Like the relationship of Jim and Pam on The Office, an automaker evolving from a mainstream to a luxury brand is compelling to watch. There’s a will-they-won’t-they tension as the product and marketing teams fight customer perception as they attempt to get from A to B. Some brands have been successful. Hyundai, which went from selling Excels to Equuses (eventually spinning that off as the Genesis luxury brand)—springs to mind. Others, such as Chrysler’s mid-’00s pivot, fell flat. The latest automaker to attempt the transition is Mazda, and we’ll be spending the next 12 months with the 2020 Mazda CX-30 Premium AWD to see how this brand in transition is faring.
Why the CX-30 instead of something like a Mazda 6 or CX-5 Signature, you ask? Simple: It’s Mazda’s latest vehicle, and it competes in a heavily contested subcompact SUV segment. This is a segment that’s seen down-market entries from the luxury heavy-hitters—Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz—as well as upscale attempts from mainstream automakers like Buick and Kia. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if Mazda can make it here, it can make it anywhere.
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Our new Polymetal Gray Metallic (god, I hate modern car paint names) CX-30 seems well suited for the challenge. For starters, our top-spec Premium model looks the part of a pint-sized luxury ute with crisp, elegant lines and understated brightwork. Inside, the CX-30 has an unmistakably upscale cabin with a lovely mix of colors, textures, and materials, with the soft and supple white and brown leather found on the seats and dash being our favorite feature.
As expected in a modern luxury SUV, our CX-30 Premium comes with the obligatory set of technology. On the entertainment front it has a crisp 8.8-inch infotainment display (don’t touch, though; it’s controlled via a scroll wheel on the center console), Android Auto and Apple Car Play compatibility, and a 12-speaker Bose audio system. On the safety front, the CX-30 has a color head-up display, radar cruise control with stop and go, lane keep assist, and automatic emergency braking.
If there’s a potential weak spot in the CX-30’s armor, for now it’s its engine. Whereas most competitors have torquey turbocharged engines, the CX-30 makes do for now with a 2.5-liter I-4 making 186 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, paired with a standard six-speed automatic—and on our car, optional all-wheel drive. (Mazda has already committed to adding a 250-hp turbocharged engine to the CX-30 for the 2021 model year.) The EPA rates our new CX-30 at 25/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined.
Pricing for the base front-drive CX-30 2.5 S starts at $23,000, with AWD adding $1,440 and the premium package tacking on another $6,260. Our loaded Premium AWD tester stickered for $31,625, with a cargo cover, cargo tray, floormats, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and wireless phone charging pad making up the $925 difference.
Will the CX-30 succeed in convincing us that the famed Japanese brand is on its way to becoming a premium automaker? This little Mazda has a year to convince us.
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