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 Plus Each 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-5's styling is sharp and clean.

Mazda

Crossovers have clearly become the family vehicle of choice. Minivans and large sedans are far less common than they used to be as buyers opt for the relative plushness and more generous space offered by utility vehicles. That's not a bad thing, but many people will find the increasing levels of sameness in the crossover market to be off-putting.

Thankfully, Mazda is here to help keep things interesting. Its CX-5 takes a different approach than its rivals. Where vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V focus on comfort and efficiency over almost everything else, Mazda managed to jam in loads of vehicle feedback and engagement. Behind the wheel, the crossover feels and sounds much more alive and responsive than its competition. Jumping out of a larger vehicle and into the CX-5 felt like a shock at first, as the Mazda's steering wheel delivers real, actual feedback and transmits a picture of what's going on underneath the vehicle, which is something not often seen outside of expensive performance vehicles.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5's cabin is more upscale than its rivals. Mazda


Engaging Powertrains

The CX-5's base four-cylinder engine is fine, but the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is where things start to get interesting. It bumps the standard mill's 187 horsepower to 250 and gives off a pleasing turbo whine under heavy throttle. It pairs almost perfectly with the six-speed automatic transmission and delivers surprising power and torque. My test vehicle's all-wheel drive gave the CX-5 a surefooted feel, and from experience I can say that it's worth the added cost if you live anywhere with legitimate winter weather.

There are a few tradeoffs that come along with the CX-5's level of driver engagement, largely related to interior space and noise levels. While the Mazda's cabin is comfortable and is in no way low-rent, a great deal of wind, road, and drivetrain noise make their way into the vehicle at all times. You could argue that this is just another expression of the CX-5's connection with its driver, and you'd be right in some cases. At many times, however, such as when taking the kids to school or just running to the grocery store, it gets tiresome. Your five-year-old won't care about how good the steering feel is when they have to keep asking you to crank up the volume on their podcast story. The noise level is most noticeable around town with the constant stop and go of traffic.

The other main drawback with the CX-5, at least for families (like mine) that don't travel lightly, is interior space. Thanks to its curves and beautifully sloped roof, the Mazda's cargo hold is not as spacious as some of its rivals, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4. That dramatic shape also makes the rear seat feel tighter than it reads on paper, but thanks to a friendly ride height and large rear door openings, parents will have no issues with loading kids in car seats.


2021 Mazda CX-5 A sloping roofline can make rear-seat headroom challenging for taller people.Mazda


Great Tech and Safety

Mazda bumped the CX-5's infotainment screen size from 7.0 to 10.3 inches across the board for 2021, but there's no touchscreen here. Instead, the system is controlled using a rotary dial and volume know that are mounted behind the gear shifter in the center console. It's a responsive and fairly straightforward process to use and control the system, but scrolling through long menus or trying to wade through several options using the rotary controller becomes tiresome and distracting at times.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 was named a Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That award is due in part to the crossover's excellent performance in crash tests, but also comes thanks to its long list of standard advanced driver aids. All models get a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a smart brake support system, and high beam control. My top trim tester also got a driver attention alert system, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree monitor.

It's hard to ignore the quality, value, and fun that the CX-5 brings to the table, even considering how good its competitors have gotten. With a price tag that maxes out under $40,000, the Mazda's driving experience and plush interior should put it at the top of shoppers' lists. Its few drawbacks don't spoil the overall package, and only really present a problem for families of four or more – like mine. Those people, myself included, should be shopping for a slightly larger vehicle, anyway, and for them, there's the Mazda CX-9.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5 is one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers on sale today.Mazda

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The new Grand Cherokee L is on its way to dealers now.

Stellantis

The all-new three-row Grand Cherokee L was unveiled earlier this year, and features an ultra-premium interior, a load of new tech, and sharp styling that shouts back to Jeep models of the past. Just a few weeks ago, we learned pricing and feature details for the new model, and now Jeep says the vehicle is on its way to dealerships across the country.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L is the first three-row Grand Cherokee.Stellantis


In terms of styling, the L's shape has been reworked from previous Grand Cherokee models to be more reminiscent of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The automaker says that the grille has been tilted forward and is now wider for better air flow and a more dramatic appearance. The idea was to make the Grand Cherokee L look rugged, but keep it sleek and technical in the process.

The stretched Grand Cherokee retains the engines that powered its predecessors. That means a 3.6-liter V6 is standard, which delivers 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter V6 is optional, and makes 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or al-wheel drive. Either powertrain option will provide decent towing capability, but the V8 is unsurprisingly more powerful. With a V6 on board, the Grand Cherokee L can tow 6,200 pounds, while V8-powered models can pull 7,200 pounds.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L's styling is modern but nostalgic.Stellantis


Inside, Jeep says the L can be equipped with the latest tech and entertainment features. Running the latest Uconnect infotainment software, the Grand Cherokee L will be capable of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and can be had with a head-up display, a rear-seat monitoring camera system, and a 950-watt 19-speaker McIntosh audio system. At the top end of the lineup, the Summit Reserve model gets Palermo quilted leather, open-pore waxed walnut wood, and 21-inch wheels.

Pricing for the L starts at $38,690 after destination, which buys the base Laredo trim. The range-topping Summit Reserve model starts at $61,690 after destination. Dealer deliveries are underway now, supported by almost 5,000 employees at Stellantis' Detroit Assembly Complex.

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