2021 Mazda CX-3 v CX-30 comparison review

Mazda’s newest compact SUV, the CX-30 has been on sale for a full year now, so how does it stack up against it’s successful showroom counterpart, the smaller CX-3?

When the Mazda CX-30 was released, many pundits (us included) thought it would likely pinch sales from the ‘other’ compact Mazda SUV, the CX-3.

As at the time, the CX-30 brought new style, technology, and more space to the compact Mazda SUV lineup, but it also came with higher costs.

With the power of hindsight, however, not to mention a full-year of CX-30 sales to analyse, we can see that instead of conquesting buyers from the smaller CX-3, it has been the ‘low-rider’ version of the CX-30, the regular Mazda3, which has given up market share to the middling SUV.

Furthermore, even when dealing with the turbulent new vehicle market of 2020, the CX-3 and CX-30 have settled into a reasonably consistent pattern of sales, with the ‘3 leading the ’30 by a factor of about 50 per cent.

But does that make the CX-3 a better buy?

The cars overlap in pricing, equipment and function, so which one is more worthy of your dollar? Let’s take a look!


Pricing and Specification

The CX-3 range starts from $22,890 before options and on-road costs for a front-wheel-drive Neo manual and climbs to $38,690 for an all-wheel-drive Akari LE like our test car.

A CX-30 G20 Pure manual front-driver can be yours from $28,990, as can a $46,690 CX-30 Astina all-wheel-drive with the Skyactiv-X mild-hybrid motor. Our test car is one down the rung from this, a G25 Astina AWD priced from $43,690.

Test cars aside, the range spread gives us a near $10,000 pricing overlap ($9700), and where the range toppers we have on hand both include leather trim, 18-inch wheels, a host of safety and assistance technology including a 360-degree camera and adaptive cruise control, and a glass sunroof, let’s pick something in between to better compare.

Worth noting too, that when we have previously looked at the CX-3 and CX-30, neither car makes huge sense at its range high point, as that $39k CX-3 LE is really pushing the value friendship, and the benefits of the Skyactiv-X powered CX-30 aren’t quite as pronounced as a near $50k drive-away would suggest.

That said, if you split the CX-3 price band right down the middle, you have about $31,000 to spend.

2021 Mazda CX-3 2021 Mazda CX-30
Price (MSRP) from $22,890 to $38,690 from $28,990 to $46,690
Premium paint cost $495 $495
Warranty 5 years / unlimited km 5 years / unlimited km
Service interval 10,000km 10,000km
Servicing cost (3-years / 5-years) $1050 / $1770 $990 / $1665
ANCAP Safety Rating 5-star (2015) 5-star (2019)

That will buy you a CX-3 sTouring ($31,090), or a CX-30 G20 Evolve ($31,590) which both feature a 2.0-litre engine with front-wheel-drive and an automatic transmission.

The ‘3 features 18-inch wheels, LED lamps on all lenses (front, rear, running and fog), a head-up display, keyless entry, dual-zone climate control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, parking sensors at both ends, satellite navigation and DAB radio on the 7-inch MZD Connect infotainment screen.

You’ll also score 18-inch wheels and dual-zone climate control on the ’30, but infotainment comes via an 8.8-inch widescreen display which still includes satellite navigation and DAB radio. Both cars support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the CX-30 has eight-speakers to the CX-3’s six.

The range of safety equipment on the CX-30 is equally as impressive, but it also adds adaptive cruise control and a lane-keep assistant to the mix.

Both cars still feature cloth trim at this level, so there’s no runaway luxury leader, and given the CX-30’s newer platform, and bigger size, even low in the range it takes the value lead against the CX-3.


Technology and infotainment

This is an easy one.

As noted, the CX-30 receives a newer 8.8-inch wide-screen MZD connect screen to the more traditional 7-inch unit in the CX-3.

Both are full-featured, with support for DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and integrated satellite navigation, but the newer system is crisper and nicer to use.

Neither are perfect though, with the CX-3 offering the convenience of touch interaction when the car is stopped, but not the convenience of using it on the move. Where the CX-30 system can only be used with the jog/shuttle control wheel on the console.

Update the new system with touch capability and roll it out across all models please Mazda!


Interior

When dealing with cars that are two different sizes, overall space shouldn’t be a deciding factor in a comparison like this.

As, quite simply, the CX-30 is bigger. It has more boot space (264-litres against 317-litres) and more rear passenger room, it’s newer so has an improved cabin design and costs more (comparatively) so has more convenience appointments.

So if you‘ve got to this point and feel you need the bigger car, then that’s the CX-30.

But don’t discount the CX-3 if you are still on the fence, as if overall space isn’t the core reason for your car choice, the smaller Mazda still has plenty to offer.

2021 Mazda CX-3 2021 Mazda CX-30
Length 4275mm 4395mm
Width 1765mm 1795mm
Height 1535mm 1540mm
Wheelbase 2570mm 2655mm
Turning circle 10.6m 10.6m
Ground clearance 155mm 175mm

With a reduced footprint; it is 4275mm long against 4395mm – 120mm shorter, with 85mm of that between the wheels; the CX-3 is perhaps a little more friendly for urban running. The ’30 isn’t big by any stretch, but you sit low and the rear quarter design makes ‘over the shoulder’ more challenging than the CX-3.

The cabin layout isn’t as slick as the newer ’30, but it is still very functional and ergonomically laid out, despite feeling much more compact. You get nice trim on the dash, and a few extra tech inclusions for price parity, but frustratingly you need to opt for a CX-3 Akari to score heated power seats.

And I know I sort of glossed over it, but rear passengers in the CX-3 don’t have a huge amount of headroom, nor are there scallops in the back of the front seats to help with knee room. You do get an armrest with cup holders in both, but only the CX-30 offers air vents.

The rear seat folds with a 60:40 split in both cars, and the CX-3 includes a variable floor-height boot that can be raised to afford a flat load floor. There’s a space-saver tyre in both cars too.

The CX-30 is arguably a more pleasant place to spend time, but the CX-3 does its job as a funky city dweller too.


Driveline

You can have any engine you like in a CX-3 as long as it is a 110kW/195Nm 2.0-litre naturally aspirated Skyactiv-G petrol unit. The diesel was dropped from the CX-3 range last year.

Cars are available with either front or all-wheel drive, and if we are to be honest, the AWD option is a bit of overkill on a city-tuned hustler like the CX-3.

Conversely, the CX-30 is offered with either a 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol, a 139kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol or the tricky 132kW/224Nm 2.0-litre supercharged Skyactiv-X motor.

We’ve looked at the X previously, and couldn’t justify the minor gain in performance and efficiency against the $3000 price premium over the regular 2.5-litre engine.

The 2.5-litre motor is a good option, but we’d rather Mazda slot in the 2.5-litre turbo they offer in other markets.

The 2.0-litre then, as well as making comparison easier, is available also with front and all-wheel drive. Mazda is even rolling out the electronic locking differential function we have tried on the CX-5, although I’m not sure too many owners will ever need to use it.

2021 Mazda CX-3 (sTouring FWD) 2021 CX-30 (G20 Evolve FWD)
Engine format 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Displacement 1998cc 1998cc
Power 110kW @ 6000rpm 114kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 195Nm @ 2800rpm 200Nm @ 4000rpm
Drive type Front-wheel drive Front-wheel drive
Transmission 6-speed automatic 6-speed automatic
Weight (tare) 1215kg 1360kg
Power to weight ratio 90.5 kW/t 83.8 kW/t
Fuel consumption (combined – claimed) 6.3L/100km 6.5L/100km
Fuel tank size 48-litres 51-litres
CO2 emission 143 g/km 152 g/km
Specific model MSRP $31,090 $31,590

On the move, both cars are nice and easy enough to drive, but the lower output engine, in the smaller CX-3, actually offers a higher power-to-weight ratio of 90.5kW/t against 83.8kW/t in a front-drive 2.0-litre CX-30.

The CX-3 feels a little bit sharper and zippier off the mark, thanks to its lower peak-torque level (2800rpm against 4000rpm), but is marginally noisier at an urban cruise, returning 62dB at 60km/h compared to 59dB in the CX-30. Things even out at 100km/h to somewhere around 66dB, depending on external traffic.

The six-speed auto works smoothly too, and both cars are available with a manual transmission in their base trim. The CX-30 includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel too.

Claimed fuel consumption in the CX-3 is lower (6.3L/100km against 6.5L/100km), but in true Mazda fashion, we saw higher in both, with the ‘3 coming in at 8.6L/100km and the ’30 at 9.1L/100km.

Neither car is perfect in terms of mechanical delivery but put simply, the driveline in the CX-3 is better suited to the car, as the CX-30 tends to feel a bit underpowered.

The premium-feeling nature of the style and interior of the CX-30 is at odds with the raspy nature of the engine too, which is perhaps even more reason for Mazda to adopt the forced-induction powerplant here!


Ownership

Comparing two cars from the same brand should make any warranty (5 years, unlimited-kilometre) and servicing calculation rather easy.

But strangely, the front-drive, 2.0-litre automatic examples we mentioned earlier, don’t perfectly equate on the great ownership spreadsheet of life.

For the CX-3, services will cost $330, $390, $330, $390 and $330 for the first five years at the dealer (10,000km increments). However, the CX-30 will run you $315, $360, $315, $360 and $315 over the same increments and time period.

That’s a saving of $60 for three years ($1050 to $990) or $105 over five ($1770 to $1665) for CX-30 owners. It’s a tiny difference, which would arguably make a normalised service cost much more sensible, but here we are.

What’s more, on both cars an AWD model costs the same as a front-driver, but a 2.5-litre CX-30, while $5 or $6 more expensive than the 2.0-litre (depending on the service) is still less expensive than a CX-3.


Verdict

To be honest, this wasn’t a hard comparison to judge.

Where the CX-3 is still a quality compact SUV offering from Mazda and was exactly what the brand needed back in 2015, the CX-30 has upped the game across the board.

No, it’s not as affordable as its smaller sibling, which certainly accounts for a big part of the CX-3’s continual sales success, but low in the range it offers a more modernised take on the compact SUV with a good amount of value on its side.

The inclusion of nearly all the driver-assistance and safety technology in the entry-level model, the sharper styling and more modern and improved cabin feel does give it the win here today. If the CX-3 was what Mazda needed in 2015, the CX-30 was what they needed in 2020.

However, as I mentioned earlier, the higher up the specification tree you climb, the less both these cars make sense, and while our Astina and Akari are well endowed with premium features, you aren’t getting the final polish of a more luxurious driveline or a proven hybrid system that you would in a Lexus.

So keep your attention on the mid-range models for the best value buying.

What may change this conversation yet again though, is the introduction of the electric and hybrid Mazda MX-30 later this month.

It ticks the same size box as the popular CX-3 but gives you a clear point of differentiation for the spend, which will be well into CX-30 territory.

How it compares to these well-balanced competitors remains to be seen, but it’s something we’ll surely address once the new car arrives.