You join me at the wheel of the brand-new Mazda MX-30, in a slightly frenzied state of mind, and on the electrical equivalent of ‘fumes’.
The plan earlier this morning had been a simple one: take the wife out for a pleasant Sunday drive, drop-by a remote eatery for some lunch, maybe pick-up groceries on the way home, and stop off at the DC fast charge point Google Maps informed me was at our local university campus. Easy.
Come Sunday morning though, Saturday’s autumnal skies have darkened considerably, and the throng of deposited brown leaves on our front yard have disappeared beneath a light blanket of snow. Out of nowhere, that 55 km range this particular writer thought would be enough for this afternoon’s drive – down from the originally brimmed 176 km – has already slipped to 47 km as we pull off the driveway, a result of the colder-than-expected batteries needing more power to warm themselves up. On top of that, heavy traffic means that, by the time our return journey has begun, that 47 km range is down to just 25 km.
But that’s okay. Thirty, maybe 35 minutes at the charging point should be enough for close-to 80 per cent recharge, right?
Yeah. Yeah, we’re all good.
Unfortunately, the charging point in question is out of action, and the neighbouring two stations are equipped with the wrong connectors. The only other CCS-compatible charging points in the vicinity are 19 km away. In the wrong direction.
Home, meanwhile, is 8 km away. And I have just over 15 km left ‘in the tank’. An incredibly light-footed drive back home is my only option.
It’s a blemish on what has been, to this point, an otherwise thoroughly positive test drive of the brand-new Mazda MX-30, the first fully-electrified model for the Japanese marque.
Debuted on home turf at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2019, the new MX-30 electric crossover was billed as the company’s “first step in Mazda’s multi-solution electrification strategy.” A significant one at that: an electrified counterpart to Mazda’s newly introduced CX-50 is already in the works, as it is for the larger 60, 70, 80 and 90 models, while an EV-dedicated platform is already in development for 2025 amid Mazda’s plans to complete the electrification of all its vehicles by 2030. In short, the all-electric MX-30 effectively creaks open the door for those keen to take a peak at Mazda’s long term strategy.
Built atop Mazda’s new e-Skyactiv EV architecture, the crossover features a front-wheel-drive, 80.9 kW electric motor that’s mated with a 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery, and produces 144 hp and a maximum of 200 lb -ft of torque. Mazda describes a “natural drive experience”, as indeed any crossover worth its crust should. We’ll admit the ‘MX’-30 is off on the right foot.
Though the “Human Modern” concept is a little nauseating, the exterior similarly get a thumbs up. While you wouldn’t necessarily call the Kodo Design ‘pretty’, the sunken sculpted headlamps, that rakishly-thin front grille, and the sweeping coupe-esque roofline does give the MX-30 a definitive character, as indeed do those ‘freestyle’ suicide rear doors – we’re big fans of those! – the subtly flared and accented wheel arches, and the 18-inch alloys. Even the new ‘M A Z D A’ lettering on the C-pillar, complete with silver backdrop, shouldn’t work, and yet somehow does.
Granted, not all of this you’ll receive with the entry level, $42,150 GS trim. This particular test model is in fact the top tier GT, included with which are the glass moonroof and the gunmetal finish on those alloy wheels, plus premium interior features like the 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, and the front and rear parking sensors. You’ll need to dip slightly further into your pockets to find $47,150 for all of that. Even that two-tone Soul Red Crystal paint will set you back $900.
Still, given that pricing for the rival Volkswagen ID.4 starts from $44,995, and hits $49,995 when the ‘AWD Pro’ trim is equipped – not, admittedly, an option on the front-wheel-drive-only MX-30 – Mazda’s pricing is competitive, at the very least.
Thankfully, the plush nature of the interior and the ride – wait, was that a charging station? Nope – the ride comfort and the driving experience are among the Mazda’s finer qualities.
When first you slide into the spacious MX-30 cabin, you’re met with minimalist design. There’s a sleek, multi-function steering wheel that isn’t bombarded with switchgear. There’s also a floating centre console on which is a surprisingly dainty electronic shifter, which you slide right and down to shift from Park to Drive. Were this a V12-powered muscle car, I’d make some cliched reference to ‘sliding a rifle bolt back and readying my finger on the trigger’. In the all-electric MX-30 though, the space-saving set-up just feels ruthlessly efficient.
Interestingly, there are also separate touchscreens. One – the 8.8-inch example mounted to the curvaceous dashboard – predominantly controls infotainment, Apple Carplay, and SatNav, while the other – a 7-inch model on the floating centre console – is for the climate control. At first glance it may seem a convoluted setup (the tactile buttons surrounding the 7-inch touchscreen are a bit unnecessary) but not having to faff around with various sub-menus to raise the temperature several degrees does make a difference when you’re on the move.
Which is just as well. A turtle icon on the digital gauge in front of me, plus a message explaining that I now only have access to limited acceleration, confirms that my range has dropped below 15 km, about 4 per cent of the battery’s charge. An update that’s both furrowing my brow and dismaying the wife, who’s starting to feel the chill in the cabin.
Turn on the heat? Out of the question, as the climate control single-handedly rips at least 15 km from the range all on its own. Bizarrely though, the GT model’s heated front seats and heated leather steering wheel (another option) appear to have only the softest of impacts on the rapidly decreasing electric range.
Fortunately the supple ride from the independent suspension and 18-inch rubber means this ‘discomfort’ is minimal at best, give or take the occasional jolt from the unfettered asphalt beneath us. Road roar and wind noise is similarly limited, the only discernible sounds emanating from the 12 Bose speakers, available just with the GT, but mated with a system that’s easy to navigate via the rotary dial on the centre console. Above the two-tone leatherette seating, which offers good lumbar support, there’s plenty of head and shoulder room too.
In fact, the only real detriment to the cabin is the rear bench. While the ‘driver-centric’ cabin feels open, and the trunk is more than capacious enough to swallow the weekly groceries, a couple of decently-sized suitcases, and/or a golf bag or two, the back seats feel like a disappointing after-thought: behind this admittedly lofty driver, there’s precious little legroom for rear passengers, and even with someone of more diminutive proportions at the helm, it would still be a squeeze. And while that girthy C-Pillar is an admirable addition to the exterior design, it offers almost no visibility over the left or right shoulder for the driver at all. For anything other than a small family with infants, that just isn’t good enough.
On top of that, a C-pillar-shaped blind spot means you’re almost entirely dependent on the actually-those-really-are-quite-small-now-that-I’m-in-the-cabin side mirrors and the Blind Spot Monitoring System (BSM) to ensure you don’t slam into traffic on the highway. Now, granted, the BSM is not that invasive, nor indeed is Lane Keep Assist or the Lane Departure Warnings (kudos to Mazda, all three are standard on both the GS and GT trims). Nevertheless, it’s a little nerve-wracking relying almost entirely on the onboard AI to alert you to motorists you simply can’t see just a few feet from your $900 paint.
Eleven kilometres of range, six kilometres to go. The windscreen has started to fog up in the cold, but I daren’t turn the climate control on to remedy it.
There are other quibbles with the cabin. Hidden beneath the floating centre console, for example, are two USB ports and a 12-volt power outlet. Unfortunately, both USB ports are on the passenger side, and are almost entirely inaccessible from the driver’s seat; your choices for plugging in a dying iPhone thus involve either getting out of the car, or angling yourself across the cupholders and stabbing blindly until you hit the bull’s eye.
The cork accenting is also an admittedly personal bugbear. One of several elements in the cabin made from recycled materials – so-used as they do no harm donor trees – the cork is an admirable if slightly tacky visual addition to the interior. As indeed is the grey ‘breathing fabric’ on the doors: yes, it’s made from recycled bottles, but it really doesn’t match the ‘premium’ feel so ably showcased by the similarly-recycled leatherette on the dashboard.
Four kilometres to go. With almost no visibility left, I’ve had to turn on the heat to defrost the windscreen, the turtle blinking furiously at me as I do so. The wife? Temporarily abandoned with a gift card at a passing Starbucks so I can maximize my available range (sorry darling, Happy Anniversary!)
All of which brings us to the drive itself.
Now, let’s not kid ourselves, there’s nothing ‘MX-5’ about the ‘MX-30’ crossover. But a “natural driving experience”? Mazda may have something there.
The steering, while power-assisted, nevertheless has some serious heft to it. Even at low speeds, the turning radius feels confidently weighted, and is dialed in consistently enough that you’ll never feel like the front end is about to slip away from you.
Don’t let the paddles behind the wheel confuse you either, as they minimize and maximize the regenerative power of the battery respectively: to call the regen ‘abrupt’ in pretty much any of the settings other than the most conservative would be a disservice, and generally all you’ll feel is a noticeable level of deceleration as opposed to a jolt that hurls you through the windscreen. Braking? Sharp but with plenty of travel in the pedal. Tick.
Similarly, acceleration from that 144 hp motor, while hardly groundbreaking (cough), feels smooth and mellow, yet when making full use of that 200 lb-ft of torque, is spritely off the line. It’s not so much an engaging driving experience as it is a confidence-inducing cruise.
Nine kilometres of range. Climate off. Two kilometres to go.
Though the range-anxiety gnawing away at this writer like indigestion might suggest otherwise, Mazda’s first foray into the electrified world has been a successful one. Yes, the rear seats are cramped, the recycled elements of the cabin are questionable in form if not function, and $47,150 is still a sizeable investment. There’s also availability to consider, as the MX-30 is only available to prospective owners in British Columbia and Québec for the time being. Ontario customers will need to wait until the MX-30 with a range extender arrives in late 2022. And yes, the irony is not lost on me.
On top of that, there’s also the battery pack’s range to consider. A little math shows that, during our test, the MX-30 managed a collective range of 278 km against an estimated 261 km, though the max range per charge in the cold weather was still only 176 km. Waiting patient for the range extender is not the worst idea if you don’t fancy a trip to VW.
Still, there are positives to consider. This writer’s poor forward-planning aside, DC fast chargers continue to pop up incrementally across Ontario. Considerately weighted steering mean owning a mid-sized electric crossover doesn’t guarantee handling will be a soggy bag of blancmange. Acceleration is smooth and nippy if not entirely raw when you get your foot down. Behind the rear passengers, trunk-space is cavernous, and the look, both inside and out, is stirring with a build-quality to match. For Mazda’s EV aspirations, it’s all heading in the right direction.
As, fortunately, am I. With, mercifully, every greenlight in my favour, it’s with an enormous sigh of relief that your writer pulls into the driveway with a little over 7 km to spare. As the MX-30 settles in for a 21-hour trickle charge on the 3-pin home outlet (don’t worry, DC fast charging will give you 80 per cent charge within 36 minutes), I dutifully set off in the family’s Ford Edge to rescue the better half and receive a deserved bollocking.
This then is the (slightly facetious) reality of electric motoring as it stands today. But one in which Mazda’s first addition to the industry can at least hold its sculpted headlights up high.