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If you’re looking for a sporty SUV, look no further than Mazda. According to U.S. News’ “Sportiest SUVs Under $30,000 in 2021,” three Mazda SUVs made the cut: the CX-30, CX-3, and CX-5 (ranked fourth, third, and first, respectively).

Three Kia models also appear on the list: the Seltos, Soul, and Sportage. However, they didn’t rank as high, making Mazda your best best for sporty SUVs under $30,000.

Inside the Mazda CX-30

The 2021 Mazda CX-30 is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a subcompact SUV. The exterior is sharp and modern, and despite its small size, it has extra ground clearance, giving you an SUV feel. The standard front-wheel-drive model is also well-powered, with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission providing 186 hp. There’s also a turbocharged 2.5-liter option delivering 250 hp and all-wheel drive. The FWD version offers 25/33 mpg city/highway, while the AWD version drops to 24/31 mpg.

The attractive exterior is matched by a gorgeous interior, with well-fabricated styling and finishes. Cargo space is expectedly limited, with 20.2 cubic feet in the cargo hold and 45.2 when you fold the rear seats down. An 8.8-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker sound system come standard. It also comes with many advanced safety features that don’t often come with base model vehicles, such as adaptive cruise control. These safety features have helped the CX-30 land a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and be recognized by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) as a Top Safety Pick+. These are all great selling points, but why did U.S. News recognize the CX-30 as one of its top sporty picks?

The Mazda CX-30 performs exceptionally well on the road, with highly responsive steering and fluid handling that sets it apart from its peers. It’s quite agile, allowing for precise and stable cornering and braking. Overall, it’s a fun ride, even the base model. There are also higher-level trims, notably Select and Preferred, that provide more amenities and add AWD while remaining under $30,000.

A look at the Mazda CX-3

Ranking third on U.S. News’ list is the Mazda CX-3. Even smaller than the CX-30, the CX-3 nonetheless also seats five. It feels more like a car than an SUV, given its size. But it’s powered more like an SUV, with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder providing 148 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque. FWD is standard, and AWD is optional. If you opt for the former, you’ll get 29/34 mpg city/highway, while choosing the latter will cost you 2/2 mpg.

As small as it is, the Mazda CX-3’s relatively cramped rear shouldn’t be much of a surprise. There are 17.8 cubic feet in the cargo hold, expanding to 42.7 cubic feet with the back row down. But like the CX-30, the CX-3’s interior styling is sharp and well-detailed. Expect a standard 7.0-inch touchscreen and a six-speaker sound system like the ones in its larger counterpart. And like the CX-30, the CX-3 also comes with Mazda’s full range of advanced safety features, boasts a five-star NHTSA rating, and is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.

Earning the number three spot, the CX-3 delivers a fantastic driving experience, with meticulous steering and powerful braking. U.S. News notes it’s the best-handling subcompact SUV available, made possible in part by fine suspension tuning and precise body roll. It may be tight, but the CX-3 is fun to drive.

The #1 Mazda CX-5

Topping the list is the Mazda CX-5, a compact SUV with an attractive exterior in line with other CX models. With a 2.5-liter four-cylinder producing 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, the FWD base model delivers more power than the CX-30 or CX-3. This model will get you 25/31 mpg city/highway. There’s also an AWD-drive turbocharged 2.5-liter option that produces 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque and gets 22/27 mpg city/highway.

Inside this five-passenger SUV, you’ll appreciate more legroom and cargo space than the other two Mazda crossovers. The CX-5’s cargo hold is 30.9 cubic feet, expanding to 59.6 cubic feet with the back row down. The interior trimmings are first-rate and well-crafted, providing a more upscale feel than a sub-$30,000 car is supposed to have. A standard 10.3-inch touchscreen, along with Mazda’s advanced safety feature suite, helps the CX-5 ascend to the top of prospective buyer wishlists. And a five-star NHTSA rating and an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ designation don’t hurt either.

As with the CX-30 and CX-3, the CX-5 offers Mazda’s signature pristine handling, precise cornering, and strong braking, making for a harmonious driving experience. Given its refinement, agility, and athleticism, it’s no wonder it’s leading the pack. But no matter which of these three models you pick, you’re sure to have fun on the road.


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