Mazda’s first electric car is finally rolling off the line and available overseas. Here’s our first drive review of the production model.
Mazda isn’t the first car maker you’d think of when talking electric cars. While rivals fall over themselves to promote their all-electric developments, the fiercely independent Japanese marque’s main priority remains the perfection of the petrol engine. However, it’s still found time to entertain the electric-car lobby with this, the MX-30.
The newcomer is a compact all-electric SUV that you can think of as a rival for the Tesla Model Y and Volkswagen ID.4, and the upcoming Nissan Ariya and Polestar 2. But while all of those vehicles are likely to become available to buy in Australia, Mazda’s local arm remains noncommittal to bringing the model here.
It has also been created with a radically different theory to those vehicles.
Put simply, Mazda isn’t interested in the battery and range arms race that’s unfolding across the industry. The power pack is just 35.5kWh in size, and the maximum range on a single charge is 200km, a figure that most rivals will almost double.
Mazda’s theory is that electric car batteries are dirty to manufacture, which undoes much of the good that zero-emissions driving delivers. Plus they’re heavy, which often spoils the way a car drives, and they’re expensive, making buying an EV a harder decision than it ought to be. As a compromise, Mazda believes the MX-30’s smaller battery addresses these issues. Research estimates that 95 per cent of the car’s target customers drive fewer than 96km a day, and by that thinking, a 200km range should be enough.
The main selling point of the MX-30 is its design. It looks unlike anything else in the Mazda line-up, while the rear-hinged back doors are a nod to the RX-8 sports car, and are an eye-catching touch. In practice they nail the brief of looking cool, but mean getting in the back is slightly compromised, and you can’t open the rear windows.
Up front, things are great, though. The cabin is comfortable, looks and feels modern, and the tech is sharp, too. Touchscreen controls for the climate settings won’t be for everyone, but the central eight-inch infotainment display is as good as anything we’ve seen, quick to respond, and kitted out with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
On the move, you’ll notice that Mazda has given the MX-30 a synthetic engine sound to break the silence and attempt to make driving this electric SUV feel natural. As you press on, it’s clear that this is an EV that petrolheads could easily get used to.
The small battery means it’s relatively light when compared with electric SUV rivals, at just over 1.6 tonnes, and that’s hugely beneficial to the way the MX-30 drives. The steering is well weighted and precise, the braking feel is natural, and the suspension set-up isn’t compromised by battery weight. The result is an EV that not only rides well, but handles well, too. There’s a distinct absence of weight pulling the car around in corners, and it comes neatly to a halt too, without excess battery mass delaying the car’s deceleration. As in most EVs, the strength of the brake regeneration can be altered on the fly, using paddles mounted on the steering wheel.
The electric drive system is a little underwhelming, though. With 107kW and 271Nm of torque, there are faster electric cars out there, and the MX-30 doesn’t really leap off the line with the instant urgency of most EVs. It feels more like a modestly powered petrol or diesel SUV, and has a 0-100km/h time of 9.7 seconds, with top speed electronically limited to 140km/h.
Charging technology is comparable with many other modern EVs. The MX-30 supports 50kW rapid charging, and that small battery means that an 80 per cent recharge is possible in around half an hour. With a mid-drive pit-stop, you could use this as a longer-range EV, rather than just a commuter car as it’s mostly intended.
The Mazda MX-30 is a stylish electric vehicle with a great price tag, if you can deal with its very modest range. However, the car’s appeal doesn’t lie in how far it can go on a single charge. Instead buyers will be swayed by the Mazda’s high-quality feel for reasonable money. It’s good to drive too, thanks to its relatively light kerbweight when compared with rival electric vehicles.
Would it succeed in Australia? Currently, sales of fledgling fully electric cars are not denting mainstream petrol figures. But as a package, the MX-30 can be a convincing first step for many, particularly when compared to new EVs that don’t have long driving ranges – such as the new Mini electric, and the second-generation Nissan Leaf. And both which also cost near to the MX-30’s Euro-converted price tag.
2020 Mazda MX-30 price and spec
Price in Europe $50,000 Engine Electric motor, 35.5kWh battery Power 107kW Torque 271Nm 0-100km/h 9.7sec Top speed 140km/h (limited)