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story.lead_photo.caption Based on the sweet-driving Mazda 3, a mountain-road favorite, the CX-30 is slightly taller and roomier but manages to deliver Mazda's trademark, polished road manners. (Photo courtesy of Mazda)

Some weeks around here are just pure fun.

That is often the case when the vehicle in the driveway is a Mazda. Six years ago, company executives dropped Mazda's "Zoom Zoom" slogan and set a course toward becoming a luxury brand. "Driving Matters" sounds more refined, and those words were accompanied by actions.

Premium interiors and investments in cutting-edge technology became the path of the E-suite. In the meantime, Mazda engineers and designers continue to put out vehicles that are a hoot to drive.

Case in point, the 2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium. A non-turbo version, introduced last year, scooped up tons of awards by reviewers impressed with the subcompact SUV's agility and well-appointed cabin at an affordable price.

Loaded with driver-assist safety features and labeled a top pick by independent crash-testing agencies, the CX-30 is carving out a niche for buyers not quite ready to step up to the larger CX-3 or CX-5.

Though starting prices are a little higher than competitors from Honda, Toyota, Subaru, and Kia, base CX-30s are packed with comfort and safety features and are a top-3 player.

Turbo models, starting at $31,720, loaded with more features and power, aim to compete with the likes of Lexus, BMW, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz.

The CX-30 Turbo offers performance, premium materials, and superb craftsmanship in the mid-$35,000 range Could this be the game-changer Mazda seeks in the entry-level luxury niche?

Nearly luxury

Ahhh, not quite.

The CX-30 Turbo is a pleasant and desirable automobile, the winner of multiple awards, but it is not quite as finely sanded as competitors like Lexus, BMW, Audi, or Mercedes Benz.

Fighting in its class, however, the CX-30 is a contender.

Based on the sweet-driving Mazda 3, a mountain-road favorite, the CX-30 is slightly taller and roomier but manages to deliver a Mazda trademark, polished road manners. Steering is quick and light, though it feels somewhat vague when pushed to higher limits. Sport mode adds weight to the feel of the wheel, but not feedback.

In most circumstances, the CX-30 is well-composed and confident. That is the result of a firm suspension that transmits about the number of road imperfections one expects in an economy-class machine, but more than the norm for a luxury vehicle. On concrete roadways, it feels jittery. The Lexus UX, by comparison, blends nimble handling with a compliant ride.

Like all Mazdas, the CX-30 has a nicer interior than similar vehicles from Honda, Toyota, Nissan, and the American brands. Upscale materials and quality fit-and-finish complement one another. Blonde Bride and I both enjoyed the interior's comforting feel, which has become a Mazda hallmark in the past few years.

On the outside, a bold face, muscular haunches, and sensual character lines give the CX-30 an appealing mien. On the other hand, an attractively sloping roofline impinges on rear headroom and limits passengers' view. On the third hand, rear cargo volume is greater than that found in a Mercedes-Benz GLA or Lexus UX. On the fourth, it would have even more if the rear seats folded flat.

in the cabin, upscale materials and quality fit-and-finish complement one another. (Photo courtesy of Mazda)

Great start

A base CX-30 starts at $22,050 and is exceptionally well equipped with goodies like automatic on-off LED headlamps and tail lamps, power windows and doors, rain-sensing wipers, push-button start, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, an 8-speaker sound system, two USB ports, a host of Bluetooth and phone utilities for Android and Apple, digital displays, and a nice suite of the most important driver-assist technologies, like lane-keep assist and dynamic cruise control.

For the money, it is an amazing amount of car.

Standard is a 2.5-L, 186-hp, inline-four, which is adequately quick and delivers an EPA-estimated 25 mpg in town, 33 highway, for a combined 26 mpg, which sounds good but is thirsty by modern standards. A Kia Kona costs less and gets 30 mpg from both naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines.

One place where Mazda stands out is the application of SKYACTIV technology throughout the driveline and vehicle dynamics. It is a simple term to describe a complex process in which engineers examine every component of the mechanics and make them better. It's one reason why Mazdas are some of the most reliable vehicles available.

As we near the end of light-duty vehicles powered by internal combustion engines, Mazda may be doing it better than anyone. There's something in that. The last buggy makers to shutter their windows were, of course, the best.

Competitors have yet to match Mazda's G-Vectoring vehicle dynamics and motion control systems that respond to steering inputs with subtle engine torque and braking responses. These make the ride and handling feel smoother and make everyone in the cabin feel more comfortable.

Purists complain that the system also makes it impossible to turn off traction control. So what? I never do that.

No finishing kick

New this year is a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder. On regular fuel, it cranks out 227 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. Fill up with premium unleaded, $2.95-$3.47, depending on where you shop on Richmond Road today, and those numbers jump up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft.

The turbo takes the CX-30 to another level. Not only is it fast away from the line, hitting 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, but peak torque comes early, at 2,000 rpm, so turbo lag is essentially nonexistent. Out on the highway, power comes quickly and smoothly as it sprints from 50 to 70 mph and above, so passing is easy.

Mazda says turbo models are speed-limited at 128 mph. Let us take them at their word, but opine that on a nice stretch of road, the car would be well within its limits.

Gear ratios on the turbo are shorter than on standard models, but the 6-speed automatic is otherwise the same as the one found in non-turbos. That is too bad. It needs sorting. Upshifts come too early, downshifts too late. Thank goodness for the paddle shifters.

The suspension, braking, and steering systems were not tuned for the turbo engine. On one hand, all of those are quite good; on the other, Mazda missed a chance to build something special. The CX-30 does not have the wow! factor.

Our fully-loaded CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus was priced at $35,400.

Is it worth the money? Maybe.

Is it better than an Audi Q3, a BMW X1, Lexus UX, or Mercedes GLA, which all sell for around the same price and have much more cachet? It's hard to envision this one parked at the country club.

A wise man once told me that if you are the new kid in town and want to take on the competition, you can't just be as good as them. You gotta be twice as good.

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