First drive: taking on Germany with the new Mazda CX-30 crossover
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Winding roads through the hills of the Taunus region, on the northern outskirts of Frankfurt, Germany, take you past hiking and bike trails.
Roadside signs warn of deer, and we saw a squirrel safely make a dash across the highway. We got to wondering whether there might be bears in the woods — because the car we were driving has a Goldilocks personality.
Sounds cute? Let us explain.
Mazda used these roads for the global launch of its new CX-30 crossover/SUV contender. Set to arrive in the New Zealand market early next year, the new CX-30 fits neatly between the CX-3 and CX-5 to give Mazda its fifth SUV pillar.
And if you’re wondering why it’s not called CX-4, that badge is already used on a China-only extended version of the CX-3.
Conversations we’ve had with Mazda owners and prospective buyers are the prompt for the Goldilocks observation. An oft-repeated theme has been the CX-3 looks cool but is too small while the CX-5 is a bit too big for the garage.
Among multiple objectives the CX-30 is a shot at “just right” SUV sizing. Mazda engineers had defined measurement targets — primarily sub-4400mm in length and sub-1800mm in width for city agility and tight car parks. And they have achieved a turning circle to match the smaller CX-3.
For reference the CX-30 is 120mm longer and 30mm wider than the CX-3 but only 5mm taller. And it’s smaller than the CX-5 in all dimensions.
But the CX-30 is much more than a re-sizing exercise.
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Under the skin there is significant commonality with the gen-four Mazda3 which has just rolled out a new SkyActiv-Vehicle platform to commence Mazda’s seventh-generation product cycle.
The latest SkyActiv architecture’s flexibility means the CX-30’s wheelbase is 25mm shorter than a Mazda3 while the ground clearance is raised to 175mm. The width is identical at 1795mm.
Specific styling cues — such as the dark grey cladding of the sills and wheel arches — emphasise the SUV stance, but the reality is the front seat hip point is a moderate 45mm higher than the Mazda3 hatch.
The hip point is at the same height as the CX-3 (lower than the CX-5) and the designers paid attention to the relationship between seat height and sill position to make access more natural.
Exterior panels and the frontal design are similar but subtly different to Mazda3 themes. The latest evolution and maturing of Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy puts less emphasis on sheet metal creases and feature lines, and more on the overall form and how it interacts with changes in light.
The grille shape and texture, slim lighting signature and rear styling are clearly linked to, yet differentiated from, the new Mazda3.
It’s the same in the cabin with Mazda’s de-cluttered new generation architecture, minimised controls, 8.8in widescreen display and operation through a lovely “click and confirm” feel to the switchgear.
Though rear seat accommodation is reasonably snug, the efficient floor design and upright seating position provide decent headroom and reasonable kneeroom. Load space measures up at 430 litres — significantly improved over the CX3 — and there’s also more cargo space than a Mazda3 hatch.
In Germany we drove a 1.8-litre SkyActiv-D diesel version and a 2-litre SkyActiv-G petrol with a six-speed manual transmission helped along by Mazda’s new 24-volt mild hybrid starter/generator that is launching the brand’s electrification drive.
The output for the Euro-spec 2-litre petrol is 90kW — significantly lower than the 114kW that New Zealanders receive in a 2-litre Mazda3 — and that shifts attention to the torque boost from the mild hybrid system. At low speeds it assists with a responsive feel and noticeably smoothed out the first-to-second and second-to-third upshifts.
Sampling two engine/transmission combos not destined for NZ meant there was more to be gained from paying attention to the chassis dynamics.
The run through the Taunus hills, villages and an autobahn section confirmed the close relationship with the Mazda3. It’s the same fluent steering response and chassis control combined with a notable improvement in NVH quality that makes the cabin quiet.
It makes the CX-30 a low-stress drive which carries pace on the highway with an assured stance while feeling responsive and accurate in the twistier sections.
There’s enormous Mazda enthusiasm for a human-centred — rather than machine-centred — design approach and study of the subtleties of how a car interacts with the driver. Mazda is more interested in how a car feels and sounds under acceleration rather just numbers on the stopwatch.
Engineers have compelling theories around seat position and shape backed by study of human physiology and movement.
The prime design target of the seats is to hold the occupants’ pelvis in an upright position. This maintains the S-shape of the spine, achieving correct posture. In the CX-30, drivers are aware of the raised seat height only from the enhanced visibility, rather than from centre of gravity or roll-response feedback as the car moves through corners.
First impressions are it’s close to a car-like driving experience with similar progressive steering and chassis response that has marked the new Mazda3 as a rewarding place to spend time behind the wheel.
Details of the CX-30 lineup for New Zealand are being finalised ahead of a local introduction expected first-quarter 2020. Mazda NZ plans to offer a mix of 2-litre and 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G petrol engine choices with front drive and all-wheel drive versions. The advanced new SkyActiv-X engine (see page 6) with its pioneering Spark Plug Controlled Compression Ignition petrol engine technology will also figure in the lineup of CX-30 models.
New Zealand will get six-speed automatics and though both cars sampled in Germany were front-wheel-drive there will be CX-30 all-wheel-drive models as well.
Specifications are likely to mirror the new Mazda3 with GSX, GTX and Limited grades topped by a “‘high-plus” Takami version.
An important element in the arrival of the CX-30 will see it position Mazda among the first mainstream brands to offer five different SUV/crossover model lines in the New Zealand market.
“I think there is some clear space between compact and medium size SUVs. Potentially that’s a sweet spot for the CX-30,” said Mazda NZ’s managing director, David Hodge.
“Having five SUV models is a great place to be. But unlike some of our competitors who have pulled out of traditional car segments, we have grown our SUV lineup while still having full range of hatchbacks and sedans.
“We believe there are still plenty of people passionate about traditional passenger cars.”
The Goldilocks personality for the CX-30 extends beyond mid-size dimensions. SUV versatility and fashionable design blend with the new Mazda3’s assured driving dynamics appeal to seek a “just right”’ position for the CX-30.