Manual CX-30 the one to get your hands on

Manual CX-30 the one to get your hands on
The much improved Mazda CX-30 

Sharp witted readers – or even those like myself with only a modicum of memory left – may recall in February last that Examiner Motoring gave a damning verdict on the Mazda CX-30, the new small SUV from the innovative Japanese manufacturer.

It was not that we disliked the car as an entity, but simply that it was equipped with an automatic gearbox which, frankly, was not up to the job and three unflattering paragraphs summed up our feelings on the matter.

“Unfortunately the tester was fitted with Mazda’s six speed automatic gearbox and I have to say that in this car it was a terrible disappointment. It held onto cogs way too long and didn’t seem to be too inclined to kick-down when you wanted it to either.

“In the normal course of events I am disposed to leaving automatic ‘boxes do their own thing and rarely resort to using the paddle shifters as I find most such systems to be only really useful on performance cars and not on cars which will ply their trade in the day-to-day humdrum of life.

“In the case of this CX-30, I found that using the shifters was the only way of making the gearbox approximate anything like the functions it is supposed to carry out. This is nearly unforgivable for an auto. These things are supposed to be intuitive and mindful of what is required of them. This one had a mind all of its own and was a serious disappointment.” 

You get the picture. We were not at all impressed.

And the thing is that over the years Mazda has received a hell of a lot of positive column inches as an under-the-radar manufacturer which never seems to fully receive the public support it deserves as an innovative, thoughtful and creative car maker and a true leader in terms of design, engineering and innovation.

And we have sung their praise from the rooftops with regard to a variety of mainstream and niche vehicles which rarely fail to register anything other than high approval ratings from this quarter. The automatic CX-30 was such an exception to what we have come to expect from Mazda, that we were shocked.

Shocked too was the company’s Irish PR team, unused as it was to anything approaching criticism about any of Mazda’s products. They leapt into immediate action to organise a test of the manual version of the CX-30 for late June.

However, the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to that and they were unable to deliver the car to me for appraisal purposes. But then the kindly people at O’Brien’s Mazda in Midleton stepped into the breech and came up with a model of the type required for what was essentially a confidence-rebuilding exercise.

And that is exactly what happened – our confidence in the marque was fully restored after a week with the CX-30 Skyactiv-X, which is Mazda-speak for the version with the two litre, 180 bhp, petrol engine which utilises a typically clever compression ignition system designed to provide petrol performance with diesel-like frugality. It was also the version with the manual ‘box.

The engine itself is nice to live with, although I must say it did not really seem like there was 180 bhp on offer here. Even so, the 8.5 second 0-100 kph time and the 204 kph top speed did indicate a level of briskness that was not immediately apparent.

Allied to one of the nicest six speed manual gearboxes you will ever come across outside of a performance car – all short throws and snicky changes – the engine does not exactly deliver in spades, but rather goes about its business with a pragmatic and resolute demeanour and the 5.8 l/100 km consumption level (47.8 mpg) is not to be sneezed at.

And then you have the look of the car. Although only a small SUV, the CX-30 is delivered with a very attractive exterior appearance, complete with Mazda’s new corporate grille, which is both sexy and eye-catching. The Toyota C-HR is the only competitor which is as interesting to look at, but it is nowhere near as elegant as this.

And, on the inside the CX-30 is also a winner. Indeed, the only competitor I can think of which is as beautifully put together as the Mazda is the Audi Q2 and, on price, that’s not really a competitor at all. Material quality is top drawer and the design – pared back without seeming frugal – is of a very high order.

Throw in a standard specification which is overflowing with generosity – adaptive cruise control, sign recognition, lane departure warning (which you can disable with ease, unlike so many others), auto emergency braking and loads of other stuff – and the feeling of wellbeing you get here should make many other manufacturers blanche with embarrassment.

As well as that there is a suite of tech on offer that is not only comprehensive but very intuitive to use, even for a technology buffoon like me.

And, as the CX-30 is based on the new Mazda3 hatch and saloon, you’ve also got a car which is supremely well sorted on the handling and ride fronts. Steering is beautifully weighted and the ride quality is quite sophisticated for this class. 

Sure, you will get a little body-roll when you’re in press-on mode, but generally the handling is good and the grip levels excellent for a front wheel drive car.

The only real downside to the car is that legroom in the rear is quite tight, which weakens its claims as a true family car and the very large C-pillars mean that it is quite dark back there as well. Boot space is decent enough and helped by the added underfloor storage area.

While the CX-30 might not light you up with its performance – even though that aspect of the car is respectable rather than eye-catching, pretty much every else about the car makes it a very worthy machine indeed. It looks great, the interior is fantastic and the standard specification is terribly impressive.

Small SUVs are not generally noted for either their design chops or their abilities on the road, but the Mazda is one car in the class which stands out in both categories.

Just a word of caution, however. Do make sure to avoid the automatic like the plague and stick with the manual version which is by far the better machine and is a stand-out in the segment.

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