The 2020 Mazda CX-30 has its work cut out for it. The small crossover will have to pick up the slack of the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, which have seen sales dip more than 20 percent through October. In addition to positioning the CX-30 as one of its volume models, Mazda also hopes it can win conquest buyers from competitor brands with its latest offering. We recently chatted with Naohito Saga, program manager for the 2020 Mazda CX-30, who explained to us the key goals for the new SUV that is expected to attract a broader range of buyers.

Saga-san tells us that in the subcompact SUV segment, if you want practicality you often have to sacrifice style, and if you want style, you have no room for people and/or gear. You need to have a blend of both, according to Saga-san, in order to satisfy the consumer. As a result, Mazda paid extra attention to the interior packaging to keep the CX-30 practical while making sure the vehicle looks attractive. “Design is our strength. We don’t want to compromise that in favor of practicality,” said Saga-san. “We have to ensure that our vehicle has clear advantages over its competitors.”

On the topic of size, Saga-san says that the 2020 Mazda CX-30 has the ideal dimensions for those looking to transition to an SUV from a compact car. Its exterior footprint, for instance, mirrors that of a compact hatchback to make it easier to maneuver in places with narrow streets and limited parking. Although Saga-san doesn’t expect the CX-30 to sell in big numbers here like it does in Europe and Japan, he hopes that Mazda’s right-sizing strategy, which is well-received in markets where the vehicle is already sold, will also succeed in the U.S. To cater to American tastes, Mazda added 27mm (roughly an inch) more ground clearance to the CX-30s sold here.

Mazda’s focus on giving consumers a more premium experience continues with the CX-30. Like the recently revealed Mazda3, the CX-30 has an interior that feels more expensive than its price tag would suggest. Mazda looked at luxury-badged subcompact SUVs during the CX-30’s development. The new Mazda has features like an available power tailgate, which is usually found on more expensive subcompact SUVs wearing luxury nameplates.

With car sales on the decline, subcompact SUVs have become more important, and Mazda is no exception to that trend. Saga-san sees the 2020 CX-30 as one of the gateway models to Mazda’s SUV lineup. “Even if the customer doesn’t buy a CX-30, I hope that it also leads to the sale of our other SUVs,” he said. “We want this vehicle to attract more than just Mazda fans and car enthusiasts.”

Think of the 2020 Mazda CX-30 as the new “replacement” for the compact car. Although not all consumers are moving toward SUVs, the majority are, and vehicles like the CX-30 that split the difference between car and SUV could be well-positioned for the switch. Mazda doesn’t see the CX-30 taking over as its best-seller but expects it to complement the CX-5 as Mazda3 sales decline along with demand for traditional sedans and hatchbacks.

The 2020 Mazda CX-30 goes on sale next month with a starting price of $22,945 for the base front-drive model. Add $1,400 if you want all-wheel drive. A 186-hp 2.5-liter I-4 paired to a six-speed automatic transmission will be the sole powertrain combination until the 2.0-liter Skyactiv-X engine arrives.

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