When I first drove the Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-X in 2019, what struck me most wasn’t the car’s design or its performance. I found the CX-30 impressive because I had a glimpse of how much had gone into it.
Frankly, what the engineers shared was just the tip of the iceberg. Nevertheless, speaking to them and hearing their thought process during the vehicle’s development was an eye-opener.
Most of what was shared, however, is unlikely to ever be known to the public. Compared to larger rivals like Toyota and Honda, Mazda is like a boutique manufacturer. And it is one that prefers to be modest about its achievements.
MAZDA CX-30: A DEEP DIVE
The size of the CX-30, for instance, was based on how it was likely to be driven in built-up, urban environments.
Though tempting to think of it as the crossover version of the 3 hatchback, the Mazda CX-30 is actually smaller. But to make it feel roomy, the distance between the front seats was increased.
In fact, the gap between them is the same as the gap between the front seats in the CX-5.
Speaking of seats, Mazda worked with a university research team to study how to make driving feel as natural as walking.
Everything from the human pelvis to the S-shape of the spine was taken into account. Engineers studied how forces impact the tyres, wheels and suspension, and how these are transmitted to the cabin and occupants.
The end goal was to reduce the pitching motion we experience when going over speed bumps and uneven surfaces. And it works. Trouble is, because it feels so natural, few will even notice this.
The same is true for the SkyActiv-X powerplant in this CX-30. SkyActiv-X is Mazda’s most powerful 2-litre engine today. It is designed to combine the best of what petrol and diesel powerplants offer: refinement and top-end power, with low-end grunt and efficiency.
SkyActiv-X does this using Spark Controlled Compression Ignition (SPCCI), which lets the engine use very high air-fuel ratios. The ideal or stoichiometric ratio is 14.7:1. Above that, there is a chance that the fuel will not ignite.
The SkyActiv-X engine in the Mazda CX-30 has a compression ratio of 15:1. SPCCI compresses the air-fuel mixture to near-ignition, then triggers combustion with a spark.
With SPCCI, the 2-litre SkyActiv-X motor produces more power while using less fuel. It delivers 177hp, 224Nm and 17.2km/L, versus the SkyActiv-G 2.0’s 162hp, 213Nm and 15.2km/L.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The CX-30 SkyActiv-X delivers the goods in a seamless fashion. You will not feel SPCCI working. To even know that it is active, you need to see an icon on the infotainment screen.
To the driver, the Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-X feels linear, with good midrange pulling power. The 224Nm, which arrives at 3000rpm, is a big contributor to this.
Meanwhile, the 213Nm in the conventional SkyActiv-G 2-litre only comes on at 4000rpm.
Even with more low-end oomph, you’ll need to rev the SkyActiv-X motor to get the most out of it. And this is the fun part, because the CX-30, like other Mazdas, thrives on this behaviour.
The engine’s quick response is complemented by the equally swift 6-speed automatic gearbox. It does not hesitate to drop one or two cogs when extra pressure on the accelerator pedal is detected.
Driving the CX-30 SkyActiv-X in “manual” mode is even more fun. Rev past 4000rpm and you get a slightly rorty soundtrack.
And if you want a “motorsport feel”, using the gearshift lever instead of the paddle shifters to execute upshifts and downshifts is more satisfying, as the -/+ points are in the “correct” positions.
One point that could be improved though, is the choice of OEM tyres. The Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 050 tyres on the Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-X are decent. But to attract keen drivers, even better tyres are needed.
That said, the CX-30 SkyActiv-X still displays plenty of poise and an eagerness to thread its way around corners. Remember all that effort that went into the seats and suspension? They pay dividends here.
Excessive leaning and pitching are eliminated, so driving this crossover feels natural and comfortably. And in case you haven’t noticed, the driving position is also spot on. That, too, takes an inordinate amount of time to get right.
The Mazda CX-30 has done a lot of things right. I like the CX-30, but in SkyActiv-X form, it is even more impressive.
But, as mentioned earlier, the issue here is that when everything happens seamlessly and without drama, people tend to overlook a car’s capabilities.
Is the CX-30 SkyActiv-X perfect? No. I wish its backseat had more space, and that Mazda would offer a turbocharged variant. I love the minimalist interior and infotainment system, but others may not.
Also minimalist in nature are the unique “100 Years 1920-2020” badges, which are found on areas such as the front fenders, wheel caps and headrests. They modestly highlight the carmaker’s centenary.
Perhaps what the Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-X needs is to be more dramatic. It should be keen to play up its capabilities.
I wonder if Mazda will even consider doing this. After all, it is a boutique brand that produces well-sorted cars, but prefers to be humble about its achievements.
Mazda CX-30 SkyActiv-X 2.0 (A)
ENGINE 1998cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 177hp (180PS, 132kW) at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 224Nm at 3000rpm
POWER TO WEIGHT 115.8hp per tonne
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 9.1 seconds
TOP SPEED 204km/h
CONSUMPTION 17.2km/L (combined)
PRICE INCL. COE $143,888 (no VES rebate/surcharge)
AGENT Trans Eurokars