So this is the electric version of Mazda’s Demio (that’s the Madza 2, to you and I), the company’s first modern all-electric car. It’s a development tool, and not aimed at production yet. If you’re reading this with a fair amount of confusion and thinking ‘Hang about, I thought Mazda was doing that SkyActiv malarkey,’ you’re right.
Mazda is vigorously and enthusiastically pursuing its SkyActiv programme of radically rethinking every aspect of the car as we know it to fully maximise its potential, and has already sunk £2.1 billion into the clean-sheet programme. The SkyActiv philosophy will be supported by four major technical pillars as it goes forward – i-Stop start-stop, i-Eloop regenerative braking, electric drive know-how and then full electric vehicle systems.
The Demio EV represents the very start of Mazda’s third step, that of widening its EV knowledge and skills set.
What’s the electric Mazda Demio like to drive?
Nippy, in a word. We were given just two very short laps of a coned-off track on the outskirts of Mazda’s sprawling Hiroshima production plant for this test, so it was hardly ideal for a lengthily and in-depth drive. But we liked it.
Step-off is tyre-scrabblingly brisk, the whine-accompanied acceleration is smooth and progressive and in-gear punch is pleasingly decisive. All good. Coming off the power didn’t display any unnaturally aggressive regen braking tendencies, either.
The rest is textbook Mazda2 – light and direct steering, an engagingly alert chassis, a softish suspension set-up and not quite enough insulation from road and wind noise. Mitsuru Fujinaka the Demio EV’s programme manager, has spent the last 18 months developing the car, and his personal goal was to give it performance comparable to the 1.5-litre petrol Mazda2. Based on our eye-blink-quick test, he looks to have succeeded.
Let’s have some techy details please
The brushless electric engine develops 105bhp and an estimated 200lb ft of torque (we say estimated because no one on the programme seemed willing to talk torque). Accelerating to 60mph takes around 11 seconds and top speed should be around the 100mph mark.
Driven conservatively, the Demio’s range should run to 120 miles. Recharging fully from a domestic power supply takes up to eight hours, while a 40-minute top-up time delivers a 25-30% battery boost. Mazda has built 20 cars to date.
Is the electric Mazda 2's boot stuffed with big and heavy batteries?
The Mazda 2 was designed and developed before the versatile SkyActiv chassis architecture was introduced, which is why it was never initially planned to run an all-electric drivetrain. That said, the lithium-ion batteries are housed beneath the feet of the driver and front passenger, and where the fuel tank used to be, resulting in uncompromised passenger and luggage packaging.
Because the addition of the electric engine, li-ion batteries and single-speed transmission adds just 100kg to the car’s weight, for an 1100kg total, Mazda’s engineers decided to leave the brakes and suspension unchanged. A handy time and money saver…
This all sounds rather promising
The technology is not Mazda’s own, remember. 'We set the criteria we wanted to achieve – performance, range, charge rate – and asked our suppliers to deliver the closest they could to our requirements,' says Fujinaka, who was heavily involved in the development of the SkyActiv chassis technology before being handed this task. 'We then did our best to further develop the batteries’ state of charge, engine performance, transmission efficiency and software to maximise performance and range.'
Who did Mazda turn to? Fujinaka declines politely but firmly to name names. Lotus, perhaps? Or one of the Japanese battery specialists?
There’s probably a fair bit more to come from the performance, too. The Demio EV is not fitted with Mazda’s clever new capacitor-based i-Eloop regenerative braking system – this was only announced within the last fortnight – which promises to boost range by a full 10% alone.
So when will Mazda put an electric 2 into production?
According to Fujinaka, there’s no fixed timetable for the introduction of a Mazda EV, but he believes it makes sense to be fully prepped for the 2018 introduction of new American legislation governing EVs. Which is, even in the relatively slow-moving auto industry, a good while off.
So why turn out the Demio EV now, when there’s still plenty of time for further development? It takes a while for Fujinaka to spit it out but he eventually admits that although Mazda is already well down the road of its SkyActiv approach to squeezing a lot more out of the internal combustion engine and its supporting architecture, there was considerable pressure on the company to show it was able to produce a road-going EV. 'We had to show that we had the technology, the inclination and ability, this is true,' he says.
The Demio EV may be a bit of a rush job and largely overshadowed by the SkyActiv programme, but there’s nothing wrong with the basics. Its low weight, effective packaging, spry performance and tidy handling do it no disservice. As a precursor to an intelligently engineered EV benefiting from the full gamut of SkyActiv economy and performance-enhancing technology, it does an admirable job indeed.
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