2023 Mazda CX-30 Review and Test Drive: Appeal Is More Than Skin Deep

Sharp styling and user-friendly tech combine in a fun, sporty crossover SUV.

Three-quarter view of red Mazda CX-30.Christian Wardlaw

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It's 2023, and I'm glad I'm not a car.

That's an odd statement, but it makes sense if you think about it. As car buyers, many of us want a vehicle that allows us to live an active lifestyle (real or imagined), provides a fun driving experience without any penalty at the gas pump, protects us with the latest and greatest safety technology, and can accommodate passengers, dogs, and lots of luggage for an epic road trip. And it needs to fit in a small garage.

That's a tall order, one the 2023 Mazda CX-30 can fill. Positioned as the brand's smallest crossover SUV with a price tag that's just a bit more than a Mazda 3 sedan despite featuring standard all-wheel drive and added versatility, Mazda updated the CX-30 for 2023 with a slight bump in power for its base four-cylinder engine and new standard rear-side airbags. Competitors include the Buick Encore GX, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Fiat 500X, Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, Subaru Crosstrek, and Toyota Corolla Cross. With those models in mind, I spent a week evaluating how well the CX-30 delivers in terms of space, utility, comfort, and the engaging driving dynamics for which Mazdas are known.

Rear three-quarter view of red Mazda CX-30.Christian Wardlaw

The 2023 Mazda CX-30 comes in 2.5 S, 2.5 S Select, 2.5 S Preferred, 2.5 S Carbon Edition, 2.5 S Premium, 2.5 Turbo Premium, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus trim levels. Base prices range from the mid-$20,000s to the mid-$30,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from the Guanajuato, Mexico, factory that builds it to your local dealership. Mazda dropped the base 2.5 Turbo version for the 2023 model year.

For this CX-30 review, I test-drove the 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. It came sprayed in Machine Gray Metallic paint and fitted with an optional stainless steel rear bumper guard, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $37,505, including the $1,375 destination charge. Mazda provided the vehicle for this CX-30 review.

Interior of a Mazda CX-30 that shows the dashboard, steering wheel, front seats, and center console.Thom Blackett

2023 Mazda CX-30: Much to Appreciate in a Small Package

A quick scan of the marketplace shows no shortage of small crossover SUVs, but they're certainly not all created equal. That includes appearance. To my eye, many of the 2023 CX-30's competitors exhibit styling that ranges from bland to strange.

In contrast, Mazda has sculpted a visually striking model with its flared fenders, slim LED headlights and taillights, and a forward-leaning grille that gives the cute ute a bit of attitude. With black plastics fitted to the wheel arches and rocker panels, the CX-30 appears ready to venture off the beaten path. I'm also partial to the black wheels and mirrors found on Carbon Edition and Turbo variants.

A view of the back seat in a Mazda CX-30Thom Blackett

Inside, there's more to appreciate. Whenever I climb behind the wheel of a Mazda test vehicle, I feel like I'm in a high-end premium vehicle cloaked by a mainstream badge. True to expectations, that was the case in the CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus, with its blend of soft-touch surfaces, accent stitching on the dashboard and door panels, supple leather on the shift knob and steering wheel, and perforated leather upholstery. Equally as important, all the bits and pieces fit together well and remained rattle free after a day spent on Maine and New Hampshire's rough secondary roads.

I was impressed by the color choices in my CX-30 test car. Mazda blends what it calls white upholstery — I'd call it ivory or off-white — and a matching fabric headliner with black carpet and interior panels. On top of that, designers added dark-brown material to the dash, door panels, and center armrest. The result is an upscale interior that stands apart from others in the class.

Thankfully, the 2023 Mazda CX-30 cabin's appeal goes beyond the superficial. Primary controls are intuitive and well-placed, buttons and switches have a solid feel, and the rotary dials are easy to grip thanks to their ridged surfaces. As for storage, you can place smaller items in the door panel bin, one of the cubbies within the center console, and the rear seatback pocket.

Rear view of a silver Mazda CX-30 with the hatch open.Thom Blackett

The trunk provides 20.2 cu-ft of cargo space behind the rear seat, or 45.2 cu-ft if you fold the back seat down. The rear head restraints are bulky, so you may need to slide the front seats forward to allow those to clear. The cargo area is nicely finished in carpet, even over the wheel wells, and is especially easy to access with the Turbo Premium Plus's power liftgate.

Seat comfort is a mixed bag. My test vehicle included standard heated front seats and a fast-acting heated steering wheel. In addition, the power driver's seat featured a lumbar adjustment, ample lower and upper side bolsters, and a padded sliding center armrest. These components kept me comfy and ache-free during several hours behind the wheel.

Had I been seated on the second-row bench seat, however, I would've quickly morphed into a grumpy old man. There just isn't enough space when you adjust the front seat for an average adult. But give Mazda credit for providing soft front seatbacks — your passengers' knees will thank you — a fold-down center armrest with cupholders, and adjustable heating and air-conditioning vents.

The infotainment screen in a Mazda CX-30.Thom Blackett

2023 Mazda CX-30: No Touchscreen but Lots of Tech

When taking delivery of a new car recently, the salesperson asked if I'd like a tutorial on how to use the various technology features. I politely declined but thought of vehicles I've reviewed that required consulting the owner's manual to accomplish what should've been a simple task. That wasn't an issue in the 2023 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus.

This top-tier trim level has an excellent Bose surround-sound system integrated with an infotainment system and an 8.8-inch screen. It may require a few taps, but it won't be long before you realize that this is not a touchscreen. Instead, Mazda provides a large dial on the center console that you turn or push to scroll through menus on the screen and make your selections.

Some say no modern car should be without a touchscreen, and others agree with Mazda's claim that the popular technology can present a safety concern by distracting drivers. I'm not convinced either way, but in this car the screen's recessed position atop the dash isn't ideal for a touchscreen anyway.

The center console in a Mazda CX-30.Thom Blackett

The dial works as intended, and the menu selections are easily understood. You can also press a button on the steering wheel and issue voice commands, although the system is limited to specific prompts. Other automakers, such as Hyundai, employ technology that responds to natural speech and is more user friendly. The 2023 CX-30 is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. This means you can communicate with Siri on your iPhone, for example, and bypass Mazda's built-in voice assistant system. You'll need a USB cable to use the smartphone connectivity.

Safety also falls under the technology umbrella and is addressed by various advanced driving assistance systems. They contribute to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) naming the CX-30 a 2023 Top Safety Pick. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has not announced an overall rating for Mazda's compact crossover SUV, but you can check the NHTSA website for updates.

The steering wheel and driver's gauge panel on a Mazda CX-30.Thom Blackett

In terms of functionality, the lane-keeping system warns you and guides the CX-30 back into its travel lane gently rather than abruptly. I was surprised to discover the absence of lane-centering assistance when using adaptive cruise control since this feature is becoming increasingly common. My CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus did come with Traffic Jam Assist, which works at lower speeds. It was a blessing when commuting on Southern California's 405 freeway but serves little purpose outside metro areas.

The head-up display deserves praise. I believe it should be standard equipment on every new vehicle. It's a great way to provide information to drivers while allowing them to keep their eyes on the road. In this case, I did notice a little distracting reflection, but I like how Mazda uses exterior sensors to highlight other vehicles' proximity in the display.

The engine compartment of a silver Mazda CX-30.Thom Blackett

2023 Mazda CX-30: Zippy Performance Within Reason

I'm not sure if Mazda still uses the zoom-zoom tagline anymore, but it does capture the brand's essence: sporty and fun. If you're talking about the 2023 CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, you could also add quick as a descriptor.

My test model was equipped with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 310 lb-ft of torque, reaching the ground via a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a standard all-wheel-drive system. The horsepower rating depends on the grade of gas you buy: Mazda claims 87 octane will give you 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, and 93 octane unleashes 250 horses and 320 lb-ft.

Side view of red Mazda CX-30.Christian Wardlaw

My test car came with a full tank of what I assume was 91-octane gas, as 93 octane isn't widely available near me. As a result, I can't say how many horses I was working with, but there was plenty of giddyap.

From stress-free highway merges, getting the jump on other drivers when a light turned green, or just having fun behind the wheel, the turbocharged CX-30 was a joy. It's not what I'd call fast, but switch into Sport mode and you'll unlock improved throttle response for an even livelier driving experience. You'll also be rewarded with the sounds of a refined four-cylinder engine at higher revs. I kept my speeds reasonable and averaged 27.1 mpg, which beats the EPA's 25-mpg estimate.

Rear three-quarter view of a red Mazda CX-30.Christian Wardlaw

As is typical of Mazda models, ride quality and handling are prioritized, and accordingly I'd rate the 2023 CX-30 highly in that regard. Mazda strikes a proper balance between capability and comfort but doesn't knock it out of the park on either front. The suspension maintained its composure on the pothole-riddled roads that mark spring in New England, and I genuinely enjoyed any opportunity to tackle a curvy road. Part of the credit goes to the perfectly sized steering wheel with its relatively narrow spokes. It looks and feels sporty.

The steering provided less feedback than expected, however, and moderate body lean never triggered the urge to enter a corner with more speed. One word hung in my mind: compromise. It works for anyone who wants a small, multipurpose crossover that satisfies a need with style and performance difficult to find elsewhere in the segment.

Side view of a red Mazda CX-30.Christian Wardlaw

Is the 2023 Mazda CX-30 a Good SUV?

While it could benefit from a few improvements, I would recommend the 2023 Mazda CX-30 to anyone shopping for a compact crossover SUV.

Behind the CX-30's sharp styling is a safe and efficient vehicle with standard all-wheel drive, more available horsepower than most competitors, and decent cargo space. The base version, the CX-30 2.5 S, lacks a variety of high-end amenities but comes with a slew of safety features and creature comforts. It also costs slightly less than front-wheel-drive Honda HR-V LX and Toyota Corolla Cross L models, making the 2023 Mazda CX-30 a great value, too.

If this New Englander was a car, I could do worse than being a Mazda CX-30.

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Thom Blackett
Everyone needs a few things to be passionate about in life. For me, cars are near the top of the list. I’m constantly searching the classifieds for that bargain-priced, one-owner Datsun 240Z barn find. I’m always up for seemingly endless conversations about the cars we wish our parents had kept, the benefits of EVs versus the lure of a thumping V8, or which reliable crossover SUV best suits your family and your dogs. Needless to say, I feel fortunate to spend my work hours analyzing vehicle data, test-driving the latest all-new or updated models, and sharing the knowledge and insights I’ve gained with readers.