Mazda CX-30 road trip from Barcelona to Girona. Plus top tips for renting a car abroad and driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
As well as being a travel journalist, I am also a motoring journalist. I write for CompleteCar.ie and I used to write the Motor Magazine for TheJournal.ie. I sometimes write for the Business Post motoring section too.
As a motoring journalist, I get invited to test drive new cars before they hit the market.
In September 2019, I was invited to test drive the new Mazda CX-30 in Spain. It was a Mazda CX-30 road trip from Barcelona airport to Girona.
The test drive was a road trip from Barcelona airport to Girona. As this is not a motoring website, I won’t be reviewing the car. You can read a full, in-depth review of the Mazda CX-30 on Complete Car.
Instead, this blog post is a road trip travel feature packed full of helpful tips for driving in Spain. In fact, they can be applied to driving on the righthand side of the road in general. There are also some tips on renting a car abroad.
Before we crack on, if you’re looking for a hotel in Barcelona, one of my favourites is the W Hotel. Click here to read my review of the W Hotel Barcelona.
If you are looking for the best thing to do in Barcelona, here’s my guide to La Boqueria. This is the famous food market on La Rambla in Barcelona.
Driving in Spain
Driving in Spain is relatively easy compared to other European destinations. I find the local drivers a lot less aggressive than many other countries. Most of the roads are well maintained, especially if you stick to the main roads and highways. These roads are quite wide too. If you’ve driven in Ireland, you can manage the main roads in Spain.
If you are nervous about driving on the ‘wrong’ side of the road my top tip is to rent a car with an automatic transmission. Even if you’ve never driven an automatic before, it will take just minutes to get used to it. You will illuminate having to change gears with the opposite hand to which you are used to, having one less thing to worry about. Therefore, you can just concentrate on staying on the correct side of the road. Driving an automatic is effortless.
Toll roads in Spain
There are a few tolls to pay along the road from Barcelona to Girona. When you pick up your rental car, make sure you know what is and isn’t included in your rental agreement. Some rental companies do not include congestion charges or tolls, therefore you will be liable to pay those. Some congestion charges have to be paid in advance or else you risk a hefty fine. As of January 1st 2020, there is a Low Emission Zone in Barcelona City. Make sure you plan your route in advance and know what tolls and charges you have to pay.
If you drive from Barcelona Airport to Girona via road C-32 the tolls are about €5. If you drive via road AP-7 the tolls are around €8.10. When planning a driving route through Europe, I think the Via Michelin website is great. It tells you how much tolls you’ll have to pay. You can also use the official Spanish tolls road website to work out where the toll roads are and how much they cost.
Mazda CX-30 road trip from Barcelona to Girona
When you go on a car launch, it is usual to pick the test car up at the airport. When I arrived at Barcelona Airport there was a neat line of shiny and new Mazda CX-30 models ready to go. We had a choice of engine and transmissions to choose from. Usually, I would test drive the model that is most likely to be the best seller in Ireland. However, this time, as I was driving with someone who had never driven on the righthand side of the road before and had never driven a left-hand drive car before, I picked an automatic version. As I said before, automatics are easier to drive. They reduce a bit of the stress out of driving especially if you are nervous and they make for a more relaxing experience.
So I ended up driving the Mazda CX-30 with the Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol with mild hybrid system. This was paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox and all-wheel-drive system.
The Mazda CX-30 is a compact SUV
The Mazda CX-30 is a rival for the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson and other compact SUVs. It is the perfect sized car for a family of four. However, you can squeeze three in the back if the passengers are small.
The Mazda CX-30 looks better than most other cars in the compact SUV segment. It is a very handsome machine. It looks especially fetching in the colour Soul Red Crystal.
Inside, the cabin is beautifully designed and exudes quality. The black leather interior looks and feels premium and the fit and finish of the dash is top-notch. Most importantly, for a road trip, the seats are very comfortable. Thanks to plenty of adjustment it is very easy to find a safe and comfortable driving position – mucho importantay. Forward visibility is very good too and there is a handy reversing camera that makes parking that little bit easier.
Sat nav is a must have
The first 15 minutes of the route from Barcelona Airport involves a lot of concentration as there are a few twists and turns along a busy highway. I’ve driven this route many times, but I still always manage to take the wrong exit or miss my exit completely. Thankfully, due to good road planning, I always get back on track within a few minutes. So, if you too get lost, don’t worry, you’ll get back on the main road in no time.
Due to this, the sat nav system in the Mazda CX-30 is much needed and welcome. It is a great system too. So much so, that on this occasion I don’t get lost. Another great thing about having the in-built sat nav is that I don’t have to use up my data using Google Maps. Although, I have recently discovered Maps.me, which is a mobile offline maps app. The app is perfect for saving data and using when there is no signal coverage.
The 8.8-inch infotainment system in the Mazda CX-30 is responsive and crisp and clear. It is very easy to see the map and roads and the voice command tells me in plenty of time when the next turn is coming up. The infotainment system also comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. This makes it super easy to connect your phone and play your music. My road trip playlist sounds great blasting out of the Bose speakers.
A relaxing Mazda CX-30 road trip
Once the first 20km of driving is done, I sink into the heated seats (I always have the heated seats on, even in summer, even in Spain!) and I relax and enjoy the scenic drive.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll know I love nosing around foreign supermarkets. But, did you know I also love foreign service stations too? I couldn’t resist a pitstop at a local Cepsa to stock up on Spanish chocolate and crisps. One needs to keep one’s energy levels up on road trips.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine and automatic transmission are smooth and refined. Combined with decent soundproofing, blocking out most wind and tyre noise, this makes for a very pleasant and quiet driving experience across all types of road surfaces.
The distance between Barcelona to Girona is just 120km and takes less than one and a half hours. It is a relatively easy journey too. For a road trip like this, if you are renting a car, I would suggest you get a petrol or electric car. If you’ve been driving diesel cars all your life, you’ll really notice the noise difference in the engines.
Mazda CX-30 boot space
When it comes to interior space, the Mazda CX-30 does well. I actually sat in the back on the return leg of the journey – Girona to Barcelona – and had enough knee, leg and headroom (I’m 164cm/5’4″ tall).
There were three of us in the car on the way back and all of our luggage fitted neatly in the boot. The boot of the Mazda CX-30 can hold 430 litres and it has a low load height (making it easier to load in heavy items) and a wide aperture. This means it is great for holding bulky items like baby buggies. The back seats fold down in a 60:40 split.
Cars with a 60:40 rear seat slipt mean you can have the outside and middle seat (60 per cent of the rear seats) folded with space for one back seat passenger. Alternatively, you can have one outside seat (40%) folded with passengers in the middle and outside seat.
When the back seats are folded down you can fit 1,406 litres of cargo in the boot.
The good-looking Mazda CX-30
The Mazda CX-30 is a good looking mid-size SUV with a beautiful interior. It is stylish and refined and with the petrol engine and automatic transmission makes for a very pleasant and relaxing diving experience. Whilst it isn’t class-leading when it comes to rear-seat space or boot space, it is a perfect size for a family of four, especially if the kids aren’t towering six footers.
Above all, Mazda has a great reputation for building safe and reliable cars. They also happen to be fun and engaging to drive.
Like I said, for a more comprehensive review of the Mazda CX-30, please check out the test drives over on Complete Car.
To find out more about the prices and specifications of the Mazda CX-30 in Ireland, head over to the Mazda Ireland website.
I hope you found this blog post useful. Even if you aren’t planning on buying a Mazda CX-30, you can apply the tips and things I’ve talked about to any road trip in Spain and any model of rental car.
Top tips for renting a car abroad
Rent a car with good in-built sat nav. Then you won’t be relying on your phone data or good mobile coverage.
Pick a car that will hold all of your luggage and not block the rear window. Look for a car with a low boot lip for easy loading and a wide opening so you can fit in large items like buggies or golf clubs. If you have a lot of luggage, look at the capacity of the boot in litres. Some cars can swallow a lot more cargo than others even if they look like they are the same size. For example, the Mazda CX-30 can hold 430-1,406 litres but its rival (in terms of size) the Skoda Karoq can hold 521-1,630 litres.
Make sure your car is fitted with an electronic toll tag. If it isn’t, ensure you have the correct change and you have a credit or debit card just in case the toll doesn’t take cash. Try to go to a manual toll booth with an operator just in case anything goes wrong.
If you are nervous about driving on the other side of the road, get an automatic car. This will give you one less task to do and you can concentrate on your driving and staying on the correct side of the road.
Top tips for driving on the righthand side of the road
Remember, the centre line on the road should always be on the driver’s side. This is true no matter where you drive in the world. Although, if you don’t know this already, please step away from the vehicle.
Don’t forget to relax and enjoy the ride. There is some lovely scenery on the drive from Barcelona to Girona. However, if you do want to pull over and take photos, please, PLEASE only do so somewhere that is safe and legal.
Have you driven in Spain? Do you have any other tips that I left out? Let me know in the comments below.
If you liked this Mazda CX-30 road trip blog post, you might also like my Malaga travel tips blog post.
Additionally, you might enjoy reading my Bordeaux travel tips blog post.
Another blog you might like is my Cologne City Guide.
And check out my Madrid travel guide.
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