Most times when we get a new vehicle to drive, the first thing we start to think about is where we can take it to get it off the tarseal. Ute, SUV, or full-size 4WD, that’s always the plan.
The new Mazda CX30 GTX has been a little different. Doing a bit of advance reading on the CX30, the thing that came across the most strongly was the incredible tech behind the driving experience that is Mazda’s SkyActiv.
Although based on a Mazda 3, the CX30 is not just a ‘lifted 3’. It retains the engineering ‘architecture’ albeit with 70m less rear overhang, but almost every component is unique.
Mazda could almost promote the CX30 as the “world’s safest car” as this architecture and engineering has seen the car gain the highest ever ANCAP score for adult protection!
Mazda prides itself in building ‘cars for enthusiasts’ and infuses a philosophy it calls Jinba Ittai (horse and rider as one). Not what you would expect in an SUV.
Blending engine and transmission developments, chassis and suspension tech, safety features, and even unique tyre build specification, this is one very smart piece of gear, and one we were very keen to get out and drive – even just on the tarseal if necessary.
In the 2.5 litre SkyActiv G configuration, the engine uses a 4-2-1 exhaust arrangement to scavenge combustion gasses out of the cylinder, with a piston top cavity and fuel injection optimization to allow 14:1 compression, on 91, to improve combustion efficiency, fuel consumption figures, and performance.
But wait – theres more!
The engine shuts down when the car is stopped (i-stop) and also deactivates one cylinder at low throttle cruising to enhance figures even more. Mazda claim 6.8L per 100km combined driving, we saw 6.9!
Mazda are unique in that they are staying away from the Hybrid concept, and using constant development of the internal combustion engine to meet consumption and emission level legislation.
The 6 speed auto features a much expanded torque converter lock-up range, and a combination the characteristics of dual clutch, CVT and normal planetaries to further improve feel and economy.
With its suspension technology, fancy tyres, and the G-vectoring the CX30 is a bit of a back-road pocket-rocket. It may seem a little down on sheer brute strength on the highway, but get it on the gravel, and the tech ensures you get every kilowatt working to push it forward.
One of the places you really see this is in their ‘G-vectoring control’.
The physics behind GVC are pretty simple: To achieve the car’s natural cornering posture, you increase the vertical load on the front tires by triggering a slight deceleration. Done right, this forward pitch (longitudinal g-force), is very natural, ease off the accelerator or touch the brakes for a corner, to help the front tires get the car into the corner more smoothly.
Mazda has created a way to slightly reduce torque output of the engine with steering input, neatly marrying longitudinal g-force (created by torque reduction) with lateral g-force (created by steering input). And that was the breakthrough: using the powertrain to improve chassis dynamics.
In the CX30 the GVC system is essentially monitoring three parameters: vehicle speed, throttle position, and rate of steering wheel rotation. Turn the steering wheel even the smallest amount and the system goes to work, reacting in less than 50 milliseconds, minutely reducing engine torque by retarding spark timing.
The result is an increased vertical load on the front tyres, and a more natural vehicle cornering posture for improved turn-in performance. As full power is restored, this helps transfer the weight and torque slightly to the rear, again keeping the car settled.
Without the driver having the slightest idea this is going on underneath him.
Fortunately for us it was raining pretty good when we took the CX30 out for the photo shoot, so after a couple of days of using around in the sunshine, we were able to check it out on a slippery, quite muddy gravel road up into the Kaimais for a change.
Up at Otanewainuku Forest, the rain had eased a bit, but there was enough slush and loose gravel around to give the CX30 a bit of a workout.
It wasn’t what we thought it would be like. The normally quite Nana-ish electronic aids become much more relaxed, and let the car move about on the road surface without getting all anxious.
Obviously, to try to protect the big expensive mags, we didn’t chuck too many rocks about, but as far as we did, the Mazda seemed to be quite comfortable to leave us to our own devices to quite an amazing degree. Nice!!
According to the engineers, the technology is even more effective on slippery surfaces, and maybe that is why the traction control lets you get away with a bit more exuberance than you would expect. It’s still got everything under control!
Otanewainuku is an unlogged area of Rimu Forest that makes up a portion of the 1200 Ha Otanewainuku Conservation area, and has some stunning old Rimus, as well as something like 300 native plant species.
Predators are heavily controlled by the management trust, to protect the prolific wildlife, including a population of Brown Kiwi. The area is not heavily visited, and only has a couple of walking tracks available. The place is superb.
But back to the CX30
Inside it’s all quality. The 8 speaker stereo has speakers designed and positioned to provide direct sound paths to the occupants and minimise transfer outside the car.
The information/ entertainment screen is not touch-sensitive and has been a bit controversial in a lot of media reports.
Mazda admits it may take a couple of weeks to master the joystick-style knob on the centre console to get the best from the system, but they say the payoff is a much more intuitive system than the average touch screen, and much reduced “glance time” and screen distraction, adding to the high safety levels.
Soft ergonomic seats, some nice colour touches, and some serious sound dampening make for a very pleasant environment to enjoy the driving dynamics. (And the sound system)
One point to note is that with all the work done on the engine tech, the 2.5-litre motor is almost inaudible most of the time, but when trans and motor recognise the need for speed, the sound track becomes a bit raunchy.
The trans lets the engine wind way up into the rev range when you keep your foot down (more of that Jinba Ittai stuff ) and the effect is seamless all the way up into instant loss of licence territory!
We’ve commented many times how a lot of top end SUV’s lull you into a false sense of security on back roads, with a straight line ability that’s not matched by their cornering ability.
That all changes with the CX30: between you and the car, you’ve got this covered.