2020 BMW X1 v Mazda CX-30 Comparison Test

Mazda wants to go up market. Just a little, not a lot. Somewhere above the mainstream clutter where it can charge a few more dollars per car. It calls this Mazda premium, and the best example of this strategy is the new CX-30 SUV.

It’s stylish, it’s refined, it’s got a cool new cabin design, but is it really premium? There’s only one way to find out, and that’s to test it against a premium vehicle. Enter the BMW X1. While the CX-30 is brand new, the X1 has been around since 2015, but it’s also been freshly updated for 2020, and it is the top selling premium compact SUV on the planet. For this comparo, we’ve brought together the Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina and the X1 sDrive 118d.

The Astina is the flagship in the CX-30 range, while the 118d is the second cheapest X1 you can buy. In terms of equipment, the CX-30 is loaded to the gunnel as standard, the more expensive BMW can’t match it, especially in terms of safety gear. Both have five-door five seat hatches, although it’s plain to see the CX-30 has favoured a pleasing slinky form over squared off function, while the X1 has gone the other way. And looking in here, you can see the BMW has the advantage. It’s the bigger car, there’s just more space to load things into. Move forward into the cabin, and the BMW retains its advantage in the rear seat, there’s more knee and head room than the Mazda. Up front is where the CX-30 really starts its fight back. If the X1 is a small family wagon, then CX-30 is more about pleasing the people riding up front.

This is where the Mazda premium message really gets hammered home. Perceived quality is very high in the cabin, and that’s allied with a set of simple and uncluttered controls designed to ensure you spend minimum time with eyes off the road. The controversy is undoubtedly Mazda’s decision to have no touch capability for the infotainment screen.

They have effectively moved it out of reach. Well, no doubt we’re in a BMW, iDrive dial falls readily to hand, touch screen at the top of the centre stack, twin dials in the instrument pod. It’s probably not a stylish as the Mazda. It’s pretty effective, though. And what about the experience from the driver’s seat, once you get rolling? Well, the Astina is powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine mated to a six-speed auto and the X1 is a 2-litre turbo diesel that drives via an eight-speed box. Both cars are front-wheel drive and while that sounds like a travesty in the case of the BMW, it’s just the way of the world with small cars nowadays, and it’s also a key reason that the X1’s interior is so efficiently used.

Happily, that doesn’t interfere too much with the X1’s on-road behaviour; apart from a bit of tug on the steering wheel under hard acceleration, it’s a very nice car to drive and ride in. The CX-30 is based on the same new generation architecture as the latest Mazda 3 small car. It steers lightly and decisively, and it handles the corners really well. It’s quieter than the BMW, and who would have thought you could say that about a Mazda until now? The weakness is the ride, on low profile 18-inch rubber, the Astina is fidgety, busy and rarely settled on rough roads. They’re both good to drive in their own way with different positives and negatives. We went into this exercise trying to figure out if Mazda premium was the real deal. Well, I think the CX-30 proves that it is. It’s high quality and good value, it gets close to the BMW in some areas, matches it in some others, and even exceeds it in a couple. Look, I doubt many people are going to shop a Mazda CX-30 against a BMW X1, but the Mazda is good enough to stand out from the small SUV crowd, just a little, not a lot. Job done, Mazda.

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