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2024 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands vs. Mazda CX-30 Turbo AWD Premium Plus - Opposites Attract

We compare two of the best compact crossover SUVs. Each has its own strengths. Which is your better choice, the Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus or the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands?


Among the plethora of compact five-passenger crossover SUVs are two standouts. The Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus and the Ford Bronco Sport Badlands. Each is very popular, and both brands sell as many as they can produce for U.S. consumers. These two vehicles have much in common despite looking quite different from one another. Let’s compare and contrast these two segment leaders and see which is best at what. We won't tell you which you should buy, but we hope we can offer some of our own experiences from testing along with facts and figures so you can make the best decision for yourself.

Related StoryFord Bronco Sport Is Not Smaller Than The Bronco Where It Matters Most - A Dimensional Analysis

Image of Mazda CX-30 and Ford Bronco Sport by John GorehamHow Do We Know About the Mazda CX-5 and Bronco Sport?
In total, we have spent approximately four weeks testing the Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus, in one-week stretches. We have tested the Bronco Sport Badlands and the similar First Edition trim in total for about seven weeks. Therefore, aside from those who own both, we feel we have the best possible understanding of the two models, their personalities, and how they perform in real-world environments. Your author owns a Broncos Sport Badlands, and we have driven the Mazda CX-30 back to back with it. 

Ford Bronco Sport Badlands- What Is It? Why Buy It?
The Ford Bronco Sport is a compact five-passenger vehicle easy to call an SUV. The Bronco Sport Badlands is equipped with a strong turbocharged engine mated to a transmission with real gears. The Broncos Sport Badlands has added ground clearance along with special drive modes and off-roading gear that makes it a desirable choice for those who plan to venture off-pavement. 

Mazda CX-30 Turbo AWD Premium Plus - What Is It? Why Buy It?
The Mazda CX-30 is a compact, five-passenger vehicle most aptly named a crossover. It is equipped with a strong turbocharged engine mated to a transmission with real gears. The CX-30 AWD Turbo Premium Plus is a vehicle with great looks and a stylish interior that we think will appeal to drivers who really like the positives that come with a sports sedan but who also want a crossover hatchback’s convenience. The CX-30 AWD Turbo is happiest on-road and when driven in a sporty manner. 

Prices - Mazda CX-30 Turbo AWD Premium Plus and Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
The Ford Bronco Sport Badlands equipped with popular options has a price of around $46K, including destination charges and dealer doc fees. A Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus has a price of around $38K inclusive of added Mazda and dealer charges. Both are top trims within their model lines. Both come standard with AWD. 

The Drive - Mazda CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus vs. Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Both of these vehicles bring a smile to one’s face. Read the reviews, and you will see that both are universally loved by those in the motor press who test them. They both have turbocharged four-cylinder engines with similar power (the CX-30 has more torque) and since they don't have lousy CVT transmissions and instead use geared automatics, they are both fun to drive hard. The biggest surprise we had when back-to-back driving them was that the Bronco Sport was more fun in almost all scenarios. It is peppier, feels faster, and its engine feels stronger due to different throttle mapping and the advantage of eight gears instead of the six the Mazda employs. Engage Sport Mode on both, and the Bronco Sport feels even more sportier than the CX-30. We didn't see this coming. We had expected the CX-30, with its low-slung sexy body, to feel more like a sports car.

The handling is very different between these two. The Bronco Sport Badlands sits up high, so you expect it to be tippy on its deep-tread “high-profile” all-terrain Falken WildPeak A/T3W tires. But it does not feel tippy around town or on back roads. The Mazda CX-30 Turbo has low-profile tires on taller rims, and we suspected it would carve up back roads. It sure does, but at legal speeds, we cannot make any use of its better “at the limits” type of handling. 

Both have a touch of torque steer when you aggressively accelerate and also turn, but it is much more pronounced in the Bronco Sport Badlands. The Bronco Sport Badlands feels like a front-wheel drive vehicle in this scenario, and the CX-30 feels like it is AWD. The Mazda feels more settled down and calm. But we can’t honestly say that is better. The Bronco Sport Feels livelier to us. More playful. One is a Jack Russell terrier, and the other a Golden Retriever, if that makes sense. 

Our most recent media tester, CX-30 Turbo Premium Plus, had about 9,000 miles on the odometer. The brakes are less than ideal. A bit spongy compared to the Bronco Sports we have driven, which offer a nice firm pedal. 

On the highway, the CX-30 is quieter. The Bronco Sport Badlands has all-terrain tires, and they hum. However, it is much quieter than one might expect. And if you don’t opt for the Falken tire package, we suspect the all-season Pirellis are more typical in terms of sound generation. 

Bronco Sport Badlands Vs. Mazda3 Turbo - Similarities
Strong Turbocharged Engine
Geared Automatic Transmission with Paddle Shifters and Sport Modes 
Standard AWD 
Moonroof available
Heated Steering wheel and seats available
Wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Spare tire
Leather-trimmed seats
Assembled in Mexico (Yes, both)

Bronco Sport Badlands Vs. Mazda3 Turbo - Differences
Tires - All-terrain for Bronco Sport, All-Season touring for CX-30
Moonroof shade - Power for Bronco Sport, manual for CX-30
Infotainment - Touch screen Ford Bronco Sport, Rotary mouse CX-30
Head Up display - Yes for Mazda cx-30, no for Bronco Sport

Author’s Opinions Based On Testing - Which Is Best In These Areas?
There are many different scenarios in which one can drive a crossover SUV. Here’s a quick rundown on how we would score the Bronco Sport Badlands and the Mazda CX-30.

Off-pavement groomed dirt roads
Bronco Sport 10
CX-30 7

Off-road trails and overlanding
Bronco Sport 10
CX-30 5

CX-30 9
Bronco Sport 8

Country Roads
CX-30 and Bronco Sport 9

City Traffic
CX-30 and Bronco Sport 9

Light snow
CX-30 and Bronco Sport 9

Heavy deep snow
Bronco Sport 10
CX-30 6

Date Night
CX-30 10
Bronco Sport 8

Utility (Cargo area, towing, roof-top cargo)
Bronco Sport 9
CX-30 7

Tale of the Tape
Here is a look at some specifications of the two vehicles compared side by side. Specs are from the manufacturers.

Spec chart of Mazda CX-30 and Ford Bronco Sport by John Goreham

As you can see, the boxy Ford Bronco Sport Badlands has more interior volume and also more cargo volume than the CX-30. That is not the only way the Bronco Sport is “bigger.” When we needed to haul a large box containing an e-bike, it was too long for the Mazda CX-30 (with seats folded). It did fit with a few inches to spare in the Bronco Sport. Inside, the CX-30 feels roomy enough for the driver. Both vehicles offer great right-leg knee room, a weak spot for many small crossovers. The Bronco Sport feels different. The headroom seems endless in the Bronco Sport, and the view out is better. 

Conclusion - Mazda CX-30 Turbo AWD Premium Plus vs. Ford Bronco Sport Badlands
Both of these vehicles are among our favorites in the segment. Each is fun to drive. The Mazda is more suave. The Ford is more playful and fun. If you need your vehicle for off-road use on a regular basis, the Bronco Sport Badlands is the clear choice. If you are shopping for good looks and style, the Mazda wins unless you find the styling language of refrigerator boxes exciting. 

Our biggest surprise was that the Bronco Sport Badlands was indeed more sporty, more fun, and more willing to play than the Mazda CX-30 Turbo. And that is a big compliment since we regard the CX-30 as very fun to drive. 

There is a value angle here. The Mazda is about $8K lower in cost when the vehicles are similarly equipped. How the resale value will work out in three to five years is anyone’s guess. If we were to wager on which would be more reliable, we would say the Mazda. If we were to wager on which would cost less to maintain, we would lean Ford’s way due to the FordPass rewards program. 

At the end of the day, these two vehicles offer shoppers looking for a compact crossover SUV perfect bookends on a marketplace brimming with great vehicles. It is easy for us to call this one a tie because both have so many strengths and so few weaknesses. 

Images by John Goreham. 

John Goreham is an experienced New England Motor Press Association member and expert vehicle tester. John completed an engineering program with a focus on electric vehicles, followed by two decades of work in high-tech, biopharma, and the automotive supply chain before becoming a news contributor. In addition to his eleven years of work at Torque News, John has published thousands of articles and reviews at American news outlets. He is known for offering unfiltered opinions on vehicle topics. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.