2020 Mazda CX-30 with Premium Package AWD sort of vs. the Mini Cooper Clubman S: Is the fancy one really worth an additional 10 grand?

This week: Mazda CX-30.

Price: $31,370 as tested. $450 for the Navigation SD Card and $275 for the auto-dim mirror.

Conventional wisdom: Motor Trend dubs it “Not the most exciting or capable, but always a nice place to be.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Taking on the world with class-leading standard horsepower.”

Reality: Not a bad package.

The comparison: The Mazda and the Mini may live in different worlds, but they are roughly the same size. And Mr. Driver’s Seat happened to have both parked in his driveway during the same week. So a comparison sprang to mind. What do you get for the extra money?

Much better: The CX-30 slots in above Mazda’s CX-3, a vehicle too cramped, too underpowered, too weird, and just not fun.

The interior of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 is as attractive as any Mazda out there and gets the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat seal of approval.
Mazda
The interior of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 is as attractive as any Mazda out there and gets the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat seal of approval.

Driver’s Seat: Right from the start, the CX-30 is many times the small crossover — and even out-Mazdas most Mazdas. The console has actual space; it’s not cramped and controls are not interfering with each other. The seat sits up higher, and drivers feel more in command.

The CX-30’s leather seat didn’t seem as hard as Mazdas tend to be. It was firm but not painful, though I don’t spend nearly as much time behind the wheel as I used to.

And maybe this is just a test-vehicle issue, but I swore I could see slight waviness in all the glass as well.

Up to speed: The little crossover’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine creates 186 horsepower, as is typical of Mazda vehicles. It gets to 60 mph in a decent 7.8 seconds, according to Motor Trend.

But somehow, the CX-30 overcomes one of the Achilles’ heels that have plagued Mazdas for many years: No hill-climbing oomph. I tore through Chester County country roads again and again, and the CX-30 happily charged up all kinds of hills and ridges.

Passing was also not an issue. I can only guess it was a combination of the weight of the CX-30 and the tuning of the engine. It doesn’t usually work this well in other offerings I’ve had.

Shifty: And the hill climbs didn’t require a lot of gear changes. I left the shiftable 6-speed automatic in shift mode, and hills that I thought would require 4th or even 3rd worked just fine in 5th.

In automatic mode, the CX-30 happily takes care of things. Pulling out in automatic mode, though, could be a bit of a lurch, especially in Sport mode.

Shifting is great through the paddles, but the shifter level is a touch awkward and hard to shift.

On the road: Unlike many Mazdas, though, the CX-30 is not delighted to tear through the slaloms of old-style lanes. Neither Sport mode nor regular offer any great steering feedback; I was always a little nervous that I would end up in a slide.

But on highways and country roads allowing a little more speed, the CX-30 shined quite nicely. It’s a little rough on the bumps, especially in Sport mode, but for the most part the vehicle just offered a smooth high-speed ride.

A front-wheel-drive version is also available; maybe that has better handling?

Friends and stuff: It’s worth noting that the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat really liked this vehicle — the interior and the seats meant she wanted to ride in this even more than the Mini.

Rear seat room was not commodious, but it was adequate. Legs and feet fit but without much wiggle room, slightly better than economy class on an airplane. (You remember airplanes, right?) Headroom is awesome, and the seat was comfortable and angled nicely. A large hump means middle seat passengers won’t be happy, but at least the console doesn’t turn that seat into a joke.

Cargo space is 20.2 cubic feet behind the second row.

Play some tunes: Stereo sound is about a B+.

Once a fan of the BMW copycat system, I’ve become less and less enamored of the Mazda dial over the years. Adjusting the bass and treble is a complicated operation if you’re in CarPlay — so many nested screens to get it done. The same for a day when you feel like switching stations on Sirius XM before you find something you like. You have to set up favorites or you’ll just drive yourself crazy.

Keeping warm and cool: Dials control the temperature, and small buttons control the other functions. They’re a little hard to track down at first, but eventually they’re easy to feel your way through.

Night shift: The interior lights cast a warm glow without interfering with the road. The LED headlights were plenty bright.

Fuel economy: I averaged around 25 mpg in a series of country-road maneuvers. Feed the CX-30 whatever.

Where it’s built: Salamanca, Mexico.

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the CX-30 reliability to be a 3 out of 5.

Next week: Mini Cooper Clubman S.