No longer owned by Ford, Mazda is currently in the midst of rebranding and expansion. In addition to supporting the Miata fanbase, the Japanese automaker has also introduced its first EV. However, arguably the most dramatic sign of Mazda’s evolution is its growing lineup of stylish SUVs. But which Mazda SUV is best worth considering?
Mazda’s subcompact SUVs
Technically, at least some of Mazda’s SUVs could be considered crossovers. But nowadays, with so many SUVs moving from body-on-frame to car-based platforms, the difference is largely academic. That being said, some Mazda SUVs are scaled more like a Honda Civic than a Toyota 4Runner.
The smallest Mazda SUV is the CX-3, a subcompact that competes with the Hyundai Kona and Honda HR-V. It’s only available in one trim, the $20,640 Sport, with a 148-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder. However, despite its small size, the CX-3 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+, with standard emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring. You can also get it with AWD, though Car and Driver reports there is a small fuel-efficiency penalty.
One size larger, though still a subcompact SUV, is the recently-introduced CX-30. This, reports Motor Trend, rides on the Mazda3’s platform. It also gets the Mazda3’s 186-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The base model starts at $21.9k, with the top-shelf Premium starting at $28.2k. AWD is a $1400 option, though blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are standard.
The larger Mazda SUVs
Moving into the compact SUV segment is the Mazda CX-5, a compelling alternative to the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester. It was updated for the 2020 model year, one new option being a 2.2-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder. The standard engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which makes 187 hp and 186 lb-ft. The Grand Touring Reserve and Signature trims, though, get a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine, which on 93-octane develops 250 hp and 320 lb-ft. The diesel is only available on the Signature.
The lowest trim is the Sport, which starts at $25,190. AWD is a $1400 option on the Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring, but it’s standard on the Grand Touring Reserve and Signature. The Signature is the range-topper, and it starts at $37,155. But every CX-5 is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
Finally, there’s the CX-9, the only 3-row Mazda SUV. Mazda’s improved the CX-9’s reliability and safety recently, to the point where the SUV is now an IIHS Top Safety Pick. It also enjoys a very high rate of owner satisfaction, and for 2020 it received a whole host of standard advanced safety features.
The base CX-9 trim is the Sport, which comes with the CX-5’s 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, and starts at $33,890. The Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring all have AWD as an option, but it’s standard on the $46,215 Signature.
Which is the one to buy?
Choosing between the Mazda SUVs depends on how you’ll intended to use them.
For those looking for a compact, well-designed urban commuter, the CX-3 and CX-30 are good options. However, both Car and Driver and MT rank the CX-30 above the CX-3: the former has more cargo and passenger room. The CX-3 Sport does bundle more standard features compared to the base CX-30, Roadshow reports. Overall, the CX-30 is simply a more comfortable and livable vehicle. But it’s also a compact SUV, which means passenger and cargo space is still tight.
If you absolutely want a Mazda SUV with 3 rows, the CX-9 is your only choice. However, Car and Driver found the CX-9’s infotainment system outdated compared to the Kia Telluride’s and Hyundai Palisade’s. The introduction of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto makes the lack of a touchscreen particularly noticeable. MT reports that, although the CX-9’s 6-speed automatic is well-tuned, it hurts highway acceleration. And the 3rd-row seats are rather cramped, as is the rear cargo area.
It strikes a good balance between the easy-to-park nature of the CX-30 with the increased space of the CX-9. And MT reports it does that while offering excellent handling and ride comfort. It also tops Edmunds‘ list of used SUVs.
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