First Drive: 2021 Mazda CX-30 GT Turbo

First Drive: 2021 Mazda CX-30 GT Turbo

What’s it a name? Well, in the 2021 Mazda CX-30 GT turbo’s case, quite a lot. 

That nomenclature denotes the existence of Mazda’s 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder for the first time in the CX-30 so this engine – which is already doing great work in the larger CX-5 and CX-9 crossovers – is now in the smaller CX-30 and as you’d imagine, it’s done wonders for the drive experience.

The engine makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque if you use regular gas, and 250 hp/320 lb-ft if you use 93 octane and personally, I applaud Mazda for being transparent about this There’s a tonne of debate as to how much difference an octane rating makes and Mazda just comes out with it: “If you want more power, use higher octane fuel.” Done, dusted, and appreciated. 

If you do use 93, though, whoa man, do you ever feel it. Power delivery upon throttle tip-in deals with a bit of lag but after that it’s off to the races, the CX-30 spiriting you down the road at a proper pace, a very good facsimile of how the same powertrain feels in the Mazda3 Sport hatchback. It was a great move for Mazda to put this engine in the CX-30 because it adds a genuine layer of real performance to the proceedings, and another dimension to a vehicle that sits in one of the most ubiquitous segments in the car world. There’s even a bit of an exhaust note while you’re at it, which had I not already sampled the Mazda3 with the same powertrain, I would never had expected. 

Power is fed through a six-speed automatic (your only choice; no manuals here) which may seem a little old-school compared to the new(er)fangled CVTs found in the Subaru Crosstrek or the multi-ratio autos found in the likes of the Jeep Renegade, but Mazda has tuned the transmission and managed to get it nicely in-sync with the engine. Indeed, if you ask Mazda – as I have – as to why they haven’t put a newer transmission inside, they’ll tell you that to do so would, in their eyes, hurt driver involvement with the CX-30. Too many gears being shifted means too many instances of power interruption and if they were to go to a CVT – which, of course, doesn’t actually shuffle any gears at all – well, those don’t tend to be all that involved anyway so the six-speed auto it is. Plus, there’s always the manual mode if you so choose, with paddle shifters for an even more full-on effect because who wants to tap a shift lever back and forth to switch gears with an auto ‘box? 

While vehicles like the Crosstrek may pride themselves in the offroad-ability their AWD system provides, I’m not quite so sure that’s what CX-30 buyers would be all about. To me, the CX-30 is the more urban car of the two, the more involved drive and so it’s the traction and performance the AWD system provides that’s the real take home for me. 

There’s no torque vectoring, per se, but the brakes can be automatically applied to help rotate the CX-30 through turns and it – like every other AWD Mazda – has a neat little trick up its sleeve in addition. It’s called G-Vectoring Control Plus, and what it does it actually use throttle adjustments to get more traction. Sounds backwards, but what happens is as soon as the system senses some steering input, it very subtly reduces the throttle response to force the weight of the vehicle over the front axle, and in so doing smushes the tires more firmly into the road surface for a larger contact patch, and more grip. How aggressively the system intervenes (though it’s never so aggressive that you’ll really notice it) depends on whether or not you’ve activated “sport” mode, which is one of two modes you can choose from, the other being off-road which plays with the AWD system for better traction in adverse conditions. 

Of course, there’s a bit of a caveat here in that the CX-30’s AWD system is a predictive one, meaning there’s always some power being sent to all four wheels so they can respond as quickly as possible when slip is detected. Sure; this will hurt your fuel economy a little, but the peace of mind it provides is well worth the sacrifice. 

Put plainly, the CX-30 is a great-looking vehicle; the added plastic cladding ‘round the wheels and on the rocker panels, the dark rims option, the cool Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint you see here – all very nice touches that continue to help the CX-30 (and its Mazda3 siblings) have some of the best styling in the segment. 

In addition to the extra ride height, the CX-30 gets a taller roofline, ostensibly for more cargo and passenger space inside but in reality, it’s more the cargo room that benefits. The front seat is fine, but the back seat is too cramped even for average-sized adults to sit comfortably – especially in terms of headroom, which is minute — so this is not a vehicle to consider if you’re planning on moving three or four tallies around on the regular. Best keep the kids back there.


Up front, space doesn’t demand as much of a premium; head- and legroom are fine, the seating position is tall enough for a good view outwards (though the bottom seat cushion is canted back more than I’d like) and all the controls fall nicely into your hands. Plus, Mazda knows a thing or two about interior build quality and these days, the top trims – like the GT – of their cars are getting properly luxurious interiors finished in top-quality materials. The CX-30 is also one of the only Mazdas in Canada to receive the brand’s latest infotainment tech and while it’s not all that flashy to look at, it’s functional enough and has both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto support. No wireless charging, though, which is a pity.

At the end of the day, though, what really got me was the fact that when I asked myself which vehicle I’d rather have – this or the Mazda3 Sport – I was surprised to find that I didn’t have a quick answer. Imagine my surprise, then, when after some pondering I realized that while I love a sporty compact hatch as much as the next person, in this case, It’s the CX-30 I’d have. If the Mazda3 Sport were offered with both the turbo and a stick shift, then perhaps I’d pivot back the other way but for now, I’ll take the CX-30. It has the looks, it has the power but it also has a little more room inside and is the more practical of the two.

Categories: Driver Plus, First Drives