► 35.5 kWh battery is best for CO2...
► But small range could limit appeal
► Costs from £26,045 OTR
Mazda, better known for its rotary engine expertise and, more recently, its petrol-come-diesel Skyactiv-X tech, has finally put its first mass production EV on sale. Revealed during the Tokyo motor show in 2019, it’s called the MX-30, and it’s now available in a showroom near you.
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.
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Why you should care about the MX-30
We've now driven right-hand drive versions of the MX-30 in the UK and can confirm that the excellent driving position has transitioned unsullied from the LHD versions we sampled in late-2020. Not earth-shattering news given Mazda's domestic market also drives on the left, but worthy of note all the same.
You'll be pleased to hear that the cork motif - a nod to Mazda's 100-year history that began with the aforementioned material - has survived the optimisation of trim for the UK. More on that later, because what really matters is how the car drives, not whether you can pin your kid's artwork on the centre console.
The other feature that's arrived unchanged are the Freestyle doors - a la RX-8. These made sense on the rotary-engined coupe and they make even more sense on the tall, front-wheel drive crossover body of the MX-30, but they do have some drawbacks for rear passengers.
Overall, the MX-30's a distinctive crossover-coupe shape, but it's not as brave as Mazda could have gone - technically, it's very obviously derived from a conventionally-powered car, and on paper at least, seems to offer few clear advantages over the growing list of electrified rivals.
So, what do we learn when we dig deeper?
Initially, the MX-30 comes as one flavour, starting at £26,045 when the government's reduced £2500 PiCG has been deducted. For that you get a a relatively small 35.5 kWh battery - that's as compact as the Honda E's power source, but this is a larger, more family-friendly compact crossover. There are three trim levels (in addition to the First Edition you can still just about order for £27,995 OTR), and all are generously equipped compared to rivals.
The motor produces 143bhp, and just under 200 lb ft of torque - not necessarily the numbers you'd associate with Mazda's sportier MX wing, but the MX-30's 1,645kg kerb weight is not that far off conventional crossovers' heft of a couple of years ago.
It's bad form to talk about your birthday at Christmas, but when you look under the bonnet at the electrical gubbins, there's an astounding amount of empty space. You could comfortably fit a person in the room left behind when the CX-30-derived chassis is stripped of such fripperies as gearboxes, exhaust pipes and things to keep emissions away.
Mazda has a better idea than a modern-day priest hole in there, apparently. Though exact details are unconfirmed, it's definite that the empty space will be filled soon enough - and by a typically Mazda, Wankel rotary engine. This smooth, optimised range-extender could turn out to be the spec that gives the MX-30 real mass appeal, as long as the same masses understand that all the quirks of the RX-8 and forebears don't apply here.
Japanese buyers will even be able to buy a conventionally-engined MX-30; in some ways, this really is the closest we'll get to an MX-3 followup. As long as we're not being denied an exquisitely tiny V6, the electric motor is plenty.
Why's the battery so small?
It's not small, it's optimised. Actually, that's not as mealy-mouthed as it sounds - there's some very good logic behind the capacity. It's enough for a 124-mile range (Mazda claim 164 miles of city driving), a figure that seems entirely achievable after extensive driving of the MX-30 in the UK, and plenty for the average daily driving of British commuters and families. It's also quicker to recharge fully on a home wallbox for the security of seeing the full 'tank'.
Mazda's justification is that most users don't actually need a huge 75kWh battery, and making those big batteries involves a lot of raw materials and energy. Enough to significantly contrbute to the embedded environmental cost of a car, which in turn affects how long your electric vehicle really takes to be better than a conventional car and its ongoing consumption and pollution.
While not a scientific measure (your mileage may vary, literally), the smaller battery effectively halves the additional impact over a conventional car and, crucially, brings the 'break even' point forward to the stage where the initial owner of the car could see the benefit.
Most large-battery EVs will only give a return on that initial CO2 investment around the same time the conventional car is considered well-used and due for replacement.
But here's the real surprise: The MX-30 does not drive like a typical electric car - and in the process, it doesn't consume charge like a typical, hot-off-the-line EV either. Perhaps there's more to this smaller battery idea after all than mere marketingspeak to explain away a flawed product planning decision.
Does the MX-30 feel like an 'MX' Mazda to drive?
Mazda is known for making cars that grow on you, as a driver, without necessarily screaming about their prowess externally. Even the RX-8 has hidden depths, should you try a good one, but it's when you look to models such as the Mazda 6 that the differences are thrown into sharp relief.
That's all traditional engineering, right? BEVs are a different proposition entirely, all instant torque and iron fist with a silent punch hilarity, until the charge runs out and you drive like the proverbial nun. Including a bit of praying.
Just as the MX-30 is exactly the sort of essentially conventional with a dose of quirkiness you'd expect Mazda to produce, even without batteries, the firm's made it drive like an ICE-powered car. There's no whalesong-and-meditation in here, but a piped engine sound that's gloriously reminiscent of a four-port RX-8 in third gear; tractable from urban speeds to motorway, revs ever increasing, and wonderfully satisfying. The illusion is aided by the MX-30's limited top speed of 87mph, which helps preserve that range and keeps you almost legal - as well as being right about where third gear ends on a real RX-8.
Torque-map and touch points all contribute to this eerily familiar sensation. The motor control pedal (the one under your right foot - there's little pretence of 'one-pedal driving' here, though it's got the ability to come close) is a floor-hinged, organ-style one that's long, supportive and very, very progressive and controllable. It's the kind of detail that contributed to the lazy, unhurried style of driving that a big old Mercedes would encourage, and it makes driving the MX-30 a real pleasure.
Even the stubby transmission lever is reassuringly mechanical. There are paddle shifts for regenerative braking, which defaults to a mid-way position and can be reduced or increased to suit, so the lever is purely a forward/reverse selector, but an unusual 'move sideways to park' adds an opportunity to engage with the car physically rather than pushing another button.
The parking brake's electronic, though. Well, you can't get everything right...
Encouraged by the artificial combustion and well-weighted, direct steering, you press on; the 0-62mph time of 9.7 seconds feeling entirely reasonable. Bends are drawn in a smooth arc, with confident aim, and it takes a moment to remember that this is an electric car at all - there's some torque-vectoring technology, but there's pleasure to be found in absorbing the feedback and actually driving the car, not seeing how long the sensors can keep you on the road in denial of physics.
Brakes are an area that some electric cars feel lacking in, with precious little pedal feel as your foot pressures the pedal further, with nothingness giving away to a sudden halt. Not the Mazda: easy to modulate, whether you just want to quick pre-bend glance to push the balance over the front axle, or the achor's been tossed for an emergency stop. The engineers have really thought about this and it resonates from every contact point.
When your brain catches up, the difference in weight, in attitude, between the MX-30 and any other electric car in this price range dawns. There's none of the stodge, the roly-poly cornering or aggressively controlled weight management ruining the ride. It's basic stuff - just McPherson struts and torsion beam - but so were some of the most delightful hot-hatches ever made, and the MX-30 carries their spirit in its springs.
What about the passengers?
Mazda's deployed a three-ring structure for the MX-30, surrounding the batteries and passenger compartment. It's torsionally stiff and allows the suspension to compensate for the road and not the body. The result is a pleasant, predictable ride and good refinement.
That goes some way to compensating for the compromised side view out the rear passengers get while perched on the attractive, but quite shapelessly flat rear bench. Being positioned quite upright below a tapering roofline isn't as claustrophobic as you might expect, and sculpted front seatbacks mean two adults of average height can sit tandem, but you're peering out of a porthole set in acres of black plastic.
Thankfully the top-spec GT Sport Tech comes with that most rare of options, a proper sliding sunroof - albeit a small one, and the rear seats do sit a little higher than the front for a good view forward.
Smaller passengers are easier to deal with though, thanks to the seat topography and Freestyle doors. Child seats are the right height and unobstructed, making this one of the easiest electric cars you'l find if you've got infants or toddlers. There's a reasonable 366-litre boot, too (you'll lose a few litres if you have the Bose audio).
That square, padded seat structure is carried through to the front. Seats are very subjective, so first-person opinion here: I thought they were great, and suspect most people will appreciate the same qualities - chunky padding that's like a firm memory foam mattress, well-shaped bolsters that hold you without being constricting, and just the right amount of lumbar support and width for shoulders. The materials are nice, too, but the most distracting thing in the MX-30 is the appearance of cork.
This natural material (much of the interior is vegan-friendly natural or environmentally-friendly recycled) is found not only on the centre console and simple, neat covered cupholders, it's inside the door pull handle on the higher specifications too, where it's a welcome tactile change from plastics.
Mazda hasn't taken your pinboard and glued it to the dash - the cork is a special, high-density material that's been treated and covered so it won't absorb spills or age rapidly.
All MX-30's are generously equipped, including a head up display and adaptive cruise control and lane keeping on all models; options really are all about convenience and personal preference, instead of being essentials for you to pay extra for. The price - £26,045 after the government grant for the SE-L Lux, rising to £30,345 for the fully-loaded and sunroof-equipped GT Sport Tech, becomes even more appealing when you compare the overall package with rivals.
It's worth noting that unusually, Mazda expects the bulk of sales to go the way of the range-topper.
Infotainment is fully-featured, with Android Auto nd Apple CarPlay support included and Mazda's intuitive rotary control. It's supported by steering wheel controls and a clear, crisp dashboard display.
Perhaps the only thing the classy, well-built cabin is lacking is a set of multi-coloured slivers of ambient light.
Mazda 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 range.
After spending close to a thousand miles with one, it's easier to see that most people, most of the time will find its 124-mile range more than sufficient, especially if you take advantage of the free domestic wallbox package currently being offered.
If you're concerned about 124 miles because you've heard typical 250-mile BEVs really give 150 miles, you should give the MX-30 a chance - the way it delivers and uses power, and has been carefully tuned to keep you involved rather than remote, means it's more likely to deliver that full range.
The Mazda MX-30 is an affordable EV that has real appeal for drivers, too. It's genuinely appealing - not in a 'OMG this is so fast' way like a Tesla, or a 'this is hilarious' way like an e-Up or Mii Electric - it's satisfying to drive and would be just as satisfying with a regular engine; most electric cars are a compromise we accept because of the halo effect of being green.
This deserves to succeed