Review: 2020 Mazda CX-30 AWD, at RM 176k, you can buy a CPO BMW X1, worth it?

Hans · Sep 13, 2020 10:00 AM

To be clear, the Mazda CX-30 is not a rival to the BMW X1, but as you know the imported from Japan CX-30 is not cheap, no thanks to additional import/excise taxes.

So you still want the high specs AWD Mazda?

For about the same RM 176,059 asking price of this top specs all-wheel drive CX-30 variant, you can buy a lightly used, barely a year old certified pre-owned (CPO) but low specs front-wheel drive BMW X1 sDrive20i from BMW Premium Selection.

So you still want the Mazda? Brand snobs need not think further, but if you care about the finer details about cars, continue reading.

Overview

Based on the C-segment Mazda 3 but with a shortened wheelbase (yes it’s smaller than the Mazda 3), the Mazda CX-30 AWD is best seen as a more expensive version of the Subaru XV.

Both the CX-30 and XV are boasting more or less the same key selling points – taut handling, driver-centric product, and have the same set of weakness – cramped interior and tiny boot.

The CX-30 is also one of the few crossovers that is offered with all-wheel drive, which is also the selling point for the Subaru XV.

What it does better, far better, than the Subaru however, is its interior. Nevermind the Subaru, we just wished BMW had paid half as much attention in developing the X1 as Mazda had with the CX-30. More on that later.

Exterior

Compared to the suave looking Mazda 3 hatchback, the CX-30 looks a bit more conventional. But that’s intentional because these days only outliers buy C-sedans/hatchbacks while SUVs/crossovers are bought by mainstream car buyers. As such, the CX-30 can’t be too bold with its styling.

Understated, classy, with a mesh grille that looks better than any of Jaguar’s recent efforts, the CX-30 looks properly expensive.

Even the LED turn signals are one of a kind. Instead of lighting up sequentially like every other premium car, the CX-30’s turn signals pulses like a heart beat. How do you do that with LEDs?! It’s a feature unique to the CX-30. The Mazda 3, which was launched earlier, didn’t benefit from this latest development by Mazda.

Note the S-motif reflections

The tailgate’s convex panels extends harmoniously in the rear fenders to manipulate light and shadow in ways that only a Mazda can, immediately differentiating the CX-30 as a premium, almost handcrafted product.

The headlamps are nicely detailed, more like an art piece than just a mere headlamp. Oddly, there’s no way to manually dim the lights while the car is moving, in situations where you want to avoid dazzling pedestrians for example. The default lighting mode is Auto, and once the car shifts into Drive and if it’s dark, the main beams will turn on automatically and you can’t cancel it (not when it’s in Drive).

But our biggest criticism has to be the unnecessarily thick plastic claddings around the fenders. In our opinion, the CX-30 looks best in darker colours, as it tones down the visual impact of the claddings.

Still, park this against a similarly priced 2019 pre-facelift BMW X1, put your hands to your heart, be honest and say with a straight face that the BMW looks more expensive. Go ahead.

The facelifted M Sport variant looks a lot better, but you will have to pay upwards of RM 210,000 for it, even for a certified pre-owned model. New unregistered models will cost you RM 233,800 (with SST). There is however, a cheaper a cheaper X1 sDrive18i variant at RM 208,368 (without SST), but it comes with a weaker 140 PS/220 Nm engine.

Interior

If there is an award for the most expensive looking interior, Mazda is without a doubt, a leading candidate, bettered only by recent Volvos. Sorry Mercedes-Benz/BMW.

Compared to the Mazda 3 donor car, the CX-30 gets a slightly different leather wrapped (full width) dashboard.

The sitting position is not as good as the lower riding Mazda 3, as you don’t feel as one with the car as the 3 but that’s to be expected since the CX-30 rides taller.

However, getting in/out is a lot easier in the CX-30 thanks to its higher hip point, as well as Mazda’s signature zero-offset driving position. It’s something that only the sharpest drivers will notice.

MINI and Mercedes-Benz models are most guilty of the image in blue

The unbranded 8-speaker audio system offers remarkable clarity, clearer than the Bose setup used in other Mazda models, but ultimately lacks punch to reproduce your favourite R&B hits.

Like the 3, the CX-30’s infotainment doesn’t support touch screen, and it’s intentional due to the screen’s forward, line of sight placement. It’s a bit annoying at first but since it supports Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, you’ll quickly learn to work around it by using voice commands. The MZD Connect dials are also very user friendly for blind operation.

The screen’s higher and further placement also means that your eyes refocus faster when glancing between the screen and the road ahead.  

Fastidious attention to detail is everywhere. Soft, supple leather is found in all places that your skin comes in contact with, including the sides of the centre stack/transmission tunnel. 

The digital instrument panel has a crazy high resolution and refresh rate, high enough to fool your eyes into thinking that it’s analogue.

Only Mazda will spend so much time and effort to make a digital display looking like an analogue. Why? Because some things are just better left in analogue. Same reason why a Porsche 911’s dials will always be analogue.

Mazda could’ve just did what BMW or Mercedes-Benz or Audi are doing – just simulate an analogue dial on an LCD screen, but to Mazda, that’s unacceptable because it looks too fake.

Thankfully, video resolution is a lot higher than earlier Mazda models, but no 360-deg view

Then there’s the cabin lighting. Park it in a dark spot and turn on the LED cabin lights and you will notice that front section is evenly illuminated throughout, with identical light temperature.

But alas, Mazda for whatever reason, declined to complete the final 1 percent that would’ve given it a home run.

See like many Mazdas, ambient lighting in the CX-30 is poor, lacking in the roof-mounted pin-hole LED that’s common in all German cars. I still find it hard to overlook this omission, given Mazda’s upmarket ambitions.

Driving performance

Power is more than enough. It won’t set hill climb records but it’s enough to keep you emotionally engaged. Power delivery is very refined and linear, like how you would expect from a direct injection naturally aspirated engine.

Like the Mazda 3, the CX-30 makes a very sweet, distinctively Mazda induction noise when accelerating.

It has adaptive cruise control, but doesn't support stop&go function.

The 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission is snappy fast and precise in its mapping. There’s paddle shifters but rarely do you need to employ them. Setting the Drive mode’s rocker switch to Sport is good enough.

Where it falls short however, is the added weight penalty of the AWD mechanicals. You won’t feel it in normal driving situations but if you must know, the AWD variant accelerates a little slower and understeers more than the regular front-wheel drive variant.

Sprinting from 0-100 km/h, our Racelogic Vbox recorded a best time of 11 seconds, 0.6 seconds slower than the regular front-wheel drive CX-30. Braking distance from 100-0 km/h is also slightly longer, 38 metres versus 42.4 metres.

Buy this AWD variant only if you insist on having all-weather, all-wheel grip, all the time. The i-Activ all-wheel drive system used by Mazda is a permanent type, and in normal driving situations, sends 98 percent of torque to the front wheels, with a maximum front:rear torque split of 50:50.

Unlike the Subaru XV however, the CX-30 can’t divert torque side to side. If all-wheel drive is your thing, few other companies can do better than Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive and boxer engine setup.

Idea behind i-Activ AWD

However unlike the Mazda CX-30, the Subaru XV exhibits none/little of the weight penalty, and handles just as sharp – a testament of Subaru’s inherently superior balance thanks to its low centre of gravity boxer engine.

But our biggest complaint with the CX-30, as far as driving performance is concerned, has to be its weak brakes. The brake booster feels a tad too weak for the car. Oddly, this complaint applies across many other Mazda models, the 3 included.

Compared to the Mazda 3, the CX-30’s driving experience is a noticeable compromised, even on front-wheel drive variants. The lower riding 3 is still the better car to drive. In the CX-30, you just don’t feel as connected to the car as the 3. 

Ride comfort and practicality

This is where the CX-30 disappoints the most. Its ride is unnecessarily firm, firmer than even German models like the Volkswagen Tiguan.

OK to be fair, the ride is not stiff to the point that it’s crashy. Experienced in isolation, it rides well enough but if you switch between multiple cars as often as we do, the shortcomings is obvious, with no significant upside to it.

For example, both the Toyota C-HR and Subaru XV handle just as well, and yet maintain a far more comfortable ride.

This is where the similarly priced CPO BMW X1 makes more sense. The X1 not only packs more power (192 PS/280 Nm for sDrive20i), but it’s actually more comfortable than the CX-30.

Premium seals to keep the cabin quiet

Just don’t try to drive the X1 like a BMW. Odd but true – despite the more powerful engine, the X1 wallows when pushed hard, with a steering that’s too light for a BMW, and lacks the CX-30’s handling precision.

As a daily car however, the X1 is just more comfortable.

On the upside, the CX-30 is quiet inside. Cruising at 110 km/h, our dB meter recorded a D-segment sedan-like 66.5 dB, negligible difference from the regular CX-30’s 66.3 dB (uncontrolled environment).

However the tiny air vents are noisy when the fan speed set to medium-low to cope with our afternoon heat. Cooling capacity is adequate but with smaller apertures, air flow is of course a lot faster, which also means that it’s noisier than usual.

The seats are very supportive though, better than Subaru's but on par with Toyota C-HR's.

The centre console is average in size, but quite generous by Mazda’s low standards for storage space.

Rear legroom is tight (so is the tiny boot) but if you are looking for space and practicality, you shouldn’t be looking at Mazda. Look towards the Honda CR-V and HR-V instead. The Hondas have terrible handling but for people that need to lug around baby supplies, no other car can match Honda’s space-efficient packaging.

Fuel economy

In a mix of urban traffic and highway driving, we recorded a pretty good average fuel consumption of around 7.8-litre/100 km. Claimed fuel consumption is 6.5-litre/100 km, 0.1-litre more than the regular front-wheel drive CX-30, tested using the UNECE R101 test cycle (similar to NEDC).

Conclusion

If you love driving and is looking for a compact size daily car, don’t bother with the CX-30, just go for the Mazda 3. But if you are one of those who insist on having a taller riding car, then the CX-30 is a good alternative, but stick to the 2.0G front-wheel drive variants.

Apart from all-wheel drive and costing RM 12k more, the 2.0G Hi AWD variant doesn’t add any value over the front-wheel drive 2.0G High variant.

Overall, we love the CX-30’s interior and although we are unimpressed with its ride comfort and weak brakes, it still feels more expensive than the BMW X1, which you can buy a certified pre-owned one for the same price of a new CX-30 AWD. You can choose pay for the badge, or for Mazda’s superior craftsmanship.

If a spacious cabin is what you are looking for, look towards the similarly priced Honda CR-V then. The Mazda CX-5 also fits the bill, but just barely.

Below is a review of the regular front-wheel drive Mazda CX-30 2.0G Hi.

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