It’s hard to find fault with San Diego which may be why Mazda chose this beautiful locale to start a day-long media drive in its new CX-30 subcompact CUV. If the weather and setting are pristine then who wouldn’t enjoy the new vehicle.

Mission accomplished, for the most part.

Media members and auto journalists from across the country recently met with Mazda engineers and executives in SoCal to learn about and drive the company’s newest model.

My big takeaway – it’s a comfortable, fun, sporty ride that handles very well, especially along the winding backroads that we took to our destination in Palm Desert.

Mazda is catering to young couples with “active lifestyles” with the CX-30. Nimble enough to get around town while schlepping kids and groceries, and rugged enough for the occasional weekend getaway off the beaten path or up-and-down mountains similar to our test drive.

The CX-30 falls between the small CX-3 and the larger, popular CX-5. My first question to the Mazda execs was what happened to the CX-4?

The answer: they already sell a vehicle by that name in other countries and wanted to avoid confusion. Plus, this will start a new naming scheme that will soon be applied to the whole lineup. Welcome to the double-digit era.

POWER AND EXCEPTIONAL HANDLING

The 2020 version comes in front- or all-wheel drive with a 2.5 liter, 186 hp engine. It has a decent giddy up when the accelerator is pushed but I noticed a bit of lag when pressing the pedal up a steep hill at a higher RPM.

But what the CX-30 lacks in total power oomph, it makes it up with quality handling. Heading down a steep, winding road into Palm Desert, the CUV was taking and holding turns like a champ. I found myself smiling and chuckling at the roller coaster-like trek as the confidence in steering and handling made me feel like a race car driver.

According to Mazda, the front-wheel drive models get an estimated 25 mpg in the city, 33 mpg on the highway, and 28 combined. Those numbers go down a bit with all-wheel drive to 25/33/27.

INSIDE: COMFY BUT COMPLICATED

The cockpit is typical what you expect in a Mazda. Well-appointed and upscale. The dashboard is quite clean with easy-to-reach buttons for the HVAC system. The leather driver seat in the Premium trim I drove was incredibly comfortable – cushy and not confining. There was not much to complain about…until I tried to change the radio station.

Herein lies an issue I have had with Mazda for quite a while, especially as I focus a lot on technology. The company’s Connect infotainment system continues to be confusing and, at times, complicated. I can start with the lack of a touchscreen on the 8.8” color screen that juts out of the dashboard.

A Mazda exec explained that they believe a touchscreen is a distraction to drivers, citing data from the NHTSA. Thus, they placed the screen in a forward position and out-of-reach from drivers. The control is now operated by a dial on the center console.

Mazda believes that once customers learn the system, the non-touchscreen will prove to be less distracting. In the name of safety I will give them the benefit of the doubt but in the 5+ hours I was in the CX-30 I could not easily figure out how to change the radio station.

After dialing, clicking, and pressing the control button to find stations – much less program them into Favorites – I gave up and settled for a tune-less drive.

Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are available options in all but the lowest trim level. More people are using these third-party controls so my frustration with the Mazda Connect system may be moot to those who plug their phones into the USB port for the interaction.

Here’s hoping as Mazda progresses with its double-digit nameplates they will enhance its infotainment system to match its styling, comfort and handling.

The base trim comes with an 8 speakers, AM/FM, and HD Radio. Hop up to the Preferred trim, for a 12-speaker Bose system and SiriusXM. Though I did not get to experience many songs through the system, Mazda pointed out a better sounding audio experience as they moved the bass speakers to the cowl instead of inside the front doors.

The CX-30 comes with 3-year complimentary trial of Mazda Connected Services which connects the car for infotainment updates. It also includes WiFi with a 6-month or 2GB data plan and paid subscription after.

Mazda does utilize a nice bit of tech with its My Mazda app. It allows users to remotely start the engine, lock/unlock doors, find their car and receive maintenance reminders.

SPACE AND SAFETY

Cargo space in the CX-30 is pretty much what is expected in a subcompact CUV. A roomy 20.2 cubic feet of space is behind the rear seats. Mazda lowered the load floor which makes it easier to lift items into the wide hatchback. A 60/40 split-folding rear seat allows longer items to pass through into the passenger compartment.

Most all the advanced safety features you want in a new vehicle are here in most of the trims. This includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist and driver attention alerts.

4 FLAVORS

The CX-30 comes in four trim levels: Standard, Select, Preferred, and Premium. A front-wheel-drive standard CX-30 starts at $21,900. For $1,400 more, you can upgrade to all-wheel drive across all trim levels.

The top-level Premium AWD has a starting price of $29,600. This package gets you leather seats, a power moonroof, Adaptive Front Lights, and paddle shifters, to name a few.

The subcompact CUV market is jam-packed here in the U.S. Mazda will find its way nicely into this segment with or without those young, active lifestyle couples. The price point is at a smart entry level for a sporty vehicle that compares to Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Rogue Sport and others.

Just take time to read the infotainment user manual.

 

LISTEN TO MY SYNDICATED RADIO REPORT

 

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