Wheels (Australia)




One car stared down the five COTY criteria and answered its demands without flinching. Here’s how

‘UNANIMITY’ CAN BE a tricky word to say; much harder to achieve. In an increasing­ly divided and opinionate­d world, getting a disparate group of individual­s to form a unilateral consensus on anything can be near-impossible. The COTY judging process is often no exception, yet for 2021, in a rare moment of great(ish) minds thinking alike, all six members of the judging panel cast their vote for the winner you see here. There would be no split decision, no recasting, no blow-ups or toys thrown out of the pram. The Mazda CX-30 is the 2021 Wheels Car of the Year, and all of us agreed on it.

For Mazda, it’s one hell of an achievemen­t, and takes the company’s tally to nine COTY victories since the award’s inception in 1963, putting the Hiroshima-based brand only one win behind Holden as the award’s most successful manufactur­er of all time. (Hot tip for those who enjoy a punt: Mazda has the better odds compared to the Lion brand to increase its haul...)

So where exactly does the CX-30’s brilliance lie? Well, that warrants deeper dissection, because that’s arguably what it doesn’t have: an area of true breakthrou­gh brilliance. The old expression ‘jack of all trades; master of none’ used to be one of denigratio­n; a suggestion that a worker was versatile yet lacked an area of true speciality. In the case of the CX-30, it’s actually the highest compliment we can deliver it. As we’ll outline here, the key to its COTY success was not a couple areas of pure genius; instead it scored solidly against all five criteria, and resolutely did not drop the ball in any measurable area.

Speaking more broadly about its appeal, perhaps editor DC said it best: “For me, the CX-30 is a car that democratis­es luxury; it has a level of craftsmans­hip not evident in rivals. You sense the passion and commitment that’s gone into it, making it feel like a treat every time you get in.”

That over-arching sentiment started to flow from the moment the judges really crawled around and through the car on day one. Mazda has clearly designed the CX-30 as a crossover, rather than a more pragmatic, boxy SUV, effectivel­y making it a higher-riding (by 25mm) wagon version of the Mazda 3 on which it’s based. No-one could argue with the logic, even if it does bring a few potential compromise­s to packaging. Headroom in the rear is only just adequate for six-footers, and the boot, at 317 litres, is on the small side for this class.

“I’m okay with that,” conceded DC. “I think a comparativ­ely small boot like this is probably more a theoretica­l disadvanta­ge for most people rather than a regular real-world annoyance.

For me, the exterior celebrates design and style; unlike rivals, where design feels like more an obligation.”

Byron was also quick to point out a design advantage held by the CX-30 over the related 3: “That the six-light glass area means more light floods in than in the 3. And I really like the extra splashes of colour for a change inside a Mazda – navy blue or brown as contrasts to the black on most variants; it gives a nice lift to the ambience.”

The three variants we had on test gave the judges a solidly indicative sample of the nine-strong CX-30 line-up. Our leastexpen­sive tester was the G20 Evolve FWD (one model up from base Pure) with its 2.0-litre atmo four/six-speed auto combo, priced at $31,490. In the middle sat the G25 Touring, powering its front wheels by the 2.5-litre four tied to the six-speed auto, and priced at $36,490. Topping our trio was the CX-30 flagship; the X20 Astina, driving all four wheels by the new Skyactiv-X 2.0-litre petrol compressio­n-ignition engine, priced at $46,490.

It was broadly agreed that that the top-spec X20 Astina doesn’t represent the CX-30 line-up at its best, so let’s address the value question first, as it’s clear that the CX-30 doesn’t attempt to lure customers into the showroom via a bargainbas­ement price tag. Cheapest model in the line-up is the $28,990 Pure with a six-speed manual, a model with loads of appeal but won’t find favour with many Aussies. Cross-shopping the CX-30 against the Mazda 3 on which it’s based sees the Japanese-built CX-30 some $3500 dearer than the correspond­ing 3 Pure.

“Lovely steering and control… fun to drive, great brakes. Impressive” DYLAN CAMPBELL

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