Behind the Wheel

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Review: New engine makes this crossover one hot hatch

Mazda has given the CX-30 a new turbo-four option for 2021.

Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Mazda is doing hot hatch things with its subcompact crossover. The 2021 Mazda CX-30 has been bulked up for the new model year with a new, turbo engine, bringing with it suspension and braking changes. It's a Mazda CX-30speed-ish.

Mazda differentiates between the two models like it does in the Mazda3, by labeling the original 2.5 and the turbo the 2.5 Turbo. Easy enough. The exterior of the CX-30 is not exceptionally different in its 2.5 grades from those powered by the 2.5-liter turbo. When looking for one in the wild keep an eye peeled for 18-inch black aluminum alloy wheels, that's the telltale turbo sign.

There's also larger tailpipes, gloss black heated door mirrors, a "turbo" badge on the trunk and engine cover, LED daytime running lights, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a shark fin antenna.

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium PlusEach CX-30 2.5 Turbo wears a "Turbo" badge on its back end.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

2021 Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus

Every Mazda CX-30 2.5 Turbo is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that yields 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque when running on 93 octane fuel. Those numbers slump to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque when 87 octane is employed. Its highest ratings are 64 more horsepower than the standard CX-30 engine and 134 more pound-feet of torque. Mazda only pairs the engine with an automatic transmission, just as in the Mazda3.

The Mazda is about the same size as the BMW X2, which has a standard 2.0-liter turbo-four mill that achieves 228 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The similarly positioned Audi Q3 gets the same numbers from the same size engine.

Mazda has calibrated its turbo engine to be driving enthusiast-friendly. Putting the accelerator down brings on the power delivery without hesitation. It's downright zippy.

The CX-30's dimensions and ride height, when paired with the powertrain and suspension enhancements in the new variant, and standard all-wheel drive makes it capable of doing things described as "scooting", "flinging", and "pushing". The crossover's sporty suspension makes the ride stiffer than is optimal on the highway, but when it comes to carving rural roads, you'll be thankful it's like that. Braking isn't as strong as an enthusiast may like though the pedal is plenty stiff.

The face of the CX-30 is familiar, similar to all the others in the Mazda lineup.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Mazda hasn't just equipped the model with a good power and drive setup. It is also filled with a good amount of desirable features. Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped shift knob, aluminum speaker grilles, and Mazda Connect Services are standard. A Wi-Fi hot spot is also standard and comes with a trial period. Buyers can upgrade to a 12-speaker Bose premium audio, 8.8-inch large center display with Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio, two front USB ports, and keyless entry. Leather seats and navigation with HomeLink are available.

The looks of the interior of the CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus, as tested, were appropriate for its price point and positing in the segment. Sure, there's plenty of gloss black plastic and the steering wheel isn't as soft as one might prefer, but those are minor quibbles in the long run. For every plastic surface there's at least one well-upholstered seat or well-stylized center console.

A more significant quibble has to do with Mazda's infotainment system, which remains a pain to navigate through. Aside from the scrolling through the channels and stations issue most reviewers have, the Mazda's interface is clean yet unattractive and menus are difficult to navigate without an enhanced level of frustration. If you're vertically challenged, the screen might not be well-positioned, disallowing you from seeing the full height of the its display.

The interior of the CX-30 is appointed like it's a premium product.Photo by Eileen Falkenberg-Hull

Mazda's i-Activesense suite of safety technology is standard on 2.5 Turbo models and includes adaptive cruise control, Smart Brake Support, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, driver attention alert, adaptive front headlights, and automatic high beams. Rear braking support with cross traffic functionality and traffic jam assist are available.

Mazda sells the new engine in three trim levels: 2.5 Turbo, 2.5T Turbo Premium, and 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus. For more premium features you'll want the 2.5T Premium and for the highest amount of safety features, you'll want the top-tier Premium Plus.

The traditional CX-30 starts at $22,050. The lowest-priced CX-30 2.5 Turbo has a starting MSRP of $30,050. The CX-30 2.5T Premium comes in at $32,450 and the CX-30 2.5 Turbo Premium Plus has an asking price of $34,050. Those numbers are right in line with the competition's sweet spot with the CX-30 2.5 Turbo being solidly in the premium vehicle category thanks to its performance chops and refined interior.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.


I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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New electric SUV

Honda teases its first EV

The Prologue will go on sale as a 2024 model.


Honda is nearing the unveiling of its first electric vehicle, the Prologue, and today the automaker gave us our first glimps of the new vehicle. It's just a sketch, but Honda did share some production details and information on its product roadmap.

Honda DealerHonda plans to sell half a million EVs by the end of the decade. Honda

Honda says the Prologue will be an adventure-ready SUV "capable of satisfying everyday driving and weekend getaways with a strong hint of the well-received Honda e in the front fascia." The SUV was developed in Honda's Design Studio in Los Angeles, and was designed with an eye on Honda's global EV models. Honda said it focused on aerodynamics and fine-tuning the body to reducelines and improve range.

The Japanese automaker developed the Prologue alongside GM, but it has other EVs coming to market by 2026. By 2030, Honda says it will release 30 new EVs globally with a production volume of two million units. The co-developed vehicle is the first, but the rest will be built on Honda e:Architecture. In 2027, the automaker will begin building and selling a line of affordable EVs using the architecture developed with General Motors. Honda says it plans to sell half a million EVs in North America by the end of hte decade.

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