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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

6 Mar 2020

This a small SUV comparison with a difference. Why? Because one of these cars is not necessarily like the others. Two of the vehicles here are premium-branded SUVs, and one is a challenger.

Mazda Australia is pushing upmarket with the new CX-30 model, which we’ve got here in top spec G25 Astina trim. And up against it? The all-new Audi Q3 35 TFSi - its first appearance in a CarsGuide comparison test - and our reigning pint-size premium SUV champion, the Volvo XC40, which we’ve got in entry-level Momentum spec.

A Mazda up against and Audi and a Volvo? It's a closer contest than you might think. A Mazda up against and Audi and a Volvo? It's a closer contest than you might think.

All three of these models have a starting list price tag in the $40,000 range, and they are all petrol powered, automatic, and two-wheel drive

Both the Audi and Volvo have a bunch of optional extras fitted that nudge their prices considerably, but the Mazda is almost box-fresh. However, we’re aiming to assess these models not so much on the glittery added bits, but the way they perform in other ways. We’ll assess each of these models against a range of criteria to help you decide which deserves to be on your shopping list. Let’s get to it.

 

Design

We all know that styling is subjective - there’s a good chance the exterior design of one of these particular cars will excite you more than the others. You’ll make up your own mind about which you like the look of most. 

The Mazda CX-30 is an eye-catching piece of automotive styling, with its sleek, laid-back design clearly going against the expectations of a lot of small SUVs. No-one could accuse it of being boxy, and in fact it looks a bit hatch-like. Very hatch-like. Maybe too hatch-like. As a few of our testers commented, if you didn’t know Mazda claimed it was an SUV, you might just think it was a hatchback that sits a bit higher than the Mazda3. It’s just the expansive black plastic cladding that gives it away as a crossover model, and it arguably doesn’t look that premium. 

The interior of the Mazda has a couple of downfalls in terms of design elements, like the fact that it’s just physically so much more cramped than its competitors. You’re paying a fair price for not much real estate, and while it is well presented and mostly well designed in terms of its ergonomics, there are some details we can’t help but question. 

The media system, for instance, is arguably the car’s great usability quibble. While Mazda has gone to great lengths to make it so the screen is crisp, neat, and doesn’t eat into your forward vision too much, it isn’t touch-capacitive at all, and that means using smartphone mirroring tech - Apple CarPlay and Android Auto - is tedious. You need to use a rotary dial for something that’s designed with touch in mind. And also, we had several issues connecting an iPhone to the system at all, plus some issues with an Android Samsung, too. 

  • The Audi Q3 is so much more substantial looking in this generation. The Audi Q3 is so much more substantial looking in this generation.
  • It is a more mature and grown-up looking car. It is a more mature and grown-up looking car.
  • The Mazda CX-30 is an eye-catching piece of automotive styling. The Mazda CX-30 is an eye-catching piece of automotive styling.
  • No-one could accuse it of being boxy, and in fact it looks a bit hatch-like. No-one could accuse it of being boxy, and in fact it looks a bit hatch-like.
  • The Volvo XC40 is a charming and boxy little number. The Volvo XC40 is a charming and boxy little number.
  • Its sharp design lines help it look luxurious but also masculine. Its sharp design lines help it look luxurious but also masculine.

For an all-new media system, it’s launching well behind the pack - it’s the only one of this trio without wireless phone charging, too. There are 2x USBs up front, however.

The Audi Q3 is so much more substantial looking in this generation, without that bubble-butt look of the first-gen model. It is a more mature and grown-up looking car, but still undeniably an SUV in its styling cues (even if our test vehicle had the colour-coded exterior trim sections around the wheel arches), and unlike some other recent Audis, it certainly doesn’t look too same-same alongside the other SUVs in the range. It’s big, too, but it carries its size well - we’ll get to that below. 

One thing we really appreciate about the Q3 is its design smarts inside the cabin. Everything is super easy to learn, with controls all placed where they should be, simpler menus to scroll through on the digital driver info displays, and a much more familiar experience overall. Add to that the brilliance of a second-row sliding seat, and this is a compelling option for design-conscious buyers. But as with the Mazda, we had some connectivity issues in the Audi, including problems with the wireless CarPlay and issues with hard-wired Android connections.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again - the Volvo XC40 is a charming and boxy little number. Those signature Thor’s Hammer headlights and its sharp design lines help it look luxurious but also masculine, and it was arguably the people’s pick of these three SUVs when it came to overall design. Super sophisticated, even as a base model car. 

The Volvo’s media system design could be better, though. It doesn’t have hard buttons for the ventilation or temperature controls, and some of our testers found the menus of the screen a little hard to come to grips with. It does take some learning, there’s no doubt about that.

  • The Mazda's interior is well presented and mostly well designed in terms of its ergonomics. The Mazda's interior is well presented and mostly well designed in terms of its ergonomics.
  • One thing we really appreciate about the Q3 is its design smarts inside the cabin. One thing we really appreciate about the Q3 is its design smarts inside the cabin.
  • The Volvo’s doesn’t have hard buttons for the ventilation or temperature controls. The Volvo’s doesn’t have hard buttons for the ventilation or temperature controls.

Also requiring a rethink of what you normally do is that gear selector, which takes two pushes to engage drive or reverse, and can be a bit annoying - especially when you’re parking the car or doing a three-point turn.

All those little design quirks aside, there’s also the physical dimensions of these three SUVs to consider.

In order to make it clear just how much difference there is between these three in terms of size, here’s a table with the key dimensions of these models. There’s less than 100mm (10 centimetres) nose to tail and tyre to turret, but there’s a big width difference.

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Length

4485mm

4395mm

4425mm

Wheelbase

2677mm

2655mm

2702mm

Width

1849mm

1795mm

1910mm

Height

1640mm

1540mm

1652mm

Wheels

19-inch (as optioned)

18-inch

18-inch

Tyres

Goodyear Eagle F1 235/50/19

Dunlop SP Sport Maxx 215/55/18

Pirelli P Zero 

235/55/18

As for interior design and packaging, there’s a fair bit to talk about - namely that the Mazda feels considerably more compact than its rivals, which both seemingly manage to package more space into their dimensions than seems physically possible. You should be able to tell the biggest differences in the interior photos in the section below.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI8
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina7
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum7

Practicality

Some brands manage to package so much into their compact SUVs, and two of these models have huge boot space volumes on paper. Here are the figures you need to know: 

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Boot capacity

530 litres (VDA)

317 litres (VDA)

460 litres (VDA)

Spare wheel

Space saver

Space saver

Space saver

We were surprised to see that all 255 litres of CarsGuide luggage was easily able to fit in all three of these models, despite the Mazda having a seemingly small claimed capacity. It comes down to the shape - the boot in the CX-30 is nice and square, deep and tall for its volume. The Volvo’s boot is nicely sorted, flat and wide, where the Q3 had a taller boot floor and a bit of a shallower space overall - but it has a trick up its sleeve. Or in its back seat, more correctly.

That’s because the Q3 is the only one of these three with a sliding second-row 60:40 seat, which can either improve your back-seat space or improve the amount of cargo capacity you have at your disposal. In the most cargo-friendly mode, you’d barely be able to fit a human in the back; in the most passenger-friendly mode, adults my size (182cm) can easily fit behind similarly sized people in front.

  • The Q3 had a taller boot floor and a bit of a shallower space overall. The Q3 had a taller boot floor and a bit of a shallower space overall.
  • The Audi's boot volume is the largest of the three at 530 litres (VDA). The Audi's boot volume is the largest of the three at 530 litres (VDA).
  • The boot in the CX-30 is nice and square, deep and tall for its volume. The boot in the CX-30 is nice and square, deep and tall for its volume.
  • The Mazda has the smallest cargo capacity at 317 litres (VDA). The Mazda has the smallest cargo capacity at 317 litres (VDA).
  • The Volvo’s boot is nicely sorted, flat and wide. The Volvo’s boot is nicely sorted, flat and wide.
  • The XC40 gets 460 litres (VDA). The XC40 gets 460 litres (VDA).

The Q3’s back seat was found to be a little flat in terms of comfort, but there was easily enough head, shoulder, leg and toe room for two adults in the back. The Q3 was the only car here without map pockets, but it had bottle holders in the doors and a flip down armrest with cupholders. It also offers back-seaters the chance to stay charged, with 2x USB-C ports and a 12-volt outlet, and like the other cars here, it has rear-seat directional air vents. 

Next best for back seat space was the Volvo XC40. It offers impressive levels of space for adults and kids, and while it doesn’t have the same sliding seat smarts as the Q3 there are nice elements such as a single USB-C port, dual mesh map pockets and lovely carpeted storage in the doors, which will no doubt stop things rattling around, but could be a pain if you spill a drink. 

While occupant space was good in the XC40, it felt more like the seat had been designed with child seat fitment in mind (all three models have dual outboard ISOFIX and three top-tether baby seat restraints). The seat was a bit firm, according to our testers, with a lack of padding in the seat base. But “headroom was excellent even with the optional panoramic roof”, and “it felt wider, more airy and more long-distance drivable” in the back than the other two.

Worst for rear seat space was the Mazda CX-30, which felt positively cramped compared to the other vehicles here. It feels exactly as compact as its dimensions suggest it should - and that could be perfectly fine if you’re a couple without kids or maybe just a pet dog, but our back-seat testers (down to 168cm) weren’t at all happy in the Mazda. It had the least headroom, the least knee room, the least shoulder space and the smallest windows in the back, all of which made it feel rather unpleasant. Even with the ‘stadium seating’ that sits up high to allow you a view, the comfort just wasn’t there. 

The Mazda was also the only one of this trio without any form of rear seat charging capability, and unlike the other cars here it had soft material seatbacks rather than hard-wearing plastic - an important consideration for those with youngsters (I felt every move of my rear passenger’s knees on our drive loop). 

  • Everything up front in the Q3 feels of a very high quality overall. Everything up front in the Q3 feels of a very high quality overall.
  • The Q3’s back seat was found to be a little flat in terms of comfort. The Q3’s back seat was found to be a little flat in terms of comfort.
  • The CX-30 was found to be a bit claustrophobic up front. The CX-30 was found to be a bit claustrophobic up front.
  • The Mazda CX-30 felt cramped compared to the other vehicles here. The Mazda CX-30 felt cramped compared to the other vehicles here.
  • The Volvo’s front-cabin was aptly described as “elegant” by one of our testers. The Volvo’s front-cabin was aptly described as “elegant” by one of our testers.
  • The Volvo XC40 offers impressive levels of space for adults and kids. The Volvo XC40 offers impressive levels of space for adults and kids.

Now, let’s move to the front seats.

In the Q3 everything falls to hand nicely, and it feels of a very high quality overall. It’s easy to get used to, even though the flush-fit touch screen is out of the ordinary in terms of its design. It has 1x USB and 1x USB-C port up front, as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (but not wireless). As mentioned, we had a number of issues with the screen when reconnecting a previously paired phone. 

But the controls - ventilation, media - are easy to discern, and that you don’t need to go through the screen to change the temperature or fan speed is a welcome element.

Our testers wished for a little more side bolster in the front seats, and a larger centre console bin would have been nice, too, though there are cup holders between the seats, a couple of reasonable storage caddies and bottle holders in the doors.

The Volvo’s front-cabin was aptly described as “elegant” by one of our testers, and another said it offered “a much more interesting interior to be in”. 

Part of that comes down to the aforementioned media screen, but also the finishes on the dashboard, the trim materials and the overall design of the cockpit certainly made the XC40 stand out. 

It ticked the boxes for storage, too, with a big centre console bin with a removable rubbish trough, huge door pockets (again, flocked with carpet), and good storage generally apart from a small glove box. There are 2x USBs up front, too, but no wireless smartphone mirroring. 

The seats were comfortable and offered good adjustment, and the general impression our testers felt was the most resounding was that “there’s nothing try-hard” about the cabin. 

The CX-30 was - again - found to be pretty claustrophobic up front, lacking the airy feel of the other two SUVs here. In fact, all of our testers remarked on how small the door apertures are, and your humble scribe even bashed his head getting out of the CX-30’s driver’s seat (I’m not even that big!). 

But it was found to feel plush and premium, with nice materials, a neat - but in some ways a bit unfinished looking especially away from your eye-line - dashboard design, and clever touches such as soft padding on the transmission tunnel to stop you from banging your knees. 

The CX-30’s front seats were the most body-hugging of these three, and the storage was decent with two cup holders, a small storage section in front, big door pockets and an average centre console bin.

The media system - as discussed in the design section above - also played a part in our discussions on the CX-30’s cabin. It was a big talking point, and despite its plush look and feel, this is where the Mazda fell behind. 

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI9
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina6
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum8

Value

Price may not be too important to you if you’re willing to spend more than forty grand on a small SUV. Maybe it’ll be a second or third car for your family, or a sole vehicle to live your urban lifestyle… it’s still important to position where each of these SUVs sits on the cost spectrum.

How much is an Audi Q3? What about a price list for the Mazda CX-30? And the price range for a Volvo XC40? We will run through each of the models below.

Let’s start at the most affordable SUV here, which is the Mazda CX-30. The CX-30 range starts from $29,990, and goes up to $43,490. These prices are RRP, or MSRP - they don’t include on-road costs, so these aren’t “driveaway” prices. You can always check out AutoTrader.com.au to see what deals are being done.

Now, the model we had on test was the CX-30 G25 Astina 2WD, which has a list price of $41,490 +ORCs. The AWD version - not available at the time of testing - is the flagship at $2000 more. Our car was optioned with metallic paint ($495) and floor mats ($195), meaning an as-tested price of $42,180.

The next most expensive is the Audi Q3. The range starts at $46,400 plus on-roads for the Q3 35 TFSI we have here - so, a roughly 10 per cent step up in price over the Mazda. The range will expand at a later date, but this - and a limited-run Launch Edition - is the only Q3 you can get at the time of writing.

Now we all know that premium brands like to offer customers plenty of options, and our vehicle was no exception. As tested, the Q3 35 TFSI we were driving was a $52,150 plus on-road costs proposition. Youch. It was equipped with metallic paint ($1250 - not sure why European paint costs so much more than Japanese paint…), plus the $2600 Comfort Package (electric front seats with electric lumbar support and heating, heated and folding exterior mirrors with kerb-side dipping, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and adaptive cruise assist with emergency assist). It also had the Style package 1 ($1900), including full colour-coded bumpers and wheel-arches, 19-inch alloy wheels and interior silver aluminium inlays.

  • The Mazda's 8.8-inch multimedia system has Apple Car play and Android Auto, but it's not a touch screen. The Mazda's 8.8-inch multimedia system has Apple Car play and Android Auto, but it's not a touch screen.
  • The Q3's 10.1-inch multimedia system is touch screen which works better with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Q3's 10.1-inch multimedia system is touch screen which works better with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • The Volvo has a 9.0-inch vertical touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Volvo has a 9.0-inch vertical touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The most expensive model on test is the Volvo XC40 Momentum, which has a start price of $46,990 and ranges up to $56,990 for the flagship. Our model gets the entry-level T4 powertrain with 2WD, and that’s what you get for $46,990. 

Our test vehicle had a number of options that pushed the as-tested price up to $54,890, as it had a number of options, including: the $1000 Momentum Comfort Pack (electric adjustment for passenger seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, front seat cushion extension); the $3000 Lifestyle Pack (panoramic sunroof, tinted windows at the rear, and a Harman/Kardon sound system; the $2000 Momentum Technology Pack (with 360-degree camera, semi-autonomous parking, power-folding rear headrests, adaptive LED Headlights, ambient interior lighting; metallic paint ($1150); and leather accent upholstery comfort seats ($750).

So, there is some disparity when it comes to prices, but we aimed to keep other things a bit more equal: all three models here are front-wheel drive, petrol, automatic, and while they mightn’t be directly competing on price, here’s how they stack up for standard features:

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Built-in sat nav

Y

Y

Y

Apple CarPlay

Y

Y

Android Auto

Y

Y

Y

Infotainment screen size

10.1-inch horizontal

8.8-inch horizontal, not touch capacitive

9.0-inch vertical

USB ports

4 (3x USB-C)

2

3 (1x USB-C)

CD player

 N

N

N

DAB digital radio

Y

Y

 Y

Speakers

6

12

8

Wireless phone charging (Qi)

Y

N

Y

Here are some of the inclusions these particular models have. Note how much gear the Mazda packs in for the money:

 

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Seat trim

Leather-appointed

Leather

Artificial leather

Electric driver’s seat adjustment

Optional

Y

Y

Electric passenger’s seat adjustment

Optional

N

Optional

Driver’s seat memory settings

N

Y

Y

Leather steering wheel

Y

Y

Y

Heated front seats

Optional

Y

Optional

Heating steering wheel

N

Y

Optional

Auto dimming rear-view mirror

Optional

Y

Y

Auto-dimming side mirrors

N

Y

Y

Climate control

Y

Y

Y

Rear air vents

Y

Y

Y

Keyless entry / smart key

Y

Y

Y

Push button start

Y

Y

Y

Adaptive cruise control

Optional

Y

Y

And some of the standard-fit exterior differentiators of each of these models:

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Alloy wheels

18-inch (19s fitted)

18-inch

18-inch

Tyre pressure monitoring

Y

Y

Y

Roof rails

Y

N

Y

Headlights

LED

LED

LED

Daytime running lights

LED

LED

LED

Auto headlights

Y

Y

Y

Power tailgate 

Y

Y

Y

Sunroof

Optional

Standard

Optional

It’s clear the Mazda argues a very strong case on value - we always knew that would be the case. The CX-30 ticks a lot of boxes, even if it’s still expensive for a small mainstream-branded SUV. And the Volvo - while being the most expensive - ticks the second-most number of boxes. The Audi really requires you to tick a few more option boxes to get that up-spec experience. 

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI6
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina8
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum7

Engine and transmission

Which is the horsepower hero of this bunch? We’ve got a detailed rundown on the engine specs below - and there are some pretty big differences between these three vehicles when it comes to power outputs and torque figures.

  • There's a 1.4-litre turbo engine in the Q3. There's a 1.4-litre turbo engine in the Q3.
  • The Volvo has a punchy 2.0-litre turbo. The Volvo has a punchy 2.0-litre turbo.
  • There's a non-turbo 2.5L in the Mazda. There's a non-turbo 2.5L in the Mazda.

They’re all powered by four-cylinder petrol engines, but the displacement (engine size) varies greatly between the three. From the downsized 1.4-litre turbo in the Q3, to the punchy 2.0-litre turbo in the Volvo, to the non-turbo 2.5L in the Mazda, there are some very different approaches here. 

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Engine 

1.4-litre turbo four-cylinder

2.5-litre four-cylinder

2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder

Power

110kW (at 5000-6000rpm)

139kW (at 6000rpm)

140kW (at 4700rpm)

Torque

250Nm (at 1500-3500rpm)

252Nm (at 4000rpm)

300Nm (at 1400-4000rpm)

Transmission

Six-speed dual-clutch automatic

Six-speed automatic

Eight-speed automatic

Drivetrain

FWD

FWD

FWD

Kerb weight

1560kg

1388kg

1631kg

0-100 km/h acceleration

9.6sec

8.7sec

8.4sec

Towing capacity (braked / unbraked)

750kg / 1800kg 

600kg / 1200kg

750kg / 1800kg

How do the drivetrains perform in the real world? You’ll find out below, but based on the numbers, the Volvo punches pretty hard, even if it has more mass to move.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI7
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina7
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum8

Fuel consumption

There are no hybrid or plug-in hybrid models in this test, but fuel economy could still play a big part in your decision making process. And it was surprisingly close between these three SUVs.

The table below shows you the official combined fuel consumption figures (a guide to what each model should use across a mix of driving), as well as what we saw in our real world testing that encompassed urban, highway and back road driving. 

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Official combined fuel use

7.2L/100km

6.6L/100km

7.2L/100km

Actual use on test 

9.3L/100km

8.2L/100km

9.1L/100km

Percentage over claimed fuel use

29 per cent

24 per cent

26 per cent

Fuel tank capacity

58 litres

51 litres

54 litres

Theoretical mileage range (calculated on actual use)

623km

621km

593km

Required fuel type

95RON premium unleaded

91RON regular unleaded

95RON premium unleaded

The Mazda was the most efficient, yes, but it was very close between all three when it came to how far over their claimed consumption these vehicles fell. All of them were decent on fuel considering what we put them through, but the Mazda was the best.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI7
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina8
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum7

Driving

For this test we’re splitting our drive impressions into two sections - first, my thoughts, and second, the comments of our guest reviewer, Peter Parnousis. Peter won a competition as part of CarsGuide’s Tools in the Shed podcast that saw him join us to test these three SUVs. And given some of his insights, we might have to get him back!

Peter was an ideal candidate to be part of this test, because he’s thinking about downsizing from his Calais into a small SUV like one of these. He told us that he’d thought about the Mazda CX-30, wasn’t sure about the XC40, and hadn’t really considered the Audi Q3. 

There was no off road review testing conducted, as all of these models are front-wheel drive (2WD) - instead, we focused mainly on urban and suburban duties, where these sorts of cars will typically spend most of their time. 

Ground clearance wasn’t a huge consideration, though the Mazda sits considerably lower (175mm ground clearance), and the Audi sits a bit higher (191mm) while the XC40 is up there in kerb-jumping territory (211mm).

If turning circle diameter matters to you - you might be an inner city dweller or someone who needs to do a lot of U-turns or reverse parks - the Mazda could be your best bet: it has a comparatively compact 10.6m turning circle, compared with the Volvo at 11.4m, and the Audi, which has a seemingly oversized turning circle of 11.8m.

Here we go!

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

The new Audi Q3 is an SUV that feels a lot more mature than the previous generation, with a more advanced and comfortable drive experience for everyone in the cabin than its competitors in this test.

Its ride was nicely composed both around town and on the open road, where it felt really balanced in corners, and the driver was rewarded with steering that offered good feel and directness, while the action was never too heavy, or too light. It was not necessarily exciting to drive, but it was very predictable, grippy and enjoyable, with no unexpected surprises. 

The Q3's ride was nicely composed both around town and on the open road. The Q3's ride was nicely composed both around town and on the open road.

Its engine may be low on power and torque in this company based on the engine outputs, but it never felt too underdone - even with four adults on board it was adequate in its acceleration, though there was a little bit of lag getting on and off the throttle. 

The dual-clutch automatic mightn’t be to all tastes, but we found the six-speed transmission was far better behaved than other Audis we’ve driven previously, without too much low speed hesitation. It snap-shifted between gears at pace, and held gears cleverly when it needed to rely on the engine’s torque rather than upshifting to save fuel. There was a very slight penalty to pay based on our fuel figures, but there’s so little in it we wouldn’t really consider it a deal breaker.

The ease of use of the Q3, combined with very agreeable driving manners, terrific refinement and top-notch comfort meant the Audi was the pick of our testers when it came to overall driving enjoyment and comfort. 

Around town it stood out as composed, if a little firm at the rear axle over very sharp bumps. While on the highway it was superb, settling into a high-speed groove with supreme ease - being tuned with Autobahns in mind is to thank for that.

Our guest tester Peter agreed the Audi had the fewest negatives - his biggest gripe was the steering wheel being too skinny, which he admitted was “nitpicking”. 

He said he found the seats very comfortable, the interior room immense, and he liked that the doors had a nice heft to them, closing with a reassuring thump. He appreciated the multimedia and instrumentation clusters, both of which added to the excellent interior space that was both well appointed and luxurious.

Peter said he thought the Q3 drove very well, and he found the engine to be responsive when the turbo spooled up. Peter said he thought the Q3 drove very well, and he found the engine to be responsive when the turbo spooled up.

Peter said he thought the Q3 drove very well, and he found the engine to be responsive when the turbo spooled up.

“Overall, I found the Audi Q3 to be the pick of the bunch with the least compromises. In fact, in my search for a new car, I didn’t bother looking at Audi (or BMW / Mercedes for that matter) because of the ridiculous three-year warranty - but actually driving it changed my mind. I am seriously considering it,” he said.

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

This test was ultimately about trying to find out if the Mazda CX30 lived up to the standards of the other cars here in terms of luxury, performance, refinement - and to be honest, it simply didn’t. 

That’s partly due to the suspension setup, which is a lot firmer than its rivals, and as a result you feel a lot more of the little bumps in the road surface - bumps that weren’t picked up in the others. Now, you might not care about that. If ride comfort doesn’t even factor into your equations when it comes to a new car - and there’s a good chance that maybe you’ve owned a Mazda already and that’s why you considering this car - then you might find the ride is perfectly acceptable. But to us - in this test against the criteria of being a luxury compact SUV experience - it just wasn’t good enough.

The suspension setup on the Mazda was a lot firmer than its rivals. The suspension setup on the Mazda was a lot firmer than its rivals.

The plus side to its firm suspension setup is in corners, because it feels quite eager through the bends. It’s really involving, the steering is excellent in that situation because it offers the driver feedback from the road that is unmatched by its rivals. However, it had by far the worst brake pedal feel and progression, feeling both wooden and spongey.

Further, the engine start-up rumble, the at-idle refinement, and the generally level of vibration and crunchiness through the chassis couldn’t match the others. 

The 2.5-litre engine is large for a car of this size but it doesn’t quite have the same level of on-the-roll refinement and urge that the other turbocharged cars in this test give you. But it does feel speedier and more nimble because of its chassis tune and rev-happy engine, and while the transmission is eager to upshift in general driving, flicking it to ‘Sport’ mode allows it a little more freedom to explore the rev range. If sportiness is your benchmark for a luxury experience, the CX-30 will impress you. But if you’re considering it like we are, with expectations around the refinement, comfort, quietness and plushness that you expect of a compact SUV in this price range, the CX-30 just doesn’t quite make it.

One of the other little annoyances is the driver-side mirror, which is not convex, and it can mean it’s very hard to see what’s behind you on the driver’s side. Also, the mirrors are quite large, so if you’re coming out of an intersection and can be hard to see because the windows are quite small, too. 

Peter’s thoughts on the CX-30 related both to the rear seat experience and the way it drove. 

“The Mazda had horrible rear leg and head room, which is kind of important for an SUV. And the infotainment screen is okay, but it’s a bit small and not a touch screen.” 

The CX-30 does feel speedy and nimble because of its chassis tune and rev-happy engine. The CX-30 does feel speedy and nimble because of its chassis tune and rev-happy engine.

However, as Peter eagerly pointed out, the CX-30 was the only example to be fitted with a head-up display, which worked great - and that the exact same HUD is fitted on every CX-30 in the range is a big plus for it. 

He reckoned the fit and finish was excellent, the instrumentation cluster was clean and well presented, and most importantly, "it drove like a Mazda". 

“I owned a 2011 Mazda 6 and I got the same feels driving this. Very impressive. However, the brakes just weren’t up to the job.” 

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

The Volvo XC40 felt the softest and most passenger focused of these three, with its suspension more focused on comfort and cruising than control over bumps. The suspension isn’t as tied down feeling when you change direction, with a bit more body shift and tilt, but in day-to-day driving, around town, over speed humps, in back streets, it was supple and comfy.

The Volvo XC40's suspension was more focused on comfort and cruising than control over bumps. The Volvo XC40's suspension was more focused on comfort and cruising than control over bumps.

It felt taller and heavier than its rivals in this test (both of which are true), but it had direct and light steering that got quicker in its reactions the faster you went. At lower speeds it’s easy to predict if a bit vague in its response, while at higher pace it’ll tick the boxes of those who like to tuck in tight when cornering.

The engine in the XC40 was zesty, especially in the Dynamic drive mode. It was the only car of this trio with a range of selectable drive modes, including an off-road setting. Our test was strictly on the blacktop, and the engine and transmission performed decently, with enough power to get out of trouble in all situations. 

Compared with the Mazda, the engine in the Volvo was simply a lot more refined and urgent when called upon. The auto gearbox was well behaved at low speeds, and never made mistakes at higher pace either.

The engine in the XC40 was zesty, especially in the Dynamic drive mode. The engine in the XC40 was zesty, especially in the Dynamic drive mode.

However, the gear selector requires more effort than is necessary, and as mentioned before, it can be very annoying when you’re shifting between drive and reverse - meaning parking moves and manoeuvring around town can be frustrating. 

The general quietness and level of sophistication offered in the Volvo was excellent. It truly felt like a luxury experience for the driver and other occupants for the most part, while it didn’t offer any excitement like the CX-30 or the level of balance and cornering control of the Audi.

Guest reviewer Peter had similar concerns over the shifter, labelling it “finicky” and something that “made life way harder than it needed to be”. 

Peter also found the rear seat to be very firm and uncomfortable to the point where a long trip would be “undesirable”. But he said he thought the interior space was excellent, while the instrumentation and infotainment systems were “really good with crisp and clear graphics”. 

When it came to driving, he thought the brakes were grabby and difficult to operate smoothly. But that’s the only complaint he had when it came to the Volvo’s driving manners.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI8
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina6
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum8

Safety

The safety specifications of these three models is very close - each brand has taken a strong approach to safety technology, as you can see in the table below:

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Auto emergency braking (AEB)

Yes - front only 

Yes - front and rear

Yes - front and rear

Pedestrian detection

Yes

Yes

Yes

Cyclist detection

Yes

Yes

Yes

Lane departure warning

Yes

Yes

Yes

Lane keeping assist

Yes

Yes

Yes

Blind spot monitoring

Yes

Yes

Yes

Front cross traffic alert

No

Yes

Yes

Rear cross traffic alert

Yes

Yes

Yes

Adaptive cruise control

Optional

Yes

Yes

Parking camera 

Reversing

360-degree

Reversing 

Parking sensors

Front and rear

Front and rear

Front and rear

Autonomous parking

Optional

No

Optional

Driver fatigue detection

Yes

Yes

Yes

Traffic sign recognition

No

Yes

Yes

Airbag count

6

7

7

ANCAP score

5 stars - 2018

5 stars - 2019

5 stars - 2018

The Mazda - again - packs a lot of equipment in for the money. It’s the only one here with a standard surround view camera, though you can option that tech on the Audi and Volvo. 

That said, on balance the Q3 falls behind its rivals against the safety kit criteria. The others are too close to split.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI7
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina9
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum9

Ownership

There are some differentiating factors when it comes to ownership of each of these models. 

If you value a long warranty and lower servicing costs, the Mazda is going to be hard to beat - being a mainstream brand, it has to offer that mass market appeal that luxury brands often choose to ignore. However, if you cover big kilometres, its shorter service intervals could be frustrating.

Further, if you appreciate the ability to roll your servicing into the finance or total cost of the car - prepayment is all the rage in the luxury segment - then the Volvo and Audi could stand out a little, even if they work out more expensive to own. 

Here’s a rundown on how these three compare on the ownership front:

 

Audi Q3 35 TFSI

Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina

Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum

Warranty

Three years/unlimited kilometres

Five years/unlimited kilometres

Three years/unlimited kilometres

Servicing intervals

12 months/15,000km

12 months/10,000km

12 month/15,000km

Pre-purchase service plan available?

Three years ($1610) or five years ($2630)

No

Three years/45,000km ($1595)

Servicing costs (average over three years)

$536.66

$329.66

$531.66

Roadside assistance included?

Three years/unlimited kilometres

Five years/unlimited kilometres

Three years/unlimited kilometres

If you’re worried about problems, issues, complaints, resale value and reliability, head to our problems pages for each of these models: Audi Q3 problems, Mazda CX-30 problems, Volvo XC40 problems.

If you are concerned about resale value, we ran the numbers and here’s what we found. After three years/50,000km, the Audi Q3 35 TFSI was expected to retain 55 per cent of its purchase price, which was the same prediction as the Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum. The Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina was predicted to retain 54 per cent of its start price. 

We can’t help but think the consumables involved in owning the Mazda will be less expensive than the two Euros, and the fact it has a longer warranty and roadside plan helps it top its rivals here.

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI7
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina8
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum7

 

Verdict

This was one of the closest comparison tests we’ve ever done, and the fact is - if you choose any of these three models, you’re not going to lose. They’re all very good, and while the Mazda isn’t a luxury car, it does offer some premium traits - it’s a trend the premium brands will need to watch as more and more mainstream models push upmarket.

Indeed, they’re all excellent in their own ways: the Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina is hugely competitive on price and equipment; the Audi Q3 35 TFSI nails the brief for practicality and driving manners; and the Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum is a family-friendly compact SUV with real luxury feel to it. 

Overall scores:

ModelScore
Audi Q3 35 TFSI7.4
Mazda CX-30 G25 Astina7.4
Volvo XC40 T4 Momentum7.6


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