My first intimate encounter with the Mazda brand was when I was a fourth-grade elementary school student in 1997. My father bought a brand-new E2000 van as a replacement for our ageing Liteace. The vehicle was more of a necessity rather than an aspiration for my dad. Our family loved going on road trips and we needed something that could comfortably seat eight people and a lot of stuff.
At the time, the Mazda brand was more of an oddity. Its interesting offerings included the 323 Astina with pop-up headlights and the legendary MPV and MX-5 package deal. Even the E2000 was a little bit quirky itself. The thing had large “Power Van” decals but it was only marginally faster than the Toyota it replaced. The thirsty 2.0-liter gasoline engine produced a lot of noise, but not a lot of oomph. Nonetheless, the E2000 was fairly reliable. Although it didn’t set my father’s pants on fire behind the wheel, it did the job it was supposed to do and served us for a good five years.
I was well into my college years when I had my next taste of Mazda when we got a first-generation Mazda 3 in 2005. This car was whole lot different to the E2000 and the 323 which preceded it. It looked good, the ride comfort was excellent, and it drove really well. The quality of the interior was lightyears ahead of the E2000. Every switch, button, and lever felt sturdy and solid. As a young gearhead, I enjoyed bringing that car to school during weekend classes. Probably the only thing that spoiled the experience was the four-speed automatic that stifled what the 2.0-liter MZR engine was capable of.
We sold the car more than a decade ago and I haven’t driven a Mazda since then. So, I took the opportunity to experience the brand once again with one of the more stylish vehicles in its stable: the CX-30. When I first laid eyes on the car, I thought the Kodo design treatment worked really well. The elongated hood, squinting headlights, and the extreme rake of the rear end make this car stand out in a market saturated with crossovers.
The interior is an equally inviting place to be in as well. The retro steering wheel has skinny spokes and a small horn button just like those on classic cars. The leather, soft-touch surfaces, and tasteful lashings of chrome and silver trim just give the cabin a premium feel that I did not get in our old Mazda 3. The absence of infotainment controls on the dashboard give it a pleasant minimalist look. If I could fault one thing about the inside, it would be the non-touchscreen display.
The driving feel has also evolved in the CX-30. The six-speed transmission makes good use of the 153 hp available from the Skyactiv-G motor. There is actual feedback from the front wheels through the tiller, something a lot of crossovers no longer have. Although the suspension is a bit on the stiff side, it is compliant and can mitigate body roll while cornering at speed. It is not something I would call sporty. Instead, Mazda’s attention to detail makes the experience behind the wheel an elevated one – like that of a more expensive car.
Admittedly, the CX-30’s price of P1.79 million for the front-wheel drive Sport variant I tested is a bit steep. But seeing firsthand the brand’s evolution from the days of the quirky E2000 to the stylish Mazda 3, I’d say that it is a price worth paying for a product that has benefited from research and development efforts into making a car that tugs on the emotions of the people who drive it.