The new Mazda CX-60 plug-in hybrid SUV is coming to Australia to take on premium rivals such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Here are our impressions from the first drive overseas.
Mazda has always been a car company keen to plough its own furrow – but even by its own standards, the Japanese brand is a little out of kilter with the industry at present. Rivals are rapidly going fully electric, and yet here is an all-new, larger Mazda SUV powered by a fresh generation of combustion engines. Go figure.
The CX-60 is a significant car for Mazda, though, because it represents the first proper step on what it hopes will be the path to becoming a bona-fide premium carmaker. By the end of the decade, Mazda hopes that it will figure on the shortlists of buyers more accustomed to driving Audis, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzs. It is also another move in the direction of electrification, because the CX-60 is Mazda’s first plug-in hybrid.
It’s an imposing vehicle, the CX-60; at 4745mm long, its profile stretches almost 20cm further than that of Mazda’s big-selling CX-5. But the rooflines of the two cars are pretty much identical, giving the new arrival a less upright stance. The wheelbase is significantly longer too, at 2870mm – a figure that’s also north of that of Audi’s Q5 and BMW’s X3.
The CX-60 is the first model on an all-new platform that is, in effect, a modular rear-drive-focused set-up that can accommodate everything from mild hybrids to pure-electric vehicles, and with longitudinal engines and all-wheel drive. The car’s stance reflects the powertrain choice, with a short front overhang, a long bonnet and a cab pushed as far rearwards as possible.
The PHEV version of the car leads the initial attack, but within the next 12 months we can also expect to see a 3.3-litre, straight-six diesel with mild-hybrid technology and what looks like a clever combustion system, and then a 3.0-litre straight-six petrol MHEV that also gets Mazda’s trick variable compression.
For now, though, the CX-60 has a single powertrain option; the plug-in hybrid, along with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission. A 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine is mixed with an electric motor to deliver a total output of 241kW and 500Nm of torque – enough, Mazda claims, for a 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds and a top speed of 200km/h.
The efficiency figures are perhaps more important in this type of vehicle, and they look decent for a car of this size. The 17.8kWh lithium-ion battery can take the car 63km on electricity alone (the final numbers are still being worked on, so don’t be surprised if it does creep up to 70km), and under WLTP rules it delivers 1.5L/100km and 33g/km of CO2 emissions.
The range has three trim levels (as tested in Europe, Australian specifications and pricing to be confirmed), each offering plenty of kit to reflect the car’s size, the complexity of the powertrain, the brand’s nudge upmarket and, yes, the price. The line-up starts with equipment such as 18-inch metallic-grey alloy wheels, LED headlights, a 12.3-inch infotainment system with the same size of digital instrument cluster, a head-up display, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and front and rear parking sensors with a reversing camera. Wireless Apple and Android smartphone connectivity is included too.
Step up to mid-range spec and you’ll have 20-inch alloys, a gloss-black finish on some body details, ambient cabin lighting, electric adjustment and ventilation on the front seats, heated outer rear seats and a 12-speaker Bose stereo.
The range-topping model gets cosmetic upgrades only, with body-coloured wing mirrors, a gloss-black front grille, and cloth detailing on the dashboard and white Nappa-leather seat trim to match a white-maple wood finish on the centre console.
In addition to these, there are a few optional packs that bring everything from extra driver aids to a panoramic sunroof and a 150W AC socket.
Our drive of a late pre-production CX-60 mid-range model demonstrated how far Mazda has already come in its transformation – and, in some areas, how far it still has to go.
The chassis feels typical of the brand that gave us the MX-5; indeed, the CX-60 gets the same brake-based cornering stability system as the roadster. It’s reasonably keen to turn in, and surprisingly content with being thrown around; the body stays commendably flat during quick changes of direction, helped by accurate, nicely weighted steering.
Push too hard and the front end will just wash out in a mixture of tyre squeals and understeer. But work with the CX-60, and it has the potential to involve or even entertain – certainly more so, we’d argue, than an Audi Q5 or a Mercedes-Benz GLC. There’s a firm edge to the ride on 20-inch wheels but the suspension – double wishbones up front and a multi-link set-up at the rear – delivers enough compliance, enough of the time.
The powertrain is more likely to frustrate keener drivers. This is the most powerful production car that Mazda has ever released, but even with more than 220kW and that whopping torque figure, it prefers a relaxed, patient approach over any sort of hurrying. Around town there’s more than enough electric poke for silent running, and if you’re gentle with the throttle you may be surprised by how this continues on faster roads.
If you’re not then the CX-60 has the shove to deliver swift progress but you will be reminded, pretty quickly, that you have a four-cylinder motor under that long bonnet. It’s not particularly harsh, but nor is it all that appealing; it’s an appliance-like drone at best, and it is certainly audible in the cabin at higher revs – perhaps a little more so than the engines in the Mazda’s German benchmarks.
The CX-60’s new automatic transmission shuns a traditional torque-converter configuration in favour of a multi-plate clutch – a set-up that brings benefits in packaging along with a 22 per cent drop in energy losses, Mazda claims. It doesn’t feel the smoothest, though, with a bit of judder when it starts juggling the different power sources and jumping up and down ratios. Again, a little patience will go a long way here.
One caveat, however: we were told to expect a few rattles and noises that will be dialled out by final production-spec – and the same could be said of the transmission’s calibration. So we’ll reserve final judgement on this until we get a car in Australia.
Even in this pre-prod example we could find little to complain about on fit and finish, which is generally excellent; high-grade plastics are used in all of the key areas, there are sensible, solid-feeling physical switches for all of the key controls, and the digital screens look crisp and clear. The rotary controller for the infotainment is easy to use, too.
One of the neatest features up front is a driver personalisation system which takes your height and suggests ideal positions for the seat and steering wheel. It gets surprisingly close to the mark, but the more useful element is how it stores this setting based on facial recognition (you ‘record’ your face on a camera at the edge of the infotainment system). The car can then switch to the relevant profile the moment the driver gets into the vehicle, without them needing to press a button or delve into the car’s menus.
In basic terms the cabin packaging is perhaps a little more compromised than we’d like; the centre console feels extremely wide up front, making the footwells feel a little narrow, and while rear legroom is more generous than in a CX-5, the gains are more modest than you might expect, given the overall stretch in length. But there’s room here for four six-footers, and even in a car with the optional panoramic roof fitted, we’d have no worries about headroom.
The boot is a useful size for a family SUV too, at 570 litres or 1726L if you fold down the second row of seats. There are handles at either side of the load bay to make this task easier, though it’s disappointing that Mazda hasn’t seen fit to provide even a single bag hook to stop your groceries from sliding around the large floor. Striving to match the Germans on cabin quality is a noble enough pursuit – but it shouldn’t come at the expense of everyday usability.
The CX-60 is another bold step from Mazda, delivering decent driving dynamics, respectable practicality and a high-quality cabin. And that pure-electric range should help Mazda’s new flagship to find a new group of buyers keen to be green.
|Model:||Mazda CX-60 ‘mid-spec’ (tested)|
|Engine:||2.5-litre petrol, 1x e-motor|
|Transmission:||Eight-speed automatic, four-wheel drive|
|On sale:||Q4 2022|