Mazda CX-30 SP20 Blackout Edition review: wildest look, mildest hybrid
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Mazda CX-30 SP20 Blackout Edition
- No real price premium for MHEV tech
- Individual SUV style
- Balanced chassis
- Gains from hybrid tech are tiny
- Less sporty to drive than 2.5-litre AWD models
- Not really blacked out, is it?
We’ve been talking for a while now about the wholesale market changes wrought by the government’s Clean Car Programme; suddenly, we’re obsessed with full electric vehicles (EVs, the ones you plug in) and hybrid electrified vehicles (HEVs).
But that’s all still a relatively small part of the market. Where we’re really going to see electrified technology take hold of the mainstream is through mild hybrid cars and SUVs (MHEVs as many in the industry like to call them).
It’s going to happen quickly, too, because in many cases the Clean Car Programme is encouraging Kiwi distributors to pick up powertrains that have been available a for while overseas, but have previously been avoided on cost/complexity grounds.
Case in the point is the new Mazda CX-30 SP20 Blackout Edition. You might be distracted by the sports-themed “SP” badge or the black detailing (including glossy 18-inch alloys and mirror caps), but the key thing about this car is that it has a mild hybrid powertrain.
At $44,390 the SP20 sits just above the entry GSX, making it the cheapest CX-30 MHEV by some measure; the Takami, with its SkyActiv-X engine, is a very different proposition and vastly more expensive at $56,090.
The SP20 has Mazda’s e-SkyActiv G MHEV powertrain, based around a 2.0-litre petrol unit. It’s also used in the eco-themed MX-30 Limited petrol.
In some ways, an MHEV is the hybrid you drive when you don’t want to know you’re driving a hybrid. Like a HEV, an MHEV has a separate battery that stores energy recovered during braking or deceleration; the stored power can then be used to reduce load on the engine, which saves fuel.
But unlike a HEV, an MHEV doesn’t generally have the ability to drive on electric power alone. MHEVs do usually have a separate electric motor, but in the form of an integrated starter generator (ISG) that can assist with stop-start, and also provide a small boost directly to the petrol engine in certain circumstances.
So you could be driving an MHEV and not know it. That’s especially true in the case of the SP20, which employs one of the mildest forms of this mild technology. The electrical system is 24-volt, not 48-volt as in many other MHEVs. Outputs are modest and actually identical to the conventional 2.0-litre in the CX-30 GSX: 114kW/200Nm.
Nor is there a massive gain in fuel efficiency. The SP20 achieves 7.0/100km in the Clean Car 3P-WLTP cycle, compared with 7.2l/100km for the GSX. Nor does MHEV tech make any difference to Clean Car Discount status: both the GSX and SP20 are in the neutral zone.
As with so many MHEVs, there’s no massive change to the experience offered by the end product. The SP20 is simply another incremental step towards a completely electrified future. Mazda calls it a “multi-solution approach” if you really want to get into the corporate culture.
So you probably wouldn’t dive in and buy this solely for the powertrain tech, but then Mazda isn’t asking you to. If you consider the alloys, black detailing and snazzier red-stitched interior trim of the SP20 as adequate compensation for the $2k price jump over the GSX, then there’s no real premium for the MHEV stuff.
And it is arguably the best-looking CX-30, although it’s a bit weird that this “Blackout Edition” still has shiny chrome grille, badge and windowline trim.
Beyond that, you still have a very stylish, capable and appealing compact SUV. The 2.0-litre engine is nicely linear (and does get some mid-range benefit from the MHEV system), if a bit aurally unsatisfying under load. The six-speed automatic is smooth, but we reckon a seven, eight (or more) speed gearbox would make this a sweeter car. Mazda has always been firm on six being the right number of ratios, however.
Mazda has a knack of making small cars with impressive steering and handling and the CX-30 is definitely in the club. All CX-30s now have the upgraded G-Vectoring Control Plus stability system, a proprietary Mazda thing that delicately reduces engine torque and applies braking as you turn into a corner to improve steering accuracy, stability and chassis behaviour. You can’t notice it working, but you can’t help but notice the CX-30 has a confident stance around corners.
All 2.0-litre CX-30s are front-drive; you have to step up to the 2.5-litre engine to get the i-Activ AWD system. The gruntier AWD models start at $46,090 and deliver 7.6l/100km, in case you were wondering.
Cabin quality is another CX-30 strength. It’s a close relation to the Mazda3 hatch and as such, definitely in the new-gen category – unlike the outwardly similar CX-3 SUV, which is based on earlier architecture.
The fit and finish is pretty swish, the instrumentation and infotainment crisp and colourful – although the lack of touch functionality for the latter still irks. Mazda would argue that the tastefully small screen is too far away for that to be useful (ostensibly true) and its own rotary controller/pushbutton control setup works really well (also valid), but it’s still a little frustrating when you’re trying to navigate between the Mazda OS and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, for example.
The SP20 might be near the bottom of the spec chain, but all CX-30s are pretty well equipped: AEB Smart Brake Support (with night-time pedestrian and cyclist detection), Lane Departure Warning, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Radar Cruise Control are standard across the range. There are a few small detail disappointments: the air-con is manual and the halogen DRLs look rubbish. I want my LEDs, as Dire Straits said in that famous song.
But you do get those extra black bits and more electricity with this one. And any CX-30 is still a highly appealing little SUV.
MAZDA CX-30 SP20 BLACKOUT EDITION
ENGINE: 2.0-litre petrol four with 24-volt mild hybrid system
GEARBOX: 6-speed automatic, FWD
PROS: No real price premium for MHEV tech, individual SUV style, balanced chassis
CONS: Gains from hybrid tech are tiny, less sporty to drive than 2.5-litre AWD models, not really blacked out, is it?