► 35.5 kWh battery is best for CO2
► Coming in 2021 to the UK
► A very different take on EVs
Mazda might be best known for its rotary engine expertise – or more recently its petrol-come-diesel SkyActiv-X tech – but the Japanese company is finally ready to release its first mass production EV. Revealed the Tokyo motor show earlier this year, it’s called the MX-30, and it’ll be coming to Europe in late 2020, with the UK following early the year after.
So what’s the first electric Mazda like to drive Keep reading to find out why Mazda’s new EV is a different take on the electric car, and why its success could hinge on a test drive rather than a simple spec comparison.
What did we actually drive?
Finished in a cool, matte black with gloss decals, the car we’re driving looks more like an influencer’s CX-30 than the car revealed in Tokyo – but there are reasons behind this. The MX-30 isn’t actually finished yet, so Mazda has produced three ‘FrankenEVs’ with the electric guts of the new EV but the chassis and body of the CX-30. There are two of them in Portugal for our test drive, and it’s worth the journey: both cars share the same underpinnings and rough dimensions, so we can get a good insight into the MX-30's handling. The EVs ‘freestyle’ (read suicide doors), cork-infused interior and imposing front end just had to be imagined for this drive.
What’s it like on paper?
Mazda may be effectively late to the party, but it turns out that’s all part of the plan. The company’s Skyactiv-X and other ICE tech will continue to be developed: this new EV just slots alongside it. And because it’s a part of a multi-solution package – and not a one-size fits all product – Mazda is making some big statements, and no compromises with the specs of this car.
For a start, it uses a relatively small 35.5 kWh battery – just like the dinky Honda e. Mazda is keen to point out that this battery size is the sweet spot for EVs in terms of CO2 emissions: both in production and everyday use. That tiny battery means range is expected to only just scrape to 200km (124 miles), while pulling power is limited to 195b ft and max output is predicted to be 140bhp. Sure, this is a city car and a crossover – not a supercar – but with high-performance, instant torque and growing range becoming mainstays of forthcoming EVs, it’s certainly an outlier.
Driving the MX-CX-30
Even if we ignore the CX-30 based interior (this car will have a clean, nearly-vegan-friendly cabin as all cars will soon) driving the MX-30 prototype is similar to helming its ICE-powered relative. Mazda has been keen to emphasis the oneness between the car and driver – and marketing aside, it’s a very intuitive, enjoyable car to drive.
We’ll get to the steering, braking and other areas of the car’s handling – because the first and most important thing in the MX-30 is the torque map Mazda has chosen for it. Rather than the linear, zappy delivery we’re used from the VW Group, Nissan et al, the Mazda delivers its – albeit meagre – lump of torque in a progressive, organic fashion. It’s positively old-fashioned and it’s easy to get a feel for the car’s capability, placement and power delivery.
As the makers of the MX-5 rightly know, predictability and feedback is the key to fun, not speed itself – and that’s where the MX-30 delivers. Despite being ‘under two tonnes’ the MX-30 is just positive and communicative enough in the right pedal. On the hilly route we took, we were able to ease on the throttle as corners opened out and gather pace rather than get it in whole chunks. This really doesn’t respond to torque requests like any other EV we’ve driven.
Like every other EV we’ve driven, coasting and regen will become a factor of driving, thought we can’t say how much; The car we were testing was hardwired to the most common, every-day use regen setting, but the final car will have paddles to increase or reduce the regen rate – just like the Audi e-Tron.
Whether it’s due to increased rigidity made possible by a ring around the skateboard-placed Panasonic batteries, or a sorted suspension, the MX-30 is both pleasant and quiet on Europeans roads – even handling a cobbled section without much fuss.
What little noise you do hear in the cabin is intentional: the production MX-30 will feature an artificial sound to indicate acceleration or deceleration, and in practice it works well. When picking up speed, we heard the same ‘whoosh’ you do in other EVs, with the same Jetson’s noise inverted when losing speed or coasting.
Interestingly, this sound was most obvious when we were driving uphill: with the pedal down and the gradient high, the MX-30 grumbled like a sad spaceship – with the laboured sound only fading once we were up to speed. Mazda engineers were keen to point out this feature may be turned down or optional in the final car, but we’re fans: it adds a subtle layer of communication you don’t usually get in electric cars.
The company is convinced 35.5 kWh batteries are currently the way to go, so you’ll have to wait for a Wankel-powered REX MX-30 if you want more EV range, but that uncompromising EV approach is fine, because Mazda isn’t giving up on ICE just yet.
At 33,900 Euros, the MX-30 isn’t going to shake up the EV market like the next Model T, but with its uncompromising focus, middling range and dynamic handling, it could have a big impact on the EV as we know it.