honed their tools in the brand’s focussed design centres, the look has become richer and richer.

The CX-30’s interior punches into the luxury space.

That’s culminated in the new CX-30, whose smooth, nearly crease-free lines allow the light of the surrounding environment to play against the profile of the vehicle. This effect is really striking in the available, deep Machine Grey colour – though our test car’s Soul Red Crystal still has many fans, and Mazda’s latest experiment in palette, the battleship-like Polymetal Grey, can also be had.

Inside, the CX-30’s laterally-sweeping dash is simultaneously Mazda’s own and reminiscent of the German vehicles it hopes to compete with at this over-$40,000 level. A floating tablet display reminds of BMWs and Audis – as does the rotary controller for the screen – while sumptuous pure white leather upholstery and abounding soft-touch materials surprised those who sat in the Mazda.

In person as in photographs, the CX-30 is graceful: it looks expensive, to our eyes, save perhaps for the slightly heavy-handed matte cladding above the wheel arches. But it’s an SUV, after all, and a hint of ruggedness continues to be an aesthetic buyers demand.

The Audi’s interior is tech-forward Teutonic luxury

That’s why the Audi Q3 is similarly cladded, though in gloss metallic grey, helping to lift the appearance of the German SUV. But the cladding is where visual similarities end with the Mazda CX-30. The Audi is all sharp edges, creases and character lines – some of which work better than others.

Our test car’s absolute base model form – no-cost white with slightly pedestrian 18-inch wheels – does not show the Audi off as well as an orange or deep blue model on 19s, but there is a crisp cleanliness to the form here that will satisfy many who find the Mazda’s line-free aesthetic too simplistic.

Inside, the Q3 sports Audi’s new cabin design language, which redraws the dashboard space to focus around an ultra-HD central screen and fully digital cockpit while tastefully demonstrating secondary aluminium and soft plastic materials. The leather is more coarse than Mazda’s best hide, but like in the CX-30, there is an inherent quality here – even if it is visually distinct.

The BMW X1’s interior is dating, but the fundamentals are good

The BMW X1, by contrast, is easily the oldest vehicle here – though it was the recipient of a mid-life facelift in late 2019. That facelift was an extremely light touch, though – and it concentrated mainly on the exterior, emboldening the X1’s grille and headlights, while softening aspects of the tail end.

Still, in metallic white and riding on optional 19-inch wheels, our test car pleased many with its styling, splitting the difference between the Audi’s hard edges and the Mazda’s soft curves. Viewed front-on, though, the increasingly large and gangly features BMW insists on giving its SUVs can look out of proportion on the smallest of the Bavarian bunch.

With the facelift budget spent outside, the X1’s cabin is dating. A crisp touchscreen display remains, and the analogue dials are very pretty, but the high-set grained leather seats, default-choice piano black trim and harsher plastics betray five-year-old thinking for this set. Will BMW’s traditionally-excellent dynamics bring the X1 back into the competition? Read on.

High technology

Comfort and good handling are no longer enough to set premium cars apart. For the 2020s, it’s just as much about the seamless matching of a driver’s own devices with the car’s own systems – with Apple and Android software increasingly relegating the importance of the manufacturer’s software, though a reliable, easy-to-use infotainment system can still make all the difference.

And then there’s safety technology. With government regulations meaning that all cars will soon be required to offer a comprehensive suite of semi-autonomous crash avoidance tech, the difference comes in the implementation and tuning of the systems. Premium cars will be those that protect drivers and occupants from accidents, but in a cohesive, subtle way that flatters their driver’s intentions.

The Audi Q3 loads up plenty of premium tech as standard inclusions

It’s clear that Audi – one of the jewels in the Volkswagen Group conglomerate – understands these twin technology goals innately. For a decade Audi interiors were praised for their pleasantly minimal appearance and high quality materials, in vehicles like the Q7 SUV and outgoing A3 small car. It would have been easier to rest on those laurels, but in 2019, Audi threw out their existing interior design and replaced it with a new, tech-forward appearance. It’s a gamble that may be paying off.

While the dual touchscreen setup of large new Audis is a little overwhelming, the Q3 adopts a simpler single touchscreen for the navigation and media. Audi’s new touch-driven MMI software is clear, with large tap targets easing use on the move – even if we still prefer traditional rotary dials, like those found in the BMW and Mazda. However, the Audi system looks slick and works intuitively. The company’s fully-digital gauge cluster remains the industry benchmark for presenting a full map and clear trip information to the driver on the go.

However, while Audi have developed their own impressive software, they have willingly consigned it to secondary status to the standard wireless Apple CarPlay – and wired Android Auto. With a cable-free CarPlay system, iPhone owners simply jump into the Audi Q3 and go with no fuss.

Wireless charging is standard; as is a Telstra 4G connection for the first three years, presenting satellite mapping, parking space availability, fuel prices, online radio, and other networked features. Such a suite makes the Q3 almost untouchable in this comparison, on the cabin tech front. However, audiophiles will want to option in the reasonably-priced Bang and Olufsen stereo to replace the very average standard audio system.

Disappointingly, Audi splits its safety suite, leaving two key features on the options list at this level – which is feels un-premium. You get high-speed autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and a reversing camera – but you’ll need to move up the range to access adaptive cruise control and a 360-degree camera.

The X1 skimps on equipment, forcing buyers to pay more

While the BMW’s interior design is older, its technology is largely up-to-date. There’s wireless Apple CarPlay here, too, though it isn’t as stable as it is in the Audi. If you’re a Google OS user, forget it: BMW will only begin to gradually introduce Android Auto capability to its cars later this year. At least BMW’s own iDrive system remains competent and easy to use – but the X1 doesn’t get the latest, most intuitive version of it, remaining a software generation behind.

You get DAB radio and navigation in BMW’s own software and these functions are easy to use on the go thanks to the hardware rotary controller – but the screen has touch capacity too: the X1 is the only vehicle offering the best of both worlds for using its tech on the go, and we appreciate that. Ahead of the driver is BMW’s analogue gauges – which are being phased out on the newer cars – with just a simple trip computer displayed beneath these. Tech with the wow factor? That belongs to the Audi.

A generation behind also describes the BMW’s safety offer, which is simply miserly. AEB and a reversing camera are included. You’ll pay extra for adaptive cruise control, while blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are not available at all…

The CX-30 is, appropriately, clearly the best value

Those features are more than just offered on the Mazda CX-30: they’re standard by the time you’ve hit the $41,000 Astina trim tested here, and the vehicle likely to be considered by those who thought they wanted an entry-level German luxury SUV. And there’s more, too. AEB, adaptive cruise control with traffic jam pilot assist, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, rear and front-junction cross traffic alert, and a 360-degree camera, are all included.

Inside, the CX-30’s technology offer is good, if not great. On the surface, the features are there – but their implementation is at times clunkier than in the German pair. A new operating system sits on the attractive 8.8-inch central display, which is no longer touch-capacitive. Instead, it’s controlled with a large rotary controller, which works very well. The navigation graphics are substantially more mature than on older Mazdas. DAB radio, and other audio sources, sound really crisp and deep through the standard-fit 12-speaker Bose stereo.

But there’s only wired Apple CarPlay here, which seems like a miss on a brand-new car. With smartphone mirroring experiencing mass takeup, especially among younger buyers but across the demographic spectrum, wouldn’t you take the opportunity to cut the cord? Until now, it’s been a premium-marque feature, limited to BMW only, and then Audi – but Volkswagen are rolling it out this year, leaving Mazda a little exposed. Similarly, the only USB ports here are old-style USB 3 slots, not the new rapid-charging USB-C variety.

Likewise, the CX-30’s partially digital gauge cluster, while attractive, is not really any more useful than the X1’s outdated trip computer – it can display only a model of an analogue speedometer (not especially useful), fuel consumption information, or the adaptive cruise control programming. Unlike on the Audi, you can’t bring up a map, or unlike the Q3 or X1, even your song information.

You do, however, get a standard head-up display – and even better – it can be seen through the polarised sunglasses many Australians wear. Trust us: that is rare throughout the car industry, and demonstrates how Australian needs rate highly in the Mazda universe.

Driving ahead

There are two distinct philosophies at play under the bonnet of the trio tested here. The Mazda leans on a larger-capacity, high-compression atmospheric petrol engine, while the German trio – as is common in their ilk – utilise smaller turbocharged units. In the real world, their fuel economy is surprisingly similar across the board – but the way they make their power is very different.

Mazda eschew turbocharged engines where they aren’t needed – and the Japanese marque set a high bar for necessity in that regard. The large CX-9 and CX-8 seven-seaters are turbo by default; the CX-5 and 6 offer optional turbocharging – but every other model in the range comes as standard with a conventional naturally-aspirated engine.

The CX-30 goes it alone by featuring a naturally aspirated engine

Don’t confuse the CX-30’s 2.5-litre four-cylinder with an old-school unit, though. With a high compression ratio of 13:1, impressive thermal efficiency, and the ability to deactivate two cylinders under light load conditions, the Mazda’s engine keeps the fire lit for atmospheric motors. The figures of 140kW and 250Nm look right on paper, too.

That high compression ratio equates to relatively good torque at low revs…for a naturally aspirated engine, that is. Looking holistically at engine performance, the CX-30 is still a high-revving atmo unit that does its best work at and beyond 3,500rpm. Coax the Mazda along on the throttle and it feels lively and keen, overtaking easily on country roads and leaping into gaps in traffic.

The six-speed torque converter automatic is well-tuned, but if you’re relaxed with the throttle, progress up hills can feel very lethargic. In short – the CX-30 needs a rev, and that’s with the larger of the two available engines! At least the engine sounds reasonable when worked – and there is a torquier super-high-compression Skyactiv-X engine being added to the CX-30 mid-year. We have reviewed that groundbreaking new motor here.

The Audi’s 1.4-litre turbo punches above its weight

By contrast, the engines in the Audi and BMW do their best work while leaning on the advantages of low-pressure turbocharging – but it is the X1 that makes progress most easily in this pack. Utilising a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 141kW/280Nm – with that torque peaking at a low 1,350rpm – the X1 needs little encouragement in town and country, dispatching a brisk 7.6 sec 0-100km/h time, beating the Mazda by 1.1 sec and Audi by a huge 1.7 sec. The BMW’s ‘B48’ engine also sounds rortier than you would expect at this price point.

But that price point is admittedly the most expensive here, by a significant margin. The more affordable Audi takes a dip in performance, even if the engine performs in a fundamentally similar way. The Q3, tested here in 35 TFSI guise, uses a small 1.4-litre turbo four. You’ll know this engine well if you drive a Volkswagen Golf: it’s the same one, producing 110kW/250Nm, with the torque peaking by 1,500rpm.

The Q3 offers adequate engine performance, but nothing more. It’s torquey, and absolutely quick enough in town and on the highway – but rural overtaking requires a little more planning than the other two cars here, with the Audi starting to run out of puff the higher the speedometer needle heads north of 100km/h. In its default Comfort mode, there is also a doughey response from both the engine and the six-speed dual-clutch automatic, though this improved over our time with the vehicle as it learned our acceleration style.

The BMW’s engine is strong but it sports wayward body control

But while the X1 impresses with its responsive engine, it lets down – really surprisingly – in the handling department. Demonstrating concerning body control over Australia’s average bumpy B-roads, and offering up stodgy and feel-free steering, the BMW X1’s handling can only be described as mediocre. That is a combination of words that should be utterly anathema to BMW – a brand that markets itself as the producer of the world’s ultimate driving machines.

It is the X1’s combination of unruly damping on the standard suspension and the use of skinny 225-series tyres relative to its height that seem to be the cause of its problems. The suspension fails to cinch the X1 back to the tarmac after the sort of mid-corner bumps you find on poorly-maintained backroads everywhere in this country, leaving the overtaxed stability control system to keep the car on the road.

The BMW’s ride quality is good – even impressive – in town and it is a fine, quiet highway cruiser. Show it a fun road, though, and it does not live up to the values the Bavarian roundel is supposed to embody.

The situation may improve with adaptive dampers and smaller wheels, but we are dismayed to see these characteristics manifest in the first place. Ultimately, the X1’s underlying UKL platform is simply less sophisticated than the chassis that sits under BMW’s more expensive models. If you have your heart set on a BMW crossover, may we suggest the bigger X3 SUV – which rides on the far more refined Cluster Architecture chassis and exhibits few, if any, of these problematic traits.

The level of passion and expertise in the CX-30’s chassis is obvious

Thankfully, our testers were given a reprieve when stepping into the Mazda CX-30, which has a chassis that was clearly designed by people who think a small SUV should have refined – and even entertaining – dynamics. The CX-30 handles far better than the BMW, with suspension damping that blends firmness and security over mid-corner bumps with just enough vertical motion to be able to breathe across Australia’s scarred tarmac.

The CX-30 devours backroads. It loves them. The communicative, mid-weighted steering feels just right in the hands, and the Mazda turns into corners with alacrity before allowing its rear end to gently float around behind in moments of contained lift-off oversteer. Considering the CX-30 in front-drive form, as tested here, uses a simple torsion-beam rear suspension, it’s clear a mammoth effort was put in here. Only the oddly-weighted brake pedal disrupts the experience.

That said, in town, the CX-30’s ride is fidgetty. On the 18-inch wheels and 215-series Dunlop SP Sport Maxx rubber worn by every model bar the base version, the Mazda never truly settles down, even if noise and vibrations are impressively minimised. On the whole, the CX-30 is a very refined SUV.

But it is the Audi Q3 that demonstrates a similarly passionate approach to driving dynamics while also offering up a low-speed suspension tune that settles in and stops fidgeting when you just want to relax.

The Q3 displays confident, involving handling

While the Q3’s 1.4-litre engine is ultimately nothing special, it is almost as fun to punt down a great country road as the Mazda. Like the CX-30, the Q3 embraces some limited body roll to its advantage, helping to relieve stress on its 235-series 18-inch Bridgestone Alenza tyres. The Audi turns in well – partially due to its featherweight motor – and then sticks and sticks while cornering, tracking a line and holding it more predictably than the other two cars on test. Grip is never lacking.

Sure, the Q3’s steering is not as feelsome as the Mazda’s, but the ultra-consistent weighting of the control surfaces, including the brakes, make it an easy car to learn to drive quickly, flowing from corner to corner. If you use aggressive inputs, the Audi’s stability control bites down oppressively – the Mazda offers more leeway – but use a deft touch in the Q3 and it will ebb and flow from corner to corner just as fluently as the CX-30.

Then, on your commute, the Audi will be just as quiet as the other two, while offering a better urban ride than the Mazda, and giving you the best cabin tech to interact with of this bunch.

Capacity for cargo – and people

We think small SUVs need to focus mainly on their front passengers – these cars are ultimately bought by singles and couples, most of whom move up to a larger wagon or SUV if the family grows. That said, we place value on a relatively spacious back seat for occasional use by friends, and also on a boot that’s spacious enough to lug sporting equipment and boxes of wine alike.

It’s a tussle between designing a physically smaller car with clever interior packaging, or simply enlarging the dimensions to more easily fit a larger cabin. The SUVs in this test sit across that continuum.

Both German cars on test sport large back seats

The BMW X1 feels the biggest, but is marginally smaller than the Audi, at 4.45m long – and it rewards with easily the largest back seat. The X1 can seat five adults most easily in this test, though the outboard seats are the best pews. Legroom, headroom and toe room are all generous for a six-footer. Air vents and two USB-C charge points are standard. You also get a flip-down armrest with cup holders, while the materials in the back are soft-touch.

Behind the X1’s manual tailgate – electrification here is an option – is a 505-litre boot, which is theoretically smaller than the Audi’s, even if it looks as big in person. Plus, you get underfloor storage in the X1 – but not in the Q3 – while the back seats slide fore and aft to maximise boot space or rear legroom. The boot itself includes two shopping bag hooks, a cubby hole and a netted area.

The Audi Q3 is the longest, at 4.49m long. Back seat space is acceptable for a six-footer, with about an inch of legroom behind another six-footer’s driving position. Headroom and toe room are both generous. Five will be a squeeze; four will be comfortable, thanks to the standard air vents and two USB-C charge points in the back. A flip-down armrest includes cup holders, and like the BMW, the materials remain soft and squishy in the second row.

The Q3 has a standard electric tailgate in a value gesture, and at 530 litres, it is the biggest cargo area on paper – with perhaps a bit more length in the boot than the BMW. There’s no underfloor storage, though, but you do get two areas left and right of the boot floor, and two shopping bag hooks. Like the X1, the rear seats slide fore and aft to alter boot or rear seat space.

The Mazda’s stylish lines come at a cost to boot and rear seat space

The Mazda is the smallest car on test, just shy of 4.4 metres in length. This Japanese brand has traditionally struggled with making its interiors as practical as those in German rivals – that is the case here, though Mazda are clearly making packaging inroads. Back seat space isn’t substantially worse than the Audi, though you do notice more constrained legroom (about half-an-inch for our six-footer) and headroom, thanks to the raunchier roofline. Toe room is fine.

Air vents are standard in the back of the CX-30 – but you won’t find any USB ports, unlike the other two, and unlike Mazda’s larger SUVs, which feels a little ungenerous. You do get a particularly supple flip-down armrest with cupholders…but the rear door materials switch to hard plastic in a notable decrease in plushness from up front.

An electric tailgate is also standard on the CX-30 Astina on test, revealing a boot that is clearly the smallest here, at 317 litres. Euro-spec cars have a bigger boot, but Mazda Australia opted to specify the largest available (but still not full size) spare tyre. Disappointingly, no effort has been made to make the CX-30’s boot clever – there are no shopping bag hooks or cubby spaces, which continue to be something of a ‘European car thing’.

Peace of mind

One way the Mazda can put you more at ease than the other two SUVs tested here is when thinking about what will happen in future. Mazda’s transferable five year, unlimited kilometre warranty eclipses the guarantee on the Audi and BMW by two years, in both cases. We think it’s well and truly time for the German luxury brands – that includes Mercedes-Benz – to stand behind their quality and up their coverage to five years, matching Mazda and every other mass volume marque.

Look out for the considerable differences in servicing and warranty

Servicing arrangements differ slightly between the three vehicles on test. The Mazda’s service intervals are frustratingly short, with just 10,000km between scheduled maintenance (or a year, if that comes earlier). The Audi requires the first of annual or 15,000km services, while the BMW has adaptive intervals but they’re essentially annual.

In terms of service costs, Audi and BMW sell up-front plans for about $1,600 apiece for three years of servicing. In Mazda’s case, that amount – or about $100 more – will buy you five services, but remember, that’s only 50,000km worth of driving.

First place: the Audi Q3 35 TFSI ($46,400)

It is threats like the Mazda CX-30 that have contributed to Audi’s decision to offer dramatically better value for money in their entry-level cars than they have ever done.

While the new Q3 demands more of your hard-earned money than the Mazda, it is remarkably affordable for a vehicle wearing a recognised luxury badge. The base model does not skimp on premium convenience features. We rewarded the standard figment of an electric tailgate, leather seats, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless smartphone charging, and a very generous suite of internet-connected features with three years of data.

A worthy winner – the 2020 Audi Q3

While its engine is merely adequate, the Audi’s exceptionally good balance between a comfortable urban ride with deft and agile handling on country roads strikes us as especially suitable in Australia.

That said, we penalised the penny-pinching decision to relegate adaptive cruise control to the options list. Equally, the average stereo, manually adjustable seats and at times heavy-handed stability control tuning counted against the Audi – but we had to go looking for criticisms.

The Audi Q3 is the best entry-level luxury SUV you can buy… closely followed by the Mazda CX-30.

Second place: the Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina ($41,490)

It is a credit to Mazda’s passionate team of engineers, designers and product planners that the CX-30 pulls into a – very close – second place to the Audi Q3.

For a brand that only made a recent decision to dip a toe into the water of the premium market, Mazda has rapidly picked up on the cues of the luxury space. The combination of a superb cabin, plush materials, an expressive but mature design, and terrific driving dynamics belie its reasonable price. The CX-30 is truly impressive.

The Mazda CX-30 is a superb choice

The standard inclusion of the best safety technology suite here on the Astina model scored high marks with us – as did the standard offer of a great stereo, a sunroof, supple heated seats, proximity entry, and the attention to detail in the mirrors dipping in reverse on-demand.

However, even greater attention to detail is necessary to score the win. The lack of wireless Apple CarPlay – plus front and rear USB-C connectivity – seem odd for a brand-new car in 2020, while the suspension arguably needs a greater focus on urban comfort when it comes time for a facelift.

That said, the CX-30 is both a value buy and a bona fide entry-level premium SUV. We’d happily have one in the garage. Make ours a Machine Grey Astina with pure white leather for maximum effect.

Third place: the BMW X1 sDrive20i ($48,500)

It is easy to understand why the BMW X1 is a popular, aspirational vehicle. It is a handsome, practical, generously-sized small SUV. However, the recent update and facelift was just too minimal to prevent newer rivals from surging ahead of the BMW in our recommendations.

We love BMW’s serious commitment to developing great combustion engines that sip fuel while offering great response – just like the four-cylinder turbo engine in this X1. Equally, we give BMW credit for being the first to supply wireless Apple CarPlay to the public, even if it was initially granted on the basis of an unfair subscription. That is no longer the case: this important connectivity is now included for life.

We’d hold off on purchasing a BMW X1 until a new generation comes along

However, it would be irresponsible for us to ignore the at-times bizarre handling traits of this BMW SUV. The body control, at least with this combination of wheels, tyres, and damping, is not well suited to Australian roads. BMW’s lower-cost UKL platform, used by the X1, does not appear to be up to the job in this case.

Also counting against the BMW were the fact its price was the highest here, while its standard equipment – wireless CarPlay aside – was the least generous. The Audi and Mazda both lob a serious value for money question at BMW’s showroom doors.

What the test and results illustrate is just how competitive this segment has become. With existing luxury brands – and upstarts like Mazda – chomping at the bit for sales, maximum effort will be required to stand out and impress in future.

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2020 Mazda CX-3 Interior 3 Mazda CX-30 SUV fills a range gap you might not have considered

Few people would have suggested that Mazda needed another crossover to sit between the CX-3 city SUV and the uber-popular CX-5 midsizer – but extensive research conducted by the Hiroshima-based brand, and by their Melbourne-based Australian office, suggested just that.

Enter the 2020 Mazda CX-30 – it’s officially a small SUV, but it tidily splits the difference between the CX-3 and CX-5, offering the easy parkability of the former with cabin space remarkably close to the latter. Oh, and it’s not a CX-4 because Mazda already sell a car under that badge in China, and nowhere else.

Once you’ve accepted the name, the rest of the car goes over well, as we discovered in our first drive of the CX-30 in Germany and our test of the CX-30 Astina on Australian roads this month. You’ll shortly be able to read more in a comparison of the crossover with some key rivals.

Alastair Doak Vinesh Bhindi Mazda
Alastair Doak (L) and Vinesh Bhindi (R).

Vinesh Bhindi, Mazda Australia’s managing director, and key lieutenant Alastair Doak, head of marketing at the brand, are bullish about the CX-30’s chances in Australia, predicting it will jump to about 800 sales a month at first.

“If you sit in the CX-3 and the CX-5, you will see that there is a natural step between them, like there always has been between a Mazda 2 and a Mazda 3 – so to us, it is quite straightforward,” Mr Doak told Chasing Cars at the CX-30’s local launch in Victoria.

“When we did the research around [the CX-30 and the CX-3] 18 months ago, there was in fact not a huge amount of cannibalisation between the two, because they talk to a slightly different customer. We are very confident that both will live naturally together,” says Doak.

Mazda CX-30 2020 machine grey design
The new CX-30 sits between Mazda’s popular CX-3 and CX-5 crossovers.

The marketing boss suggests that the diminuitive CX-3 will continue to be a first car of choice for some, as well as being a popular downsizer vehicle for those wanting maneouvrability in the city coupled to a higher driving position.

“The CX-30 is very much like a Mazda 3 buyer – a bit older, a bit more money [to spend], maybe a couple – probably kids and those sorts of things are a little bit down the track, but thinking that we could with this car. They may have a dog, they may have a mountain bike in the back.

Arriving in Australia with two petrol engines – a 2.0-litre and a larger 2.5-litre that was included at the behest of North America and Australia – the CX-30 initially runs without any sort of electrification. By contrast, the rival Toyota C-HR is available with a hybrid drivetrain.

Mazda 3 Skyactiv-X 2020 engine
The Skyactiv-X engine will arrive in Australia in late 2020.

Mazda have confirmed that the forthcoming 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X powertrain will arrive with mild hybrid technology in Australia, with extended start-stop functionality, while the option of adding mild hybrid tech to today’s base two-litre is a further possibility.

As for whether Australians can expect a beefier series-parallel hybrid system like that seen in Toyota vehicles, Mr Doak was tight-lipped. “That would be telling!,” he says.

Toyota’s C-HR hybrid ($36,440) lists combined petrol consumption of 4.3L/100km, while the CX-30 in two-litre guise claims fifty per cent higher consumption – at 6.5L/100km.

The Skyactiv-X engine will likely better the CX-30’s fuel consumption – but it won’t be arriving before the last months of 2020. Australia’s production allocation of the new Mazda powertrain has slipped back from initial estimes.

Mazda CX-30 review 2020 rear seat space
Rear seat space isn’t far off that of a CX-5.

Now, an arrival “towards the end of the year is where our planning is, but exact dates and timings – we will tell you once we have locked in production and arrival times,” says Mr Bhindi. The Mazda 3 with the new engine, tested here, will arrive first, with the CX-30 Skyactiv-X following a few months later.

“What Mazda Corporation decided to do was focus on Europe, and that is what they have put their efforts in [with Skyactiv-X],” Bhindi explains. “Given the changes in regulations and penalties [in the EU], that became their focus market, but we will get it soon after. We are okay with that.”

The CX-30 arrives with a high standard of safety technology, though some sophisticated items like a 360-degree camera and front cross traffic alert are reserved for an optional $1,500 Vision package, except on the top-shelf Astina where it is standard. The situation is similar for Mazda 3 buyers, who have taken up the option at a higher rate than expected.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Front 3/4
The take rate of optional safety tech is expected to run around a third.

“Even since November, the take rate [on the Vision package] has improved again. It’s now pushing 25% on the Mazda 3. We expect it to be similar or even higher on this car, and we’re very happy with that… we think it’s a great value proposition. It wasn’t that long ago that we were doing [just] accessory front parking sensors, which are part of this pack, for $700, and you get a hell of a lot more than that now, with the 360 degree camera, and other things.”

Mr Doak indicated that if the take-up rate hit higher than 50%, a rationalisation would be considered to include the full technology suite further down the range.

The CX-30 is now in dealerships with two engines and four trim levels, with front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations available.

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Ryo Yanagisawa portrait Under a Lamborghini Countach poster, Ryo Yanagisawa dreamt of designing cars

Ryo Yanagisawa, the designer of the 2020 Mazda CX-30, knew he had to design cars when he saw the Lamborghini Countach and the Ferrari Testarossa.

“It’s an old story – when I was a small kid in Japan, there was this supercar boom at the time” Yanagisawa told Chasing Cars at the Australian launch of Mazda’s new small crossover.

This period – the mid-eighties – saw a resurgence in high-end sports cars that were innovative mechanically and aesthetically. With new hard-edged, wedge-like shapes, the Countach and Testarossa defined the period.

Mazda CX-30 2020 machine grey design
Yanagisawa was responsible for the design of Mazda’s new CX-30 SUV.

It was also a time that saw a group of Italian car designers – Leonardo Fioravanti, who penned the Testarossa among many other Ferraris, Marcello Gandini, who was responsible for Lamborghini, and Giorgetto Giugaro, who in the same period had unleashed the similarly-shaped BMW M1.

“Those vehicles were so popular among the kids in Japan, back then. I really loved the Countach – so I just wished that I could design that kind of vehicle,” Yanagisawa related from his time spent growing up in Tokyo’s semi-rural western district.

An owner of the rotary-engined Mazda RX-8, Yanagisawa followed Gandini into the design profession, with the new CX-30 being his third credit as chief designer at the Hiroshima-based manufacturer.

Lamborghini Countach
The Mazda designer grew up during the Italian supercar boom that saw radical designs including Gandini’s Lamborghini Countach.

With the CX-30 landing in the popular small SUV segment, competing with the Volkswagen T-Roc and Toyota C-HR, the C-segment crossover is likely to be Yanagisawa’s most commercially important design to date.

His previous stints as chief designer were on the Mazda 2 light hatchback, and before that, as the head designer of Mazda’s BT-50 utility. The BT-50 emerged from Mazda’s previous collaboration with Ford – and both the Mazda ute and the corresponding Ford Ranger were designed in Melbourne.

Mazda, which is known for its focus on sophisticated forms, allows its designers more leeway for creativity than many of its rivals, largely thanks to the expert abilities of their craftsmen in realising unusual shapes in the metal.

2018 Mazda BT-50 XTR freestyle cab front 3/4
Living in Melbourne, Yanagisawa designed Mazda’s BT-50 ute

However, while Mr Yanagisawa was based in Melbourne for a time, his design inspiration is firmly planted in Japanese concepts of beauty that is subtly revealed over time.

“I was concerned about how we should show light and shadow as art – that is something we really focussed on in designing the CX-30. That kind of work started from the RX-Vision and Vision coupe [concepts],” he says.

The interplay of light and shadow on the CX-30 is mainly seen through the vehicle’s unusual side profile metalwork which bears no crease lines at all – but a gradual bend in the panels grabs light from around the car and creates an inverse shadow. The effect in reality can be quite beautiful, depending on the surrounding environment.

Mazda CX-30 side profile in Soul Red Crystal
The unusual form of the CX-30’s profile casts interesting reflections.

Organic shapes are in vogue at Mazda, standing in sharp contrast to the hard edges and bulky forms used by most other makers for their SUVs.

“Each [manufacturer] creates different styles,” Yanagisawa says. “Using crisp lines is something that is easy to understand. What we are doing is not using such crisp lines, but somehow expressing the beauty of art.”

“It may be difficult to understand the beauty of it, but we try to express the essence of it using these basic proportions. It doesn’t matter what category of car it is – this [style of design] is something perpetual in terms of the beauty of the proportions.”

2020 Mazda CX-3 Front 3/4
Mazda’s new CX-30 SUV.

Mr Yanagisawa studied at Tokyo’s Tama art school before joining Mazda in 1991. At university, he was most interested by the idea of human-centric design philosophies that blended in visual flair.

“Architectural structures don’t directly influence my work, but personally, when I was a student, I learned about the Bauhaus. There is strong tension in that architecture, and I like that kind of thing,” he points out.

In Bauhaus thinking, form follows function – with buildings naturally guiding their inhabitants in how to navigate and use them. The same concepts feed into Mr Yanagisawa’s work here.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Rear 3/4
Both form and function are respected in the CX-30’s design.

“The CX-30 is a vehicle that will be used by families – so it should be more practical. That’s somewhere we made sure we differentiated from [the related Mazda 3],” Yanagisawa says. He points out the accommodations made to heighten the rear roofline without visual weight, and the measures to add rear legroom and cargo space.

One of the CX-30’s most controversial design elements is the use of black cladding around the lower portion of the body. Plastic cladding is a common trope in crossover design, but the CX-30’s ratio of cladding to paintwork is higher than most.

Mr Yanagisawa says it helps to lighten the appearance of the car and prevent the CX-30 from looking too “chubby” – though he understands some would prefer body-coloured panels there.

So, should we expect to see Yanagisawa’s design filtering through different Mazdas – including the new BT-50 ute, to be revealed this year?

“I think it’s possible to apply this new iteration of Kodo [broadly],” he says. “Of course – we need to think about how to apply these things case by case.”

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2020 Mazda CX-3 LEad Mazda CX-30: Australian pricing locked in for goldilocks SUV

After confirming the CX-30 for Australia earlier this year, Mazda this week released final pricing and specifications for their ‘goldilocks’ sized SUV that slots between the CX-3 and CX-5. The handsome CX-30 features Mazda’s seventh-generation Kodo design language and competitive pricing for its arrival next January. 

Mazda claim the size of the CX-30 strikes an ideal point in compact SUV dimensions. The CX-30 attempts to maintain the excellent manoeuvrability of the CX-3 while affording almost as much cargo space as the larger CX-5. 

With the size and pricing of the CX-30, Mazda are directly targeted the growing ‘big-small’ SUV niche, where cars like the funky Toyota C-HR and Honda HR-V already sit – and where the soon to arrive Volkswagen T-Roc will also compete.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Rear 3/4

Four trim levels and two engine options will be on offer for the CX-30 in Australia at launch, kicking off with the $29,990 (driveaway pricing not yet available) G20 Pure variant and topping out with the $43,990 G25 Astina AWD (driveaway pricing not yet available).

With the entry price calling for a $450 premium over a similarly equipped $29,540 ($33,231 driveaway) Toyota C-HR, Mazda will be relying on the more premium feel to appeal to private buyers. 

The CX-30 is really a handsome thing to behold in the flesh. The Kodo design language has spawned a cohesive and minimal front end, with the ingenious ‘S’ shape reflection on the flanks a personal highlight.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Interior 2

Mazda has really pushed to their premium philosophy inside the CX-30, their human centred design approach lending comfortable ergonomics which are complemented by dashes of quality leather and serious square-footage of soft-touch plastic to give the affordable SUV an ambience near Audi level.

When the CX-30 arrives it will be available with a choice of two powertrains: the first and likely biggest seller is a two-litre four cylinder Skyactiv petrol engine with 114kW/200Nm. With this engine claimed fuel consumption is an impressive 6.5L/100km, but acceleration is a more modest 10.1 second 0-100km/h claim for this G20 powertrain.

The G20 engine will be available across all variants, though only in combination with a six-speed torque converter automatic and front-wheel drive – no manual is coming to Australia.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Interior 1

Additionally, a Vision technology package can be specified on any variant in the CX-30 range. This package includes front parking sensors, a 360º top-down view, an autonomous traffic jam function – with steering – for the adaptive cruise, driver fatigue monitoring and front cross-traffic alert for an extra $1,500. This was a calculated choice made by Mazda product planners in light of the better-than-expected 30% uptake of this package for Mazda 3 buyers.

From the entry Pure variant impressive tech joins the quality interior feel, all CX-30s will be equipped with a 7-inch digital cockpit, 8.8-inch non-touchscreen colour display with navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 16-inch alloys, LED headlights and keyless go.

As well as in-car gizmos, all variants will be equipped as standard with adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist, radar cruise control, rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and both front and rear low-speed AEB.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Exterior detail

Stepping up to the mid-range, the Evolve starts at $31,490 (driveaway pricing not yet available) and gets some extra pizazz, with standard 18-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control with rear ventilation, leather wrapped gear knob and tiller and wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

A Touring variant is available from $34,990 (driveaway pricing not yet available) and will be specified with a plusher, leather appointed interior with 10-way electrically adjustable seats with two position memory, advanced keyless entry with push-button start auto-tilting mirrors and front parking sensors.

Range-topping Astina variants are available with either engine and front of all-wheel drive, they will also all be equipped with the Vision safety pack as standard. In addition, there will be bright-finish 18-inch alloys, adaptive LED headlights, a lovely 12-speaker Bose stereo, black leather or, as an option, white hue pews available on the plushest model.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Exterior detail 1

For Touring and Astina variants buyers can also option a larger engine. Monikered the G25, this 2.5-litre produces 139kW/252Nm and adds $1,500 to the price. Fuel consumption increases slightly to 6.6L/100km while the extra power sees the 0-100km/h sprint fall to 8.7 seconds.

Buyers optioning the G25 powertrain can then further add Mazda’s i-Activ AWD for $2,000. For AWD privileges expect more traction on the slippery stuff but higher fuel consumption – to the tune of +0.2L/100km – and a 0.3 second penalty on the 0-100km/h sprint.

We were seriously impressed with the handling, ride and class-leading cabin quality when we road tested the CX-30. With the extra wheelbase length increasing occupancy space, combined with the peppy and efficient petrol engines, we think the ‘big-small’ loving SUV public will be smitten with Mazda’s offering on its local arrival in January 2020.

2020 Mazda CX-3 Front 3/4

CX-30 Australian Pricing

All prices are before on-road costs.

G20 Touring FWD $34,990
G25 Touring FWD $36,490
G25 Touring AWD $38,490
G20 Astina FWD $38,990
G25 Astina FWD $41,490
G25 Astina AWD $43,490
Vision package +$1,500

Correction: a previous version of this post inaccurately stated that the CX-30 Pure is not fitted with adaptive cruise control. It is. In addition, front parking sensors were missing from a list of features added through the Vision package.

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