Keep it in the family. There’s no mistaking the 2022 Mazda CX-30 for any other marque, given Mazda’s unique design DNA. That angry-mouth front is strongly reminiscent of the Mazda3 hatchback, while the rear is pure CX-5. The concave side doors are another Mazda hallmark, with large wheel arches suiting the bigger tires that do have a detrimental effect on ride quality. In a well-chosen color, this is a handsome car from any angle.

Inside, Mazda’s KODO design ethos means there’s a minimalist ambiance in the CX-30’s cabin. Everything is tightly screwed together and assembled using hardwearing yet tactile materials. Ignoring the scratch-magnet piano black inlay trim, this is an easy car to live with. The transmission tunnel and dash are lifted from the Mazda3, which is no bad thing – with one caveat…

Information superhighway. The Mazda CX-30’s infotainment system is displayed on an 8.8-inch landscape screen nestling atop the dash. It’s crisp and responsive, controlled not via touchscreen (or an Acura-style mouse pad) but through a BMW iDrive-style rotary knob. There are physical climate controls on the dash, but everything else is accessed through one of five category menus. The wheel allows you to scroll by rotating and select by pressing, and some people get very het up about this setup.

Once you’re used to the rotary knob, finding specific settings is child’s play, but this is an unintuitive interface for beginners to master. It does keep dirty fingerprints off the touchscreen and prevents you from mistakenly choosing the wrong option as a bump moves your finger mid-press, but it’s an acquired taste.

Trim anomalies. It’s strange that Mazda hasn’t mirrored the streamlined European CX-30 model structure, with its generous standard specification list. The Stateside CX-30 range offers a frankly unnecessary seven trims, including some disappointingly low-spec models. Because you can’t add optional extras, it’s often necessary to move several trims above our recommended base model simply to get a particular feature.

Entry models are moderately well-equipped, with your $23,425 bringing smartphone mirroring and push-button start alongside an exceptional roster of standard safety features including adaptive cruise and active lane control systems. By contrast, you’ll pay $35,625 for a top-range model with leather, a surround-view camera system and a heated steering wheel. That seems too much for a car this size, though at least you get a punchy 2.5-liter turbocharged gas engine for your money. The CX-30 is also a safe car, achieving high scores from both the NHTSA and IIHS.

Punchy, but no knockout blow. Every CX-30 is powered by a 2.5-liter gas engine, mated to a slick six-speed automatic transmission that does a fine job of managing propulsion. Higher trims receive a turbocharged version of the same engine, boosting the standard 186 hp output to 250 on premium fuel or 227 hp on standard unleaded. The turbo has a lot more zip at lower speeds, but either unit will sit comfortably on the freeway. Fuel economy is underwhelming, with the turbocharged engine returning 22/30/25 MPG and the normally aspirated model achieving 24/31/26 MPG combined.

To drive, the CX-30 is pleasant without being memorable. It has meaty steering which gives you the confidence to thread it into corners, while the ride is best on smaller wheels but never becomes harsh or bouncy. Every model has the added reassurance of all-wheel drive, though don’t let this and the plastic cladding fool you into treating it as a serious off-roader. It’s grippy enough, but it won’t give the Toyota Land Cruiser any sleepless nights.

Final thoughts. The 2022 CX-30 is a head-over-heart car. Its stingy lower-trim specifications and limited rear cabin space are disappointing, yet in every other respect, this is a car you’ll respect greatly. It’s well-built and refined, satisfying to drive by SUV standards, comfortable and safe. It also looks rakishly handsome, especially in Mazda’s fabulous Soul Crystal Red paint.

Once you adapt to the infotainment system’s odd rotary setup, the cabin is a nice place to be, even if it’s a bit monochrome. Rear passengers might feel less enthusiastic than those sitting up front, but everything feels good and should withstand many years of daily use/abuse. Add in bombproof mechanicals, and that $23,425 starting price looks pretty tempting. It’s just a shame you have to pay so much more for high-end convenience and safety features.

Check prices for the 2022 Mazda CX-30 »