I would have to go back and check the dates to be sure, but something like three and half years ago I reviewed the Mazda CX-3. To cut to the chase, my take on Mazda’s small crossover was not favorable at all. It was smaller than a Mazda3 yet cost more money. My opinion was that they had completely missed the mark.
Fast forward to now and the CX-30 has come to market. Right away you could tell THIS is what the CX-3 should have been size and price-wise. To really find out if Mazda made amends for the CX-3 I had the opportunity to take it on a long road trip.
A friend and former college roommate was getting married over the 4th of July weekend in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Yep, planned the wedding nine months ago and it fell right in the middle of the COVID pandemic. The upside is that Dave and his bride live in Houghton, MI. Well technically Chassell, but even Google Maps has a hard time finding that. The issues with COVID up there had been very minimal.
It had been twenty years since I had been to the Upper Peninsula and I was very interested to see how much had changed, and how much had not. So roughly 550 miles each way would be the mission.
Along for the ride was also one of my best friends from college and also a college roommate. We would end up meeting his brother up there because he was fishing on some of the rivers. I ended up having some good feedback from both of them which I will share along the way.
The Ride North
Those who live in Michigan know that the ride north on I-75 around a holiday can be tedious. Mostly because (a) everyone else is going that way and (b) the inevitable and endless road construction. Going up on a Thursday there was far less traffic and the construction less than expected. This ended up almost causing a problem.
See, things were going so well I wasn’t paying attention to just how much progress we had made. My buddy John who was riding along asked, “hey do you need gas?” Good thing he did!
I had filled up with gas before I had left my house but then drove forty miles to go pick him up. We were about thirty to forty miles from the Mackinaw bridge when he mentioned it. Mentally I was thinking I’d refill once we crossed the bridge. When I looked down I saw a “Low Fuel” alert in the instrument cluster, however, it didn’t say just how far to empty I was. No, was there ever an audible alert that I was low on fuel either. How low was I? Give me a minute to get there.
While not in panic mode, I’m a little worried. I’m not one that needs to refill as soon as the gas gage gets below a quarter of a tank, however having run out of gas on more than one occasion, I don’t push it either. Thankfully, there was an exit about two miles up the road so we go for it. At the bottom of the exit, there is a sign that says there is gas if we turn right, but it doesn’t say how far. Well, that was five miles of, “let’s hope we can make it.” Again it’s not telling me how many miles I have until empty, just “Low Fuel”. Trust me I was flipping through every possible option in the instrument cluster to see if I could come up with a solid number.
We pull in to the station in Topinabee, MI where the CX-30 takes on 12.33 gallons of gas. That doesn’t seem like a lot, so I quickly look up the fuel capacity of the vehicle for my own knowledge. Turns out the AWD CX-30 has a 12.77-gallon gas tank. So, yes Mav, we WERE running on vapors!
Back on the road and continuing to make good time until we get to the bridge where there is a backup of backups going North. Ah, we thought, HERE Is all the holiday traffic. Yeah, not so much. Turns out halfway across the bridge they have one lane closed going North for repair work. I think it took us over an hour to go the mile and a half to the bridge and then the five miles over the bridge. Once we finally crossed over, we pulled off into a park and had some lunch.
So other than an almost fiasco with fuel, the CX-30 was fairly comfortable. The ride was good and reasonably quiet. However, and this would be a thing all weekend, the Air Conditioning unit seemed underpowered. I would have to have the HVAC set to 65ºF just to keep up on a mid to upper 80’s day. Air felt cold coming out of the vent, but within a foot of leaving the vent, even on a high fan setting it lost its effectiveness.
For a BOSE system, the stereo was reasonably good, I’ve never been a big fan of how they tune their sound.
However, we were both starting to move around in the seats just a little bit. It felt like it was losing the firmness it the bottom padding.
Standing back and looking at it, the CX-30 has the modern Mazda aesthetic, which is a good thing. It has a clean almost organic look to it, without having too many character lines to create confusion.
The rear hatch area from the outside looks small, but it is about average for the class. Earlier in the week, I had no problem fitting my Irish Wolfhound in, and even Mazda themselves Iiked the photo I took and shared on Instagram.
Other than the seats most of the interior was on point. Good materials for the class and props to Mazda, they have been working on the UX for their infotainment system. It IS better, but I still preferred to use Apple CarPlay.
North of The Bridge
The highways in the Upper Peninsula are two lanes almost exclusively, and you wait for the areas where a third lane opens up for passing. Generally, that is every twenty to thirty miles. It was here that my two major issues with the CX-30 came into focus. The first was the amount of power. The second was the cruise control. Cruise control and other electronics will get its own section because it will be a bit of a rant.
Mazda CX-30 comes with a 2.5-liter SKYACTIV four-cylinder in which they claim a class-leading 186 horsepower. The issue is that amount of power is at 6,000 rpm, just shy of the redline. Torque is also 186 ft/lbs, and it too is very high in the range, the torque peak is at 4,000 revs. With a curb weight of 3,400 pounds, add full of fuel, two people plus luggage probably closer to 3,900 pounds it can struggle.
While I would not call the CX-30 underpowered, I would call is “just barely adequate”. I was never nervous or worried about trying to get around traffic, but you did have to plan for it. We also were busy counting the miles until a passing lane would open up.
The best example of this was on what’s known as the “The Seney Stretch”. This is about a forty-five or fifty mile stretch of M-28 where you are going through a National Wildlife Refuge. It is strictly two lanes through here and the Speed Limit is 55 mph. Being the U.P. many people are not in a hurry so things can get a little backed up here. We were behind five other vehicles doing about 50. I saw a gap and took it. By the time I was passed the lead car we weren’t even doing 90, maybe not even 85. With the foot to the floor the engine was revving, but we were not making a ton of progress. So, just barely adequate power.
Cruise control and other electronic nannies
I am going to put it out on the table straight away. Whoever was in charge of the final calibration for the cruise control needs to be fired. It is flat out embarrassing that it made it into production. What do I mean? Buckle up, here we go.
The radar cruise control is not gentle. The CX-30 does not nicely roll off the throttle as you come upon traffic. It gets to a distance and then aggressively brakes. If you still have the system activated and you close the gap a little closer than the system wants so five cars don’t slide in between you and the vehicle in front, as soon as you lift off the throttle it aggressive brakes you back down to your selected speed. By aggressive I mean your head and neck will move measurably.
Remember back to passing people? Get to a passing lane when you have the cruise set, and then accelerate to get around traffic, you are best to very, VERY gently roll off the throttle to slow back down, otherwise, the Mazda system will almost literally throw out an anchor to slow you back down.
Lane keep assist is another nightmare. It chimes, shakes the wheel, and occasionally applies the brakes if you go where it doesn’t want you to. Try to avoid a pothole, an animal, or the road goes from one to two lanes, the system fights you very hard.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again, if you NEED, let alone want these overly aggressive systems in a vehicle then, and let me be perfectly clear here, YOU SHOULD NOT BE DRIVING!
Even other people who rode in the CX-30 with me kept asking what all the noises and alters were about. It is simply too much and it needs to be scaled back, or spend far more time in calibration.
Other items of note
I mention my friend John’s brother. Ray is about six feet tall. While he had enough room in the back seat, getting in was an issue. Because of the styling and the way the back door opening is cut, he had to really duck his head to get in. He even banged his head once trying to get in. No, he had not been drinking.
The EPA rates the fuel economy at 24 city, 31 highway, and 26 combined. I got spot on the highway fuel economy for the 1,100 miles of the trip.
The CX-30 starts at $21,900. The Monroney with my test vehicle did not have a price with it, however, going back and working the configurator tells me the as-tested price was right on $31,000. In today’s world, I would call that very good value for money. It does however fit in a weird spot size-wise in the market. It is in the same segment as Jeep Compass, Hyundai Kona Nissan Rogue Sport, and Kia Seltos. It is not midsized, but it is not compact. Mid-compact? Mid mid-sized?
The ride home we may have saved a families life
On the ride home before you get to Midland, I-75 always back up, and here, coming home after the 4th of July weekend, it was fairly busy. We were in the left lane, of three lanes, behind an older TJ Jeep, and I noticed the left rear wheel had a wobble to it. At first, I thought it was just a very out of balance wheel or maybe a bent rim that made the optical illusion of it worse. It was far more pronounced at lower speeds, but as speed crept up it wasn’t as bad. And then.
And then I see a two, maybe three shiny metal objects bouncing on the highway in front of us. The guy had lug nuts come off his wheel! I motioned for the car in the lane to the right to let me in, thankfully they did. I pulled up beside the Jeep, rolled down my window, and honked to get their attention. I yelled, “I think you lost some lug nuts off your rear wheel!” It was a husband, wife, and what looked like a young teenage son in the back. The man driving and his wife’s eyes got very large very fast. The signaled and pulled off to the shoulder.
Because of where we were and traffic I could not make my way back over to check on them. But here is my thought. A short wheelbase jeep with a soft top, losing a rear wheel, at speed, on a busy Interstate. That probably would not have ended well.
Overall I think the CX-30 is a pretty solid vehicle. Yes, I have some major issues with it, but for most people, they wouldn’t be deal killers. Who is this vehicle good for? Two groups, I think. Young couples, or a young family with one child. With two children I don’t think there would be enough cargo space for all the things people feel they “NEED” to bring along with them. The other are empty nesters. For two people, for running around town, or even longer trips, the size is right, the fuel economy is good, and as long as you get out and stretch every three hours, the seats shouldn’t be an issue.
Mazda has done a good job with the styling, the interior materials are quality, and if it matters to you, you don’t see yourself coming and going all day with everyone else driving the same model as you. While it does have issues that would prevent me from considering it, outside of the fact that I know have two Irish Wolfhounds to haul around, it should be one that is highly considered and taken for a test drive if you are in the market for something in this segment.