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The bottom line is, you can get an SUV that competes on performance, comfort, and features with the best of the European luxury brands for up to $10,000 less.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - Tye stylish 2020 Mazda CX-30 is is the best-handling small SUV on the market today and offers a numble, sport car-like driving experience.In the last year or two, I've driven virtually all the small crossover SUVs on the market, and I have a clear favorite. The Mazda CX-30 is new this year, and it hits all the right notes for an SUV and as a vehicle for those who like a nimble sports car experience.

The CX-30 is bigger than Mazda's subcompact CX-3, and smaller than the CX-5. This compact crossover shares a chassis platform with Mazda's nimble Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, but you'd never know it. The CX-30 is quite a bit bigger than either of the passenger cars, but it is the best-handling small SUV on the market today.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The interior of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 borders on luxury vehicle level with a high level of standard featues and available options in the higher trim levels.

Under the hood, Mazda has worked a little magic. The SKYACTIV 2.5-liter engine produces 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque. There's no turbocharger, which helps the CX-30 deliver up to 33 MPG on the highway. That figure is for front-wheel-drive models, but the available all-wheel-drive model is only 1 MPG less. Mazda pairs this engine with a 6-speed automatic transmission that is geared to get the most out of the engine. The transmission is smooth and quick to respond, especially if you get the optional paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Mazda's iACTIV all-wheel-drive system is among the best in the industry. Mazda uses sensor data to predict wet and icy conditions and engages the AWD system before the driver can detect wheel slip. Mazda also uses a unique system called G-Vectoring Control to slightly reduce engine torque as the driver turns the steering wheel. That action shifts weight forward, onto the front wheels for crisp steering response.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - There's plenty of room for two adult men to share the center armrest in the front bucket seats of the 2020 Mazda CX-30.

Above all, the CX-30 is balanced. Driving over the coast range to the beach, the CX-30 has plenty of power and is always sure-footed in curves and over bumps. The driver feels in perfect control. The CX-30 is Mazda's latest expression of a concept called "Jinba Ittai," which translates as "Horse and rider are one." To really understand what they're getting at, you'll have to take a test drive.

Inside, the CX-30 feels bigger than it is. There's plenty of room for two adult men to share the center armrest, and the cabin feels spacious, at least in the front seats. The back seat area could be bigger, but Mazda offers the CX-5 if that's what you need. The CX-30 also offers generous cargo space is also generous, with 20.2 cubic feet behind the second row, or 45.2 cubic feet with the second row folded flat.

As a leader in affordable luxury, Mazda offers some of the most comfortable seats in its class. You would have to cross-shop the Range Rover Evoque or Mercedes-Benz GLA to find comparable seats. Leather upholstery and seat heaters are available in the top trims.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - There is plent of cargo space in the 2020 Mazda CX-30, and much more with the second row of seats folded down.

Mazda has an effective technology package, including available luxury features such as a head-up display, phone app for remote start, pre-conditioning, and locking. The 8.8-inch Mazda Connect infotainment system supports both Apple and Android phone integration. Available safety features include blind spot and rear traffic alerts, adaptive cruise and automatic braking, automatic headlights, and lane assistance.

The thing that really sets the CX-30 apart from its competition is the price. This SUV starts at $23,000 including all required fees for a front-wheel-drive model. If you select the top Premium trim with all-wheel-drive for $1,400 and the beautiful Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint for $595, you're still driving away for $31,295.

PMG PHOTO: JEFF ZURSCHMEIDE - The 2020 CX-30 is Mazda's latest expression of a concept called 'Jinba Ittai,' which translates as 'Horse and rider are one.'

The bottom line is that you're getting an SUV that competes on performance, comfort, and features with the best of the European luxury brands, and you're getting it for up to $10,000 less. That's why the 2020 Mazda CX-30 has earned its spot at the top of my list of recommended SUVs.

2020 Mazda CX-30

Base price: $23,000

Price as tested: $30,700

Type: Compact crossover SUV

Engine: 2.5-liter four cylinder (186 hp, 186 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 25/32

Overall length: 173 inches

Curb weight: 3,408 pounds

Final assembly: Salamanca, Mexico


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