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Car Reviews

Why the Mazda CX-30 is the Most Fun-to-Drive Crossover

You may not know, but I have been evaluating and testing cars for over 35 years, and one of my number one pet peeves is the lack of feeling in the actual steering feel and driving character of most cars. Why is that? Well, one reason is that car companies moved from hydraulic power steering to electric power steering (EPS), and in that process, a lot of the feel from the road has just disappeared.

Very few companies are able to do that correctly and still give you steering feedback and a steering feel that is a little bit like the old hydraulic system. One of them is Mazda. In fact, Mazda is the only consumer brand, I think, that really gets it and is able to give us a proper steering feel.

Why the Mazda CX-30 is the Most Fun-to-Drive Crossover
Why the Mazda CX-30 is the Most Fun-to-Drive Crossover

Now, obviously, if you pay a lot more and go to a brand like Porsche or maybe even Alfa Romeo, those guys get it too. They have just the right steering feel, but no other mainstream automakers have been able to do this right except for Mazda.

I know here in Canada we say Mazda, in the US you guys say Mazda, and in Japan we say Mazda, so I’ll just say whatever makes sense to me right now, which is Mazda. But anyhow, coming back to this brand, I think if you drive something like a CX-30, which I have behind me, you’re going to be shocked if you compare this to all the competitors because the steering feel and the handling and the fun-to-drive factor are out of this world.

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I dare you to go and test drive a CX-30 and then right after that go and drive a Toyota Corolla Cross, a Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, and maybe even Subaru Crosstrek.

Drive them back to back, maybe on the same day, don’t wait a couple of days in between, and you’re going to come back and you will understand what I mean by Mazda’s ability to produce cars that provide maximum fun-to-drive factor and a great steering feel that gives you almost like an Italian or German feel. Once again, no one else has been able to do this in this price range.

In fact, let me give you seven reasons why I believe this Mazda CX-30 is the most fun-to-drive small crossover on the market.

1. Quality Manufacturing

1. Quality Manufacturing
1. Quality Manufacturing

Before I talk about the seven reasons why this is the most fun-to-drive small crossover, let me do my usual quality check. This is built in Mexico, and it’s one of the best Mexican factories that I know because the quality of the body fit and finish and the panel alignment is absolutely first class, especially considering that this is a very affordable small crossover.

If you look at the panel alignment here and the panel gap, it’s only 3 mm here, 3.2 mm, 3.2 mm, 3 mm, and 3.1 mm. That is unheard of for a small $30,000 to $40,000 crossover vehicle to have panel alignment and panel fit this good because nothing is out of spec here, and the gaps are so small.

Also, the paint job looks fantastic. I love this kind of light gray color, really good metal flakes, very evenly spaced, and the general panel alignment and the quality of the metal are really well done. Everything looks good, even the gas cap, which is often difficult to get aligned, looks perfect. Nothing seems to be sticking out, all the plastic parts look good.

You know what, if you don’t know any better, you might think that this was built in Japan because the overall alignment and panel fit and quality is that good.

Now that the car has passed my manufacturing quality audit with flying colors, let’s move on to talk about those seven things because honestly, you’ve got to drive this and you’ve got to drive a whole bunch of other competitors and just compare side by side, especially if you can take them through some twisty roads. If you love driving, if you really enjoy having a fun-to-drive car, you’re going to appreciate this more than any other car in this price range.

2. Outstanding Steering Feel

Mazda CX-30 Outstanding Steering Feel
Mazda CX-30 Outstanding Steering Feel

I’m on the road now with the CX-30, and the first point is the most important one, which is the steering feel. Like I said before, most manufacturers have moved from the old hydraulic power steering system to electric power steering, and they really struggle to keep that feel on the steering wheel because without hydraulic pressure building up on the steering, it was almost impossible to create that sensation.

Over the years, manufacturers got better and better at replicating that feel, but honestly, only a few brands have managed to perfect it. One of them is Porsche. They have electric power steering, but the steering effect and the steering feel are fantastic.

Maybe a few other notable European brands include Alfa Romeo, which also has a fantastic feel in terms of steering, but aside from those, not too many automakers have been able to do a good steering feel. Not even Audi or Volkswagen, which used to be pretty good at this, but over the years, they have really lightened their steering. Same thing for BMW as well.

Mazda has really been focusing on creating this sporty feel with the steering with the right amount of heft. It’s not too light, lots of feedback from the road, and if you actually don’t know any better, you’d believe or you think that this is still a hydraulic power steering.

So the steering mechanism itself and then the feedback I get are second to none. No other cars in this price range come even close. If you go and drive the Toyota Corolla Cross, it’s very light steering, comfortable and refined, but not much feel in terms of steering.

If you go to the Honda HR-V, a little bit better, still very light and still a little bit loose-feeling and numb-feeling, although better than the Corolla Cross. If you go to Nissan Kicks, maybe even worse. It’s very light steering and it’s very light but once again, maybe comfortable for some people who like lighter steering.

And then finally, Subaru Crosstrek, which actually has a pretty good feedback, better than the Corolla Cross or the Honda HR-V, but not anything like this one here, which has a direct feedback and a direct response.

So steering feel, top of the class.

3. Exceptional Handling

The second reason is related to the first one, which is to do with actual handling. By definition, handling means how the car feels around corners, whether it stays flat, whether the cornering is good, and whether it stays agile and controlled despite the road conditions.

From that perspective, no other car company can produce a small crossover with this feeling. Not only do you get really good feedback from the steering mechanism, when I make turns or even quick turns, the CX-30 communicates with you, lets you know where you’re going, you know exactly which way the tires are pointed, and the car stays very flat and also stays very agile.

4. Firm Ride

Mazda CX-30 Firm Ride
Mazda CX-30 Firm Ride

The third reason why the CX-30 is the most fun-to-drive small car is its firm ride. As you can tell, I just went over some bumpy road conditions and you get a lot of transmission of the road feel. I love it because I want to feel the road, I want to know what’s going on underneath the car, and so for me, this one feels more like a sports coupe than a crossover.

I absolutely love it, but I admit that the sporty ride may not be for everyone. Especially if you’re looking for a comfortable, refined feel for a small crossover, then the CX-30 would not be the right car for you. You’ll be better off buying a Corolla Cross or any of the other cars I mentioned because they have a very smooth, very comfortable ride.

The CX-30 transmits everything underneath the road to your hands and to your body actually, so I love it because I want a sporty vehicle, I don’t want a cushy, mushy ride, but only you can decide what’s right for you.

If you always wanted to buy a kind of sports coupe but you actually need a crossover, this is the right one for you. But if you just wanted the most comfortable SUV in this price range, don’t buy the CX-30 because it is very firm and might not be for everyone.

5. Exceptional Braking

What about the next point, which is the fourth point? Let me just step on the brake right now, a little bit firm like this. Amazing feel. The brake has just the right amount of modulation. It has a little bit of pushback when you step on the brakes, as opposed to many other small crossovers or small cars in general, which have a bit of a mushy feel.

That’s a pretty common thing in this small market. But with the Mazda CX-30, you get an immediate response when you step on the brake.

It pushes back a little bit and gives you a direct feel. Honestly, unless you move up to some expensive German manufacturers like Porsche or Italian manufacturers like Alfa Romeo, you don’t get brake feel like this one.

This one really communicates with you and it’s a lot hard to explain, but if you drive the CX-30 against the competitors, then step on the brake as well, you will know what I mean by a fantastic brake feel. That is again one of the reasons why it contributes to making the CX-30 the most fun-to-drive small crossover.

6. Engine Performance

Mazda CX-30 Engine Performance
Mazda CX-30 Engine Performance

The fifth thing I want to talk about is the engine, which is one of the most important points for any car that is supposed to be fun to drive. In the case of the CX-30, you have a bit of a dilemma because the engine that’s on this CX-30 GT model is a standard 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that is not turbocharged and therefore it has a modest 191 horsepower.

Now if I step on the accelerator, it’s still pretty decent and more than enough acceleration for most of you, but if you really want to maximize your fun-to-drive experience with this vehicle, go for the optional turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which has 250 horsepower.

Way more power and also way more torque, and most of all, it has such an amazing sports car feel. I mean, it’s almost an overkill for a vehicle of this size, so if you don’t mind paying a couple more, I believe it’s $2,000 more for the turbocharged engine, definitely get that one.

One, because if you’re going to spend $30,000 to $35,000 Canadian on a CX-30 top model like a GT, you might as well spend $2,000 more and get the turbocharged engine.

Having said that, no complaints about the standard engine. It has more than enough power and torque to give you reasonable acceleration, but I would say it is not the strength of the CX-30 if you stay with the standard 2.5. But if you buy the turbo, once again, it skyrockets this vehicle right to the top in terms of it being the most fun to drive.

7. Superior Transmission

The sixth point is the transmission, which is always very controversial because most small cars use CVT transmission, which isn’t fun and also just doesn’t feel right in any vehicle that is supposed to be sporty in character.

But in the case of the CX-30, we have a real transmission, not a CVT, and it is six-speed and it is quick-shifting, crispy in terms of feel, and if I step on it like this, it just takes off and the transmission will shift accordingly. So I think the actual synchronization of the transmission character to the engine is extremely well done.

I’m just so happy that it is not a CVT transmission, which you will find in many of these competitors in this price range. Instead, we get a real shifting transmission. In fact, Mazda is really very adamant about using a normal type transmission versus CVT.

I’m thankful for that because there’s no way you can produce a kind of fun-to-drive sporty character with a CVT transmission.

By the way, don’t forget that because it is a small crossover, you get all-wheel drive, which means that no other small sports coupe can match this in terms of winter performance.

You can have a fun-to-drive character even if it’s a little bit slippery or even if there’s a bit of snow, just because it has a fantastic all-wheel drive. Try doing that in a standard or normal sports car or sports coupe, not possible because most of them will be rear-wheel drive and you know what, they’re kind of hopeless in wintertime even with winter tires.

8. Sports Car Feel

The seventh point of why this is the most fun to drive is the fact that everything else in the car also gives you a feel that this is more like a sports car than a crossover. For example, the seats are quite sculptured. I get really good side support, in fact, firm side support even here as well.

You can see it’s pretty deep right here and the bolsters come right out and hold you in place when you’re cornering. Even the actual dash panel and the basic design look simple, straightforward, and something that is more like a sports car feel here with big round gauges than a family-type crossover.

This one doesn’t feel like a crossover at all in terms of interior. I love the interior design. It’s simple, straightforward, but also sporty looking.

Like I said, the seat comfort and seat support are excellent, so you can drive pretty aggressively and be rewarded because the seats will hold you and the dash and everything else make you feel like driving a sports car even though this is a crossover.

Conclusion

Is this the best small crossover? No, far from it, because if you want the most amount of comfort or the roomiest crossover, then this is not the right car for you because it’s actually a little bit tight in terms of space. It doesn’t offer hybrids, for example, as well, so there are a lot of compromises.

For some of you, something like a Corolla Cross or Honda HR-V or even Nissan Kicks might be a better choice. But for those of us who really enjoy driving, who want a sports car but need a small crossover to carry people around and carry goods, then this is the best compromise.

In fact, it is the best handling, most fun-to-drive small crossover for the money. Even if you were to pay twice as much, there’s not too many vehicles that can compete with the CX-30 in terms of the great steering feel and the handling, fun-to-drive character, and overall driving feel.

Again, don’t take my word for it. Drive the CX-30 and then on the same day go and drive all these competitors: Corolla Cross, Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, even maybe Volkswagen Taos, or even go up to a more expensive vehicle like a BMW X1 or Audi Q3, and you’re going to be shocked how good the driving character and the driving feel of this vehicle is.

Anyhow, I hope this was helpful. If you enjoy my article review, please give me a thumbs up, make some comments.

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