Mazda CX-30 vs Mazda 3 – Should you trade higher seating position for better handling?
Hans · Nov 4, 2020 04:51 PM
As you know, the Mazda 3 comes in two body types, a sedan and a hatchback (which distributor Bermaz Auto prefers to call it a Liftback). Nameplates aside, the Mazda 3 family actually includes an SUV (or if you insist, crossover).
The Mazda CX-30 is essentially a jacked up, shorter wheelbase version of the Mazda 3. Distance between the wheels is 70 mm shorter, with a 40 mm taller ground clearance.
The shorter wheelbase also means that the CX-30 has less legroom in the rear than in the Mazda 3, itself is already quite tight in the rear.
If practicality is what you are looking for, just skip the CX-30 (or even the Mazda 3) and go for the Mazda CX-5, which is locally assembled (CKD) in Kulim and therefore is cheaper than the smaller but imported from Japan (CBU) CX-30.
Both the Mazda 3 and the CX-30 are targeted at style conscious people and keen drivers who appreciate the tauter handling and superior driving engagement of a shorter wheelbase (thus more agile) car, and of course, those who don’t mind paying extra for a more expensive looking cabin.
Compared to the more traditional CX-5, the CX-30’s cabin is light years ahead in terms of refinement and use of expensive cabin materials.
Nevermind the CX-5 (or even a BMW X1), because not even a BMW X3 can match the CX-30 premium exterior.
Every inch of the car is just so finely detailed. From the digital centre instrument cluster that is so in its high resolution and refresh rate that it looks realistic enough to fool your eyes into thinking that it’s an analogue dial, to the heart pulse-effect turn signal lights indicator (effect repeated outside on the headlights and tail lights), to the leather trimmed dashboard top that flows almost uninterrupted to the door panels.
The CX-30’s cabin is differentiated from the 3 by its leather trimmed dashboard top, different design for the centre console, pulse-effect turn signals. Apart from these (and difference in rear legroom), the rest of the cabin is identical to the 3.
Like for like, the CX-30 2.0G High is RM 5k more expensive than the Mazda 3 2.0 High Plus Sedan and Hatchback (without SST prices).
All three models are mechanically identical, powered by the same 2.0-litre naturally aspirated 4-cylinder DOHC with variable valve timing.
It’s high compression 13.0:1 that switches between Otto and Atkinson cycle, depending on engine load, and is probably the most sophisticated naturally aspirated engine in the world (for mass market cars).
Power output is identical, channeled to the front wheels via a 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission.
The CX-30 also comes with an AWD variant, but that’s not what you want. It’s heavier and the benefits of AWD are not fully appreciated in our tropical climate (good tyres and stability control are more than sufficient) to compensate for the weight penalty. The AWD variant is just not as nice to drive as the regular FWD variants.
So should you pay RM5k more for the CX-30 instead, it’s a negligible sum right?
In terms of value, yes you should pay the RM5k extra and just go for the CX-30. For less than the price of a new iPhone, you get a bigger car with superior presence, a nicer looking dashboard, funky turn signal lights, power-operated tailgate (hatchback and sedan don’t need it), and many appreciate the higher seating position of the CX-30.
The sporty-ish Mazda 3 can be bit too low for older drivers to get in and out of.
The CX-30 also offers a much bigger 430-litre boot, versus the Mazda 3 hatchback’s tiny 358-litre (450-litre for the sedan).
Quantitatively, it’s a no brainer that the CX-30 offers a better deal.
Subjectively however, the lower Mazda 3 is a more rewarding car to drive.
Although all three cars are mechanically identical, their individual driving experience is quite different.
Of the three 3's family members, the CX-30 is the least rewarding to drive (but still much better than say any Honda/Nissan SUV/crossover).
The ride is stiffer (a necessary ompromise due to its taller body), and you don’t feel as one with the car as the Mazda 3 hatchback/sedan. If you are looking for comfort, you are better off with the Mazda 3.
Jumping between the CX-30 and the 3 hatch/sedan, you will find yourself looking back towards the 3 more than the CX-30. It feels lighter on its feet, there’s a deeper connection between you and car, as you feel the car pivots around your waist, read the minute feedback from the tyres filter through the steering rack better in the 3.
The CX-30 also exhibits these signature Mazda Jinba Ittai behaviours, but to a lesser degree.
Between the hatchback and the sedan, we actually prefer the sedan’s ride. It feels a tad more planted on straight roads, while the hatchback feels a bit more playful in the corners – which is exactly as how Mazda intended it to be. The sedan and hatchback are twin brothers with slightly different characters.
If both cars can be represented by human characters The Mazda 3 sedan is the architect brother with thin frame glasses who makes technical drawings with Hans Zimmer playing in the background, while the hatchback is the more free spirit music producer with hipster glasses.
So who is the CX-30 then? It’s the eldest brother who is married, who loves the 3 but has a missus who insists on having an SUV.
If you understand the finer aspects of handling and you understand why so few cars can give you an ideal seating position, and you are willing to a premium for craftmanship, you can't go wrong with any of these 3 cars.
These 3 cars are just different points along the same spectrum. It's about which fits your character best, and what are you willing to compromise on. Let's be honest, there is no such thing as a zero-compromise car.
Conclusion? Love the Mazda CX-30 for its better interior, better road presence, bigger boot (versus the hatchback), ease of entry/exit, but not its ride comfort. In comparison, the Mazda 3 rides and drives better, but it's rather low on usable space inside, especially 3 hatchback.
Head of Content
Over 15 years of experience in automotive, from product planning, to market research, to print and digital media. Garages a 6-cylinder manual RWD but buses to work.