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The newly available turbocharged 2.5-liter makes a great small crossover even better.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The 2021 Mazda CX-30 is a beautifully styled small crossover, and the newly-available turbocharged 2.5-liter engine turns the driving experience from enjoyable to downright fun.The first time I read about the Mazda CX-30, I was confused by the name. It slots between the subcompact CX-3 and the compact CX-5 crossovers. So shouldn't Mazda have named it the CX-4?

Now that I've tested the second year CX-30 with the newly optional turbocharged 2.5-liter engine, I am convinced Mazda made a mistake. They should have called it the CX-Sport because it is their best performing crossover, including the three-row CX-9.

The secret to the CX-30's success is that it is not just a stretched version of the CX-3 or a shortened version of the CX-5. It is a completely different vehicle based on the Mazda3, which is arguably the best driving affordable small car on the market today. Like the CX-30, it is also available this year with the 2.5T engine and all-wheel-drive this year, in both sedan and hatchback versions.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The 2021 Mazda CX-30 is striking from every angle, and the turbocharged models come standard with all-wheel-drive.

In fact, the CX-30 is so good, Mazda plans to drop the CX-3 next year. Although the CX-3 is one of the best affordable subcompacts on the market, the company must figure consumers are smart enough to spend a little more for the additional interior space, better handling, and greater refinement. That could also mean bargain prices on 2020 models as dealers need to clear them off their lots for those of you on tight budgets.

The base 2021 CX-30 comes with a normally-aspirated 2.5-liter engine and front-wheel-drive. Having driven base versions of the CX-3 and CX-5 before, I am sure it competes well against every other small SUV base model. But the turbo version is the one to get if you can swing it. The horsepower increase is impressive — up from 186 to 227 ponies with regular gas and an impressive 250 with premium.

The gains are enough to transform the CX-30 from enjoyable to downright fun to drive, especially in the Sport mode that increases throttle response.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The interior of the 2021 Mazda CX-30 is surprisingly roomy and refined, which practically every available automotive technology.

And the turbo version comes standard with Mazda's iACTIV all-wheel-drive system, which is among the best in the industry. It 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 shifts weight forward, onto the front wheels for crisp steering response.

The result is well-balanced handling that rewards enthusiastic driving. In a week of test driving, the CX-30 Turbo AWD was always a joy to drive, whether on short errands or freeway jaunts.

All of Mazda's cars and crossovers are beautifully designed and well constructed, and the 2021 CX-30 is no exception. in fact, the exterior styling is crisper than the other crossovers, creating a sportier impression out of the box. Our top-of-the-line Premium Plus model was dark blue with black cladding around the wheel wells and black alloy wheels, which gave it an even more sophisticated look. The interior also carried on the company's tradition of being more tasteful and upscale than other affordable vehicles.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The attention to detail in the 2021 Mazda CX-30 is available everywhere you look, inlcuding the center console where a large knob controls the infotainment system.

The addition of the available turbocharged engine did not come a moment to soon for Mazda. It's biggest competitor in the Pacific Northwest, the Subaru Crosstrek crossover, just got a more powerful engine, too. Its newly available 2.5-liter Boxer engine only produces about as much horsepower as the CX-30's base engine, but it can be ordered with a manual transmission that is not available with the Mazda. For those who prefer manual transmissions, the additional turbo power is too tempting to overlook.

The CX-30 is Mazda's latest expression of a concept called "Jinba Ittai," which translates as "Horse and rider are one." To fully understand that, you should take a test drive, especially in the new turbo version. You won't be disappointed.

COURTESY PHOTO: MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - A large storage compartment is available between the comfortable front seats in the 2021 Mazda CX-30.

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo AWD

Base price: $22,050 (base S)

Price as tested: $35,400

Type: Compact crossover SUV

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter four cylinder (250 ph, 320 lbs-ft premium gas)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

EPA estimated mileage: 22/30

Overall length: 173 inches

Curb weight: 3,408 pounds

Final assembly: Salamanca, Mexico


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