If you’re looking at the headline and expecting an in-depth review of the new Mazda MX-30, then I’m afraid I have to disappoint you. I was handed the keys to a prototype, one of just three that exist in the world, and Mazda was keen to remind me that it doesn’t represent the finished product.
That’s a good job, as the MX-30 is well over a year away from going on sale in the UK, so there’s still a lot of work to be done.
It’s difficult to know how much work is needed though, as the various parts of the new car seem more or less complete. A static hand-built version of the car was presented to us, looking a million dollars under studio lighting. That was aided by the main talking point of the car, at least when it comes to cosmetics; the freedom doors. These half-sized doors swing open from hinges at the rear, bringing back memories of the RX-8 sports car. They look sharp, but also look impractical, especially as the front door needs to be open as well. It also adds weight and complexity, which is anathema to an electric car.
Yes, the MX-30 is a pure electric car. There’s an electric motor under that stubby bonnet, with a 35.5kWh battery hidden away under the seats. Mazda hopes this will be good enough for a 125-mile range once production starts.
If you’re thinking that 125-miles doesn’t sound much, then you’re right, but Mazda has a plan. We all know most drivers rarely exceed 30 miles in a day, and the average commute is less than 20 miles, so 125 miles will be enough for the majority of people’s driving. Not everybody though, which Mazda acknowledges, and it’s got other solutions for those people, including a range extender option, the new Skyactiv-X petrol engine, or a forthcoming new diesel engine for those covering seriously high mileage.
For everybody else, 125 miles will be enough, even if you don’t think it will be. Only occasionally will you need to rely on the public charging infrastructure, and then plugging in for just half an hour will give you most of your range back. If you’ve not lived with an electric car before, it’s understandable why a low range would worry you, but it’s not something that should be a huge concern.
It’s all part of Mazda approaching EVs differently to the rest of the market, making its cars stand out against every other EV. Step from one EV, such as a Kia e-Niro, into another car, like a Nissan Leaf, and you’d be hard pushed to tell the difference from the way they drive - all EVs have that instant torque, plenty of power and a near-silent drivetrain. Mazda’s hoping it’s managed to imbibe the MX-30 with some jinba ittai, a Japanese phrase that suggests the sense of oneness between an archer and his horse. Simply issuing instructions to the car through the steering wheel and pedals isn’t enough, the driver must be part of the machine and feel integrated into it.
It does this with the MX-30 by starting with the impressive CX-30m which explains why the prototype looks exactly like the latter - the EV running gear has been hidden away under the conventional body. Mounting the battery low brings the centre of gravity down, aiding handling, but that’s not unique to Mazda. However, torque vectoring on turn-in is unusual, where the car adjusts the brakes and throttle by tiny amounts to make the front of the car tuck into a corner more neatly and accurately. The same happens on the exit of a corner, making the MX-30 feel more agile, more urgent than its rivals.
Mazda has elected to waste some energy, throwing away some of the energy it could recover under braking to produce a more natural, traditional car feel as you scrub off speed. The motor acts as a generator and under braking and does recover some energy, but it’s not as much as possible, prioritising driver engagement.
Bizarrely, there’s also fake engine noise piped into the cabin. This gets louder or quieter, and changes pitch, according to what you’re doing at the time. It could be awful but actually works quite well, providing useful aural feedback to help subconsciously calculate speed and acceleration.
The combination of electronic assistance, chassis wizardry and tech trickery mean that this prototype car actually drives, well, like a car. It’s smooth, refined and comfortable, and handles sharply with some engaging feedback. The finished car will also include a quality interior covered in recycled plastics, sustainable cork and vegan leather, so will stand out against the crowd.
The only thing is that 125 miles range. It is enough for most drivers to go about their usual day with, but the market has a collective range anxiety issue which explains the ever-increasing mileage EVs can manage. This comes at a price, figuratively and literally - dragging around excess batteries for the few times you’ll need to cover long distances is inefficient and impacts energy use for the rest of the time. Batteries aren’t cheap either, and adding double or triple the batter adds double or triple the cost to the car, which is reflected in PCP, lease or purchase costs.
Still, It’ll take a cultural shift in electric car acceptance for that range not to look miserly against the 250+ mile ranges available in its rivals. The car won’t be finished until early 2021, so there’s plenty of time for Mazda’s marketing people to work it's magic and shift expectations.