2020 Mazda CX-30 vs 2021 Chevy Trailblazer: Tiny Tots Go Head To Head
The lifted red hatchback you see in front of you isn’t your daddy’s Trailblazer, and we mean that quite literally. The old truck-based SUV we once knew as the Trailblazer is still long dead. Despite the fact the name gets rebooted for 2021, the new Trailblazer is a small crossover that’s meant to do battle with the likes of the Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek, and, specifically in the case of this comparison, the Mazda CX-30.
The Mazda is a car-based CUV too, sharing its roots with the Mazda 3 hatchback, splitting the difference between the CX-3 and the CX-5 in Mazda’s lineup. The CX-30 featured in this comparison was an AWD model with the Premium package, and it stickered for $31,370. The Trailblazer was also a top-of-the-line model. Our RS-spec test car also came with all-wheel drive and totaled $32,425.
2020 Mazda CX-30 vs 2021 Chevy Trailblazer RS: A Compact Face-off
If you cross-shop cars by price and are looking for a new small SUV, you’re going to have a tough time finding subcompacts that are closer than these two. They pack similar features like blind spot monitoring, Apple CarPlay, and adaptive cruise control. Although they’re closely priced and optioned, the difference between these two SUVs on the road is much larger than the $980 price delta initially suggests. But before you leave your driveway, the Trailblazer reveals itself to be the more spacious SUV of the pair.
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Because the CX-30 is essentially a lifted Mazda 3, it only offers 20.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats, whereas the Trailblazer has 25.3 cubes of free space behind the rear bench. With the rear seats down, the Mazda offers a maximum of 45.2 cubic feet of space. The Trailblazer, on the other hand, has a total of 54.4 cubic feet on offer, and the almost 10 extra cubes of space will not go unnoticed.
Should you need to haul a couple of extra passengers and their extra luggage, you’ll have a much easier time in the Trailblazer. The rear bench is exceptionally spacious for the class—a 6-footer can sit comfortably behind another with knee room to spare. The Mazda struggled to accommodate occupants of average height. If your passengers are any taller than 6 feet, their knees will be digging into the backs of the CX-30’s front seats.
Although it doesn’t help with interior volume, being based on the Mazda 3 does the CX-30 a number of favors, and one of them is the Mazda 3 hatchback’s standout interior. Crack the doors open on these two baby crossovers, and you’re greeted by two very different environments.
2020 Mazda CX-30 vs 2021 Chevy Trailblazer RS: Style and Materials
“The [Trailblazer’s] interior is typical GM parts bin. Lots of hard plastics everywhere and stalks shared with other cars,” MotorTrend associate online editor Stefan Ogbac said. “They were smart to take from the Camaro and Blazer bins, but it still feels kind of cheap in here.”
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The CX-30, meanwhile, oozes quality. The leathers used are some of the best in its class and feel two steps above the vinyl that only covers part of the Trailblazer’s seats (the rest of the Chevy’s seats are cloth-lined). The Mazda’s dash is wrapped in leather, whereas the Chevy’s is a mix of hard and soft plastics. Overall, the simple design and better execution of the CX-30’s cabin make it a more welcoming place to be.
You might not appreciate the Mazda’s fussy infotainment system, though. The Chevy’s touchscreen is borrowed from a number of other GM products and is essentially foolproof. The system is easy to work with and its controls are laid out logically. Mazda, on the other hand, insists drivers exclusively use a scroll wheel to navigate the infotainment display, a disappointing retreat from the last-generation system, which allowed you to touch or scroll. It works fine on paper, but in practice, digging through menus with a wheel takes just as much, if not more, of your attention off the road when compared with simply tapping a nearby screen.
2020 Mazda CX-30 vs 2021 Chevy Trailblazer RS: On the Road
But when your attention is on the road—and not the Mazda’s funky scroll wheel—it becomes clear that it’s not only the nicer SUV to be inside, but the nicer SUV to drive as well.
The little 1.3-liter, three-cylinder engine nested underneath the tiny hood of the Trailblazer only makes 155 horsepower and 174 lb-ft of torque, compared to the Mazda’s 2.5-liter I-4 which makes 186 horses and 186 lb-ft of twist. Neither car logs what you would call a “brisk” 0-60 mph run. The Chevy takes 9.3 seconds, and even though the Mazda is a full second quicker, 8.3 seconds isn’t exactly breakneck speed. We know the CX-30 is getting a turbo and a major power bump for next year, which will widen the gap further.
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The gap already between them gets bigger on the road, but not by much. The Mazda might have more power and torque, but its transmission hunts for gears and is indecisive. Even though the Chevy’s transmission shows more initiative, its engine is so breathless and powerless it makes driving a real chore.
“The (Trailblazer’s) engine doesn’t actually deliver power for all the growling it’s doing. The gas pedal feels flimsy underfoot, and there’s really no sense of throttle response,” MotorTrend editor-in-chief Mark Rechtin said. “It feels almost disconnected from the engine and transmission. I would feel very nervous passing somebody on an uphill grade in this vehicle, as the power just doesn’t come.”
Power isn’t the only part of the Trailblazer that disappoints, though. The Chevy drives with all the precision of a pool noodle. Its lifeless steering makes turning a guessing game, and the rack is so eager to recenter that it often pulls you off your desired line. That might not seem like a fair criticism to level at a class of vehicles that isn’t traditionally known for strong dynamics, but the CX-30’s helm is sharp enough to bely its SUV styling.
The ride on both cars could use some work, but we preferred the slightly more buttoned-down feel of the Mazda. It’s higher-quality interior also proved to be more supportive, more insulating, and a more comfortable place to be. The Trailblazer, on the other hand, feels cheap but not cheerful. Even during relaxed driving, it seemingly assaults its occupants with unnecessary noise and vibration.
“There is a ton of road noise coming into the Trailblazer, both from the tires and the whoosh of air in the wheel wells, as well as any low frequency clunk in the pavement. This is a loud car inside,” Rechtin said. “And what about this huge blind spot? The C- and D-pillars are one giant pillar, there is no rear quarter window. The entirety of the Mazda was hidden in the Chevy’s blind spot. That is unacceptable.”
He’s not wrong. The Trailblazer might be more spacious and have a more intuitive infotainment setup, but it’s compromised everywhere else. The interior is a mishmash of plastics you don’t want to look at or touch, the instrument cluster is too small and too difficult to read, and the driving dynamics are utterly unremarkable.
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If cargo capacity is the most important concern you have when buying a car, the Chevy still doesn’t add up. There are better, more spacious subcompact SUVs out there that will satisfy your space needs for far less money. The Mazda, despite its diminutive size and quirks, is the better subcompact SUV here. It’s more comfortable on rough tarmac, more luxurious inside, better from behind the wheel, and last but not least, it’s still less expensive than the Chevy.
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