The Mazda MX-30 is a milestone car for the Japanese brand, which is finally plugging into the electric circuit after shouting long and loud that efficient internal-combustion engines still have their place in future motoring.
That view hasn’t changed, but Mazda admits that electric propulsion should not be completely ignored. Its first full battery-electric production car will be followed by more, as well as plug-in hybrids. But as is typical of the brand, the MX-30 does the electric bit in a different way, particularly with distinct and controversial methods of addressing the so-called major turn-off for EV adopters, range anxiety.
What’s new about the Mazda MX-30?
On the surface the MX-30 is a battery-electric version of the CX-30 SUV that Mazda launched last year. But while the two are sisters, the new car was designed from the start as an electric vehicle while also adopting novel touches. The one that most visually differentiates it from its internal combustion sister is the lack of central door pillars and the resultant ‘Freestyle’ rear-hinged doors.
More pertinently, Mazda argues that an EV with a lightweight battery and a shorter range can be just as appealing as one lugging around heavy extra cells and going the extra miles as a result. The car’s modest range between charges could be the defining factor setting the MX-30 apart from rivals.
How does it look?
Visually the Mazda MX-30 sits among the least SUV-like of SUVs. While the bottom half of the car boasts the signature SUV cladding supposedly designed to protect the car from the ravages of urban driving, it forms the base to a coupe-like profile. According to the designers this is deliberate – having spent much time and money designing a chassis and powertrain aimed at making the car fun to drive, they did not want to dent the experience with brick-like aerodynamics.
Mazda says it wanted to create a car with an eye-catching design that customers could identify with, rather than the “alien and clinical designs that we saw in a lot of our competitors’ initial electric offerings.”
The resultant clean and simple lines go beyond that essential requirement for EVs to boast as slippery an aerodynamic package as possible to aid the battery range. Overall, the MX-30 is better on the eye than many rivals be they EV or SUV.
What’s the spec like?
The MX-30 range is offered in three mainstream levels plus an initial First Edition model for the first 350 customers. Mazda expects the car to have a slightly niche appeal, only selling around 2,600 in a full year, and most sales are likely to be of the top-specification GT Sport Tec grade.
Prices start from £25,595, once one has factored in the government’s £2,500 grant available to buyers of fully-electric vehicles. Standard equipment on all cars includes LED headlamps, a reversing camera, adaptive cruise control, navigation and a head-up display. The base SE-Lux version comes in a choice of five single-tone colours though only one, the Arctic White, does not attract an additional fee.
Sport Lux pushes the prices up by £2,000 and adds powered seats, lumber adjustment and smart keyless entry, with three-tone paint finishes available. The GT Sport Tech costs from £30,345 with a cloth interior trim or £30,545 with artificial leather and includes de-icing on the wipers, a powered sunroof, heated steering wheel and 12-speaker Bose sound system. It also gets extra active safety aids and a 360-degree view monitor.
The launch First-Edition grade numbers 350 examples and retails at £27,995, with bespoke metallic paint options and interiors plus extra equipment. Initial MX-30 buyers are also being offered a free wall-mounted home charging box.
What’s the Mazda MX-30 like inside?
Firstly we need to talk about getting in, particularly to the rear seats, because unlike its CX-30 sister, the MX-30 is fitted with rear-hinged ‘Freestyle’ back doors and has no central door pillars – recalling the RX-8 sports car of some 19 years ago. You can’t open them without opening the fronts first, which aids safety but not convenience, and the strength of the pillar is built into the doors – the MX-30 has earned a top five-star Euro NCAP rating.
Opening both side doors reveals the entire interior but it’s still not that easy to get in the back, particularly if you are tall. Once in you will struggle for both head and legroom, while it’s slightly claustrophobic due to the narrow glassware that comes with that coupe shape. Matters are a lot better up front, even with the higher than usual driving position which is good for the person behind the wheel.
The dash-layout is minimalist, simple and easy to navigate, with the sat-nav screen mounted nice and high atop the centre console. Eco-friendly additions feature throughout the interior, including artificial leathers that don’t look artificial, recycled threadwork and one novel addition, a cork finish to some of the surfaces. This makes use of offcuts used in bottle-stopper production and which would normally be discarded, and also recalls the history of Mazda; bet you didn’t know that the company began as a cork-making factory in 1920 – a great pub-quiz question…
What’s under the bonnet?
This is where Mazda turns away from the philosophy of other manufacturers. It’s well known, though not exactly shouted about, that EVs are not ‘zero emission’ vehicles principally due to what goes into building the hardware to power them and to recharge them, including the mining of rare-earth minerals to make the batteries with.
Mazda argues that by using a battery of 310kg in weight compared to the around 700kg units typically fitted to today’s mainstream electric SUVs, the result is a car that achieves CO2 emissions parity with an internal-combustion engined rival earlier in its life cycle (known as LCA or Life-Cycle Assessment), while the weight saving enables the creation of a much more capable chassis.
The drawback – lighter, smaller batteries hold less charge and thus the car won’t go so far. Mazda claims a WLTP-measured driving range of 124 miles for the MX-30, extending to 160 if you spend all your time in the city and can make more extensive use of the regenerative braking. So not that far then, and that has caused some early criticism of the car.
The designers do take this on the chin, accepting that the MX-30 won’t suit everyone but arguing that its combination of driving fun and green credentials will appeal to most people’s general needs. And it is a viable argument – certainly for most of the year an MX-30 would be perfectly adequate for this reviewer’s daily commute. Only when we travel halfway across the country to visit family would we have to factor in a couple of coffee stops at public charging points. With a plus 50kW charger the battery can be replenished from 20% to 80% in less than 40 minutes.
What’s the Mazda MX-30 like to drive?
So does that ‘better handling car’ actually mean anything? Yes it does – it’s on the road where the Mazda philosophy towards lightweight batteries becomes most appealing. The MX-30 is a spirited performer – the impressive propulsion of the EV package means that the sprint time to 62mph feels rather more rapid than the officially-quoted 9.7 seconds (the car having a governed 87mph top speed), but the big plus is the excellent handling.
While the car is slightly soft on its suspension, taking it through a series of challenging bends is much more akin to the handling prowess of a well-sorted saloon than the ‘throwing a brick’-like progress of a typical SUV.
Technology does aid this – the MX-30 is fitted with a refinement of Mazda’s electronic chassis aid, dubbed e-GVC Plus, designed to control the G forces experienced when leaning into and out of a bend. It gently biases the weight to the front wheels into a corner, improving grip, then as the car exits the bend adds a small acceleration to shift the load to the rear tyres. The system all works rather well and Mazda adds that it is effective across all driving situations, not just on the limit of grip as in a typical torque-vectoring control.
The other notable EV feature is the regenerative braking, which can be adjusted over five levels of effectiveness by means of paddles behind the steering wheel, looking just like those on an auto-manual car. Practiced application of these in circumstances that require a lot of coasting and braking, such as negotiating an urban road network, can add useful extra energy to the battery and miles to the range – it becomes quite easy to use the paddles to slow the car rather than simply pressing on the brake pedal.
The Mazda MX-30 is a useful addition to the ranks of electric SUVs, offering something a little different to its rivals. It won’t suit everyone, with those walking away likely to include anyone needing to carry adults in the rear on a regular basis, and primarily those whose daily life includes driving long distances, for which the limited range will be a deal breaker.
However the vast majority of drivers don’t do long distances very often – Mazda’s own data from digital service records across its entire model range shows that the average daily journey distances are just 26 miles. For such people the MX-30 is likely to appeal on its looks, its green credentials compared to other EVs and the fact that it is an electric car that is actually fun to drive.
Model as tested: Mazda MX-30 GT Sport Tech
Price (on-road): £30,345
Powertrain: 145 hp electric motor
Battery: 35.5 kWh
Power: 145 hp
Torque: 271 Nm
Top speed: 87 mph
0-62mph: 9.7 seconds
Range: 124 miles
CO2 emissions: 0 g/km
Euro NCAP safety rating: Five stars (November 2020)
TCE Expert Rating: Not yet rated (March 2021)