FIRST DRIVE | The 2021 Mazda CX-30 (nearly) has it all

The stylish and capable Mazda CX-30 is let down by its rather gutless engine.
The stylish and capable Mazda CX-30 is let down by its rather gutless engine.

The people at Mazda cited a key rival to their newly-launched CX-30 sport-utility vehicle.

That is the Volkswagen T-Roc, released on local shores towards the end of last year amid a great deal of fanfare.

At first thought one might regard this as a hefty ambition. After all, the German brand enjoys a deep affinity with our market, with a deep-rooted presence spanning decades, that includes a production facility that employs thousands and makes cars not just for SA, but the world.

But if you scrutinise many of the reports from motoring critics, you might notice common sentiments echoed against the Volkswagen T-Roc. That it lacks the quality for which the brand is generally known, disappointing with hard plastics that might even look out of place in a budget car.

And then there is the price, north of R489,400, which can easily go beyond the R600,000 mark after options. That nudges it into territory that is unequivocally premium: that of the Volvo XC40 or Mini Countryman, for example.

All model variants come equipped with a generous level of specification.
All model variants come equipped with a generous level of specification.

Mazda has long attempted to push the brand upmarket and while it might not be perceived as a premium player in entirety, anyone will agree that it is a brand held in higher esteem than similar small volume mainstream Japanese marques.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the cabin of the CX-30 exudes an aura that almost puts one in mind of a Lexus. No doubt, it is far plusher and more interesting to look at than the inside quarters of its chief nemesis from Wolfsburg.

A clean, minimalistic layout, with soft-effect cladding across surfaces and hand-stitched details do well to create a convincing upmarket environment. We should have discussed the exterior first. From all angles, the CX-30 is an attractive, compelling piece of design. That applies even to models that do without the trinkets reserved for the range-topper.

You would be forgiven for thinking of it as a CX-5 that went for Bikram yoga and dramatically adjusted its diet. The CX-30 is sleeker, curvier and with a silhouette that aims to create a coupé-like impression. For the record, the model slots between the CX-3 and CX-5 on the hierarchy.

On the move after the seat and steering wheel were adjusted, this struck me as one of those vehicles the average driver would feel instant familiarity with. From the tucked-in, well-ensconced sitting position, to the pistol-like grip afforded by the elegant three-spoke steering wheel, the feeling is rather organic.

Positive things can be said about the minimal noise, harshness and vibration levels too. At town speeds it suppresses the external hubbub well, so too at freeway velocities. But occupants can be very rapidly stirred out of this tranquil daze once the accelerator is mashed down.   

The CX-30 sports a clean, minimalist dashboard design.
The CX-30 sports a clean, minimalist dashboard design.

Which is not to imply the CX-30 wields power that turns the world outside into a blur. Rather, its guts make quite a din when you want rapid, on-demand acceleration to overtake safely. And mashing down the pedal does not translate directly into swift, confident pace either.

Dreary engine choices have long been a chink in the armour at Mazda and we are afraid, the case is no different here. It is in this area that the Volkswagen T-Roc, with its turbocharged offerings, has the CX-30 completely beaten.

Its normally-aspirated two-litre, four-cylinder petrol mill is good for 121kW and 243Nm of torque, while the sole transmission choice is a six-speed automatic. The combination prefers being finessed along – punchy spurts are not its forte. Power is sent to the front wheels.   

On the plus side, the standard kit list is commendable, which is usually the case with the brand. Even if you pick the basic Active version (from R469,000), you get LED headlamps, keyless-go, a comprehensive touchscreen infotainment system and seven airbags.  

The Dynamic (R499,000) throws in niceties such as dual-zone climate control and rear parking sensors. The Individual (R540,000) gets full leather upholstery, a Bose audio system with a dozen speakers as well as 18-inch alloys, to name a few.

In all, the CX-30 is a striking package, combining dazzling aesthetics, build quality and refinement that could match products from a segment up, in addition to a healthy level of non-optional equipment. It just needs an engine!


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