Yes, while these two SUVs are seemingly at polar opposites (CVT versus 6-speed auto, boxer engine vs inline-four), they are amongst the best handling candidates out there. Even better than the cheaper Honda HR-V or Proton X70.
Powertrain – Variety is a good thing
Starting with the Subaru XV, this model gets a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder boxer engine that churns out 156 PS and 196 Nm, linked to a Lineartronic CVT-type automatic. Typical of Subaru models, the XV gets Subaru’s trick Symmetrical all-wheel-drive system.
As for the Mazda CX-30, this model gets a selection of powertrains. The first powertrain is a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine that does 164 PS and 213 Nm, with power diverted either to the front or all four wheels.
The Mazda CX-30’s second powertrain option is a turbocharged 1.8-litre diesel that does 116 PS and 270 Nm. Power is routed to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic.
For the purpose of this comparison, we will pit both petrol-powered SUVs against each other. The diesel CX-30, as noted in our earlier review, should be avoided.
In terms of design, both SUVs take a vastly different approach. The made-in-Japan Mazda CX-30 takes the sleeker approach, translating into a more upmarket-looking product. Rightfully so too, as the CX-30 was crowned as Japan’s most beautiful car.
Much like its stablemates, the Mazda CX-30 gets slim LED headlights, a large gaping front grille, and a large chrome trim. The top-spec model gets large 18-inch, dark silver-finished alloy wheels. Opt for Soul Red Crystal and you’ll get an SUV that looks like a Mazda 3 Hatchback on stilts.
On the other hand, if you’re the adventure-type person that has a penchant for outdoor stuff, the Subaru XV should be right up your alley.
Like the CX-30, the Subaru XV also gets large black cladding around the body, but thanks to its 220-mm ground clearance and 60-series tyres, the Subaru is the better choice for off-road sessions. It also offers roof rails for additional practicality. The taller-riding Subaru XV also copes better with flash floods.
Interior – Do you want to bask in luxury?
Seeing Mazda’s ambition of going upmarket with the introduction of each new generation model, the CX-30’s cabin is no different and it reflects Mazda’s big goals.
It boasts an interior than can shame entry-level Mercedes-Benz and BMW models, thanks to its generous use of high-quality materials and upmarket design. For example, the entire length of the dashboard is wrapped in leather – something you will not find in a more expensive BMW X1 or Mercedes-Benz GLA.
Further adding on to the upmarket appeal of the CX-30 is its digital instrument cluster and widescreen infotainment display. Both displays are amongst the best in the segment, offering crystal sharp texts and unparalled smoothness.
Unlike the upmarket but somewhat sombre-looking cabin of the CX-30, the Subaru XV’s cabin is more cheerful-looking, as it gets contrasting orange stitching throughout. As cheerful as it may appear, the build quality of the XV's cabin is no match for the CX-30.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity is standard for both SUVs, though lower rung variants of the XV do not get this feature. It is offered only on the XV GT variant.
Driving experience – Jinba-ittai makes for a fun-to-drive SUV, but too firm for some
Here’s where the Subaru claws back – its ride comfort is miles ahead of the Mazda CX-30.
Let us elaborate.
Thanks to Mazda and its ‘Jinba-Ittai’ approach, while the CX-30's handling is as sharp as it gets for a compact SUV, it ends up making the CX-30 ride a tad bit too firm for some of us. When we reviewed the car last year, opinions were split, as some of us in the team felt that the CX-30’s ride was too firm, while others were fine with it.
No such issue in the XV, as Subaru has calibrated the XV's suspension to offer the best balance between ride comfort and handling. The XV's boxer engine also helps to keep its centre of gravity low, thus allowing for a more composed driving experience.
This in turn has put the CX-30's price at a disadvantage against rivals like the Subaru XV, which is locally-assembled (CKD).
The CBU CX-30 is priced between RM 144,759 to RM 170,459, putting it considerably higher than the Subaru. Prices for the Subaru XV range from RM 117,788 to RM 137,788.
Conclusion – Are you an urban adventurer?
For those looking for a good handling compact crossover, you can't go wrong with either the Mazda CX-30 or Subaru XV.
The Mazda is a better suit for those who wants an upmarket cabin and an engaging driving experience. But you will have to live with the bumpy ride.
But if AWD is your thing, few other companies can do better than Subaru's Symmetrical AWD. Unlike the CX-30, the XV can shuffle torque side-to-side, allowing it to conquer off-road courses that the CX-30 can't. Just don't expect a BMW/Mercedes-Benz-rivalling cabin.