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First drive: Mazda MX-30. Image by Mazda.

First drive: Mazda MX-30
Despite its badging, itís not a sports car and itís not a conventional crossover, either Ė the MX-30 is in fact Mazdaís first-ever production EV.

 



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Mazda MX-30 (pre-production)

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Mazda marks the occasion of its 100th birthday by giving us its first-ever production electric vehicle (EV), the MX-30 crossover. Can this newcomer win over EV-angelists who focus on the single-charge mileage range above all else?

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda MX-30 GT Sport Tech (pre-production vehicle)
Pricing: MX-30 from £25,545 (including Government's Plug-In Car Grant of £3,000), GT Sport Tech as tested from £29,845 (inc. PICG)
Electric system: 107kW AC synchronous electric motor plus 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack
Transmission: single-speed fixed reduction-gear transmission, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door EV crossover
CO2 emissions: 0g/km (VED Band 0: no road tax to pay in perpetuity)
Range: 124 miles
Maximum charging capacity: 50kW, CHAdeMO or CCS Combo 2 connection; 36 minutes for 20-80 per cent battery charge on 50kW, five hours for 100 per cent charge on 6.6kW domestic Wallbox
Combined electrical consumption: 19kWh/62.5 miles
Top speed: 87mph (limited)
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Power: 145hp (107kW)
Torque: 271Nm
Boot space: 341-1,146 litres (with Bose sound system), 366-1,171 litres (without Bose)

What's this?

Mazda's first foray into the world of electric vehicles. Of course, the Japanese company has made prototypes and one-offs powered by electricity before, but this MX-30 is the first production EV from Mazda and it enters a world where there are a lot of rivals at its sort of price point. Such as the Nissan Leaf. Or a Renault Zoe. Or a BMW i3 and yes, it is still going. There's the Peugeot e-208 and, natch, its e-2008 crossover spin-off. There's the Kia e-Niro and the broadly similar Hyundai Kona Electric. One of Mazda's Asian rivals has just dropped a devastatingly stylish bomb into this particular sector in the form of the super-cute Honda e. Oh, and don't forget the MINI Electric. Or the Vauxhall Corsa-e.

We mean, we could go on, but what we're trying to say is that, while higher levels of EV ownership are more sparsely populated in terms of product choice at the time of writing (although there are a lot of prestige zero-emissions vehicles on the way which will flesh out these pricier echelons), consumers have a lot of options at this sort of 'compact/urban' level if they want to show that they're keen on saving the planet in some small way. So how does the Mazda MX-30 stand out? Well, there are two immediate points to mention, one good and one bad. The latter, which we'll expand on in the driving impressions section below, is a rather confined WLTP range of 124 miles on the combined cycle; risky, Mazda, risky. The former, though, is more heartening: factor in the Government's Plug-In Car Grant (PICG) of £3,000 and the MX-30 starts at a very reasonable £25,545 for the entry-level SE-L Lux, rising to £29,845 for the flagship GT Sport Tech, which is (broadly) what we've driven here as a German-registered pre-production prototype. Early adopters of Mazda's rEVolution [stop with the EV puns now, please - Ed.] can avail themselves of a limited-time-only First Edition, from £27,495, which takes an SE-L Lux and adds some choice, top-end extras to the kit list, things that won't be found on the longer-serving mid-level Sport Lux (from £27,545) model. Order books for the MX-30 are open now and that's for the First Edition only, with customer deliveries due sometime in March 2021, but every single MX-30 comes with an absolute wealth of kit and so the top variants are what second-hand car sellers often love to refer to as 'fully stocked'.

Affordable and well-specified cars always draw a crowd but it's fair to say that, aesthetically, Mazda has perhaps played the MX-30 a touch too much with a straight bat. Sure, lots of people don't want their EVs to look deliberately wacky or standout, but by the same token Peugeot and Honda have both shown that relatively inexpensive EVs need not look dull. Kudos to Mazda for not simply electrifying the existing CX-30 crossover, instead giving the MX-30 a bespoke shell that incorporates the distinctive feature of rear-hinged back doors (call them 'carriage doors' or 'suicide doors', if you must) like an old RX-8 or that pesky BMW i3 again. There's also a rakish roofline and sloping rear hatch, plus an option to have a three-colour paint scheme with different shades for the roof, the metallic side plates on the C-pillars and the main bodywork. The MX-30 is a tidy enough piece of design, cleverly managing to stand slightly apart from the conventional models in Mazda's current range in aesthetic terms, although we would say that while we think it's reservedly handsome, it's not massively striking after you've appraised it for five minutes or so.

Those funky rear doors provide access to a well-packaged interior, given the MX-30 isn't huge on the outside (it's less than 4.4 metres long and 1.8 metres wide). Admittedly, a slightly raised centre tunnel and middling leg-/headroom in the rear means that taller passengers won't want to sit back there for too long, and actually it's more the darker ambience in the second row which is an issue as there isn't a huge glasshouse in the rearward half of the Mazda. Nevertheless, a young family should do fine with this and the siting of the electrical gear means the MX-30 has a passable 366-litre boot, unless you have the Bose sound system which cuts that down slightly to 341 litres.

Up front, there's plenty of space for occupants and also familiar, if slightly altered dash architecture from Mazda. A larger digital screen sits centrally in an instrument cluster with a 'Power/Charge' gauge positioned to the left of it, while the usual eight-inch infotainment screen atop the dash is marshalled by the excellent MZD Connect rotary controller. That item sits on a raised, floating console, though, and this is where the main changes come into effect with the MX-30. In front of the MZD dial and a traditional-shape shift lever is a new seven-inch touchscreen for the climate controls. This looks good and works well, but Mazda has adopted a 'belt-and-braces' approach to try and please the sorts of consumers who don't like overly-digitised cabins, so various key functions of the HVAC system are represented by six physical buttons running down either the side of the screen. Underneath the floating console is a large storage cubby, which is lined with cork. This is a particularly nice touch because, 100 years ago, Mazda began life as a company which manufactured corks. The material is found on bits of the transmission tunnel and the inside of the door pulls as well, while more ecologically conscious materials can be espied in the form of 100 per cent recycled PET polyester fabric on the door cards and vegan-friendly leatherette for the seat upholstery. Overall, the ambience in here is very pleasant and, typical of Mazda, the ergonomics are spot on, although we think the driver's seat could do with a bit more thigh support to ensure the comfort of taller folk making longer journeys (of not more than 124 miles, obvs).

How does it drive?

Hmm. There's a whole, lengthy discussion here about how removing the internal combustion engine (ICE) from a car takes away a huge part of its character. While electric cars are excellent in their own way and have their own particular attributes, such as the instant hit of low-down torque from the powertrain, no one we can recall has ever said 'cor, I really love that electric motor in the [INSERT EV OF YOUR CHOICE HERE]'. So the challenge with any new electric car is for the maker to inject some passion and excitement into it, in order to compensate for the loss of a (potentially) charismatic ICE. Very recent history shows us that this challenge has been met on occasion: the glorious Polestar 2 and the Porsche Taycan have proved as much, although admittedly they're 50- and 100-grand cars respectively, so it's easy enough to get the 'wow' factor mixed in when more pounds sterling are involved. But the Honda e, BMW i3 and the Peugeot e-208/e-2008, in particular, have also shown that car lovers can have a little pizzazz with to go with their volty goodness.

The problem for us with the MX-30 is that it's a very accomplished car, but that's speaking entirely dispassionately. The gamble of only offering it with a short driving range, courtesy of a modest 35.5kWh lithium-ion battery pack, is because Mazda says this is 'right-sizing' the cells for the car's usage. This minimises the CO2 footprint over the whole life cycle of the machine and it keeps the vehicle's weight down, to the point that the MX-30 is relatively light for a crossover EV at 1,645kg (minus driver). Mazda reckons they type of people who will be MX-30 customers only drive 30 or 40 miles daily, so having 124 miles combined at their disposal is no problem at all (the Mazda's maximum city range is 165 miles, incidentally). Also, because it's a smaller battery, it charges more quickly on a Wallbox connection at home, requiring less energy from a national grid that isn't powered by renewable energy sources in the main, while 50kW CCS DC points will have the battery back to 80 per cent of its capacity in 36 minutes.

All very worthy. And, in practice, the MX-30 works well. This is one of the least startlingly accelerative EVs we've tried, mind, with very little sensation of the small of your spine being squeezed into the backrest of the seat during full-bore throttle openings. Even at step-off or low-speed roll-on pick-up, the Mazda doesn't feel as torquey as the numbers suggest, and that's probably because stats of 145hp and 271Nm are hardly anything to write home about in this sector. The MX-30 is, however, incredibly smooth and perfectly sufficient for what most owners will ask of it. As the company says, a 35.5kWh battery only weighs 310kg and that's mounted low down in the crossover, so the handling is surprisingly crisp. Soft suspension does allow some squidge in the damping during cornering, but body roll is kept to wholly bearable levels and the grip of the chassis is highly adept. Nice, light and well-geared steering helps to make the Mazda feel nimble in a way few EVs, let alone taller ones like this, ever tend to be.

And then there's the refinement. This is epic. The ride comfort is pretty close to faultless on the MX-30, because not only does the suspension smother out the very worst of road surface imperfections to a remarkable degree, furthermore you can never hear it in action; the lack of an ICE grumbling away means you tend to pick up on the machinations of the dampers more clearly in EVs, but that's not the case in the MX-30. Similarly, wind and tyre noise are next to non-existent, even at motorway speeds, so as a comfortable, easy-going thing to travel in, there's little doubt Mazda's engineers have pretty much aced their brief.

The thing is, lots of affordable EVs are highly refined and quiet. And this returns us to our original musings of this section of the review: what, precisely, is the Mazda's USP? Where is the emotion? Why would you bypass a Nissan or a Renault or a Hyundai or a Kia dealership and all of their established EV offerings, in order to seek out a Mazda showroom to sign on the dotted line for an MX-30? It's a very, very fine EV, this, but it also feels ever so safe in its execution. It doesn't look particularly striking, the cabin has some nice flourishes but is rather sensible and demure overall, the car's performance isn't particularly rapid and naysayers will always come back to that 124-mile cruising distance figure in the end. So, dispassionately, we heartily admire the MX-30 and think it's a well-executed EV. Passionately, though? We're not so convinced. It doesn't have much of Mazda's magic touch in it, whereas plenty of the company's ICE products right now evidently do have that much-needed little sprinkling of desirability. Maybe the MX-30's time will come when the Range Extender version arrives after the pure EV, because the 'Rex' will - brilliantly - use a rotary engine to recharge the li-ion battery. Now that's much more like the left-field Mazda we know and love, isn't it?

Verdict

The Mazda MX-30 is yet another excellent electric vehicle in the sub-£40,000 market and, as this Japanese company has proven time and time again, it is undoubtedly talented - in that quiet, reserved fashion that often lets Mazda fly under the radar. This very discretion is why so many people, us included, love this marque in the first place, so it's no bad thing that the MX-30 isn't an attention-seeking zero-emissions machine.

Conversely, whether there's enough excitement in this EV crossover package will largely be down to the personal preferences of the punters but, at the moment, we can't help but wonder how many conquest customers the MX-30 will pick up. There's a suspicion that almost all the buyers of this vehicle will be people who've already owned a Mazda or several Mazdas before. That said, its competitive pricing and bulging standard equipment list ensure that this an EV that you should definitely check out if you're planning on making the switch from ICE... as long as you don't ever have to drive too far in one sitting, that is.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4 4 4 4 4 Driving Dynamics

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 30 Sep 2020









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2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.

2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.2020 Mazda MX-30 Pre-Production GT Sport Tech. Image by Mazda.








 

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