Irvine, California.-It can be said that Mazda has some way to go when it comes to electrification. The Japanese automaker has repeatedly impressed us with its pronounced understanding of driving dynamics and attention to detail. But Mazda is only just launching its first-generation battery-electric vehicle – the MX-30 compact crossover – at a time when other automakers are in their fifth year.
It would be easy to dismiss the Mazda MX-30 based on the numbers alone. The range of 100 miles (160 km) will be the biggest hurdle for people; that would have been a tough sell in 2014, let alone 2021. Then there is the fact that Mazda initially only imports 560 MX-30s, all of which are destined for California. This is not an EV for the masses, something the Mazda PR folks were upfront about. They openly describe the $ 33,470 electric vehicle (before federal tax credits) as a “commuter car.”
And yet Mazda is the car company that built a crossover that is more fun than most hot hatches. It has also produced over a million MX-5 Miatas. So I went to California last week to find out if the MX-30 is a rare Mazda misstep or if the Hiroshima Anabaptists still have a surprise in store.
The MX-30 uses Mazda’s Skyactiv chassis architecture, which is also used by the CX-30 crossover. In fact, the MX-30 is almost identical in size to the CX-30: both crossovers have the same wheelbase of 104.4 inches (2,652 mm) and share their lengths (173 inches / 4,394 mm) and widths (71 inches / 1,803 mm). At 61.5 inches (1,562 mm), however, the electric MX-30 is a fraction shorter.
These numbers are actually a bit of a surprise. In my experience, the MX-30 feels smaller, especially on the inside. The suicide doors – I’m sure Mazda would prefer to call them “freestyle doors” – are reminiscent of the BMW i3, and our vehicle contained a cramped rear seat that is more suitable for luggage storage than carrying two full-fledged passengers .
The interior is a bit quirky. But only a little.
The MX-30 has a slightly quirkier interior than we’d expect from Mazda. In places a thin layer of cork is used as a surface treatment – an allusion to Mazda’s origins as a cork manufacturer before turning to vehicles. Cork is used on the back of the inside door handles and as a cladding for the center console, which hides its pair of cup holders with flip-up lids.
Another panel with the rotary control and the buttons for the infotainment as well as the drive selector protrudes from the dashboard. In front of it is a touchscreen for the air conditioning – the infotainment screen without a touchscreen is embedded in the dashboard at the top in the driver’s field of vision. Below the drive selector switch and the infotainment control panel there are two USB-A ports for connecting devices and a 150 W 110 V AC socket.
The use of cork gives you an interesting feeling, especially when you open or close the door from the inside. But it’s hard to avoid the impression that Mazda’s designers and engineers were fighting a critical battle to keep the MX-30 weight down.
For the same reason as the lack of interior space: the need to pack a 310 kg lithium-ion battery with 35.5 kWh. In the end, the curb weight of the MX-30 is 3,655 lb (1,658 kg). Charging should take less than three hours with a level 2 AC charger or 36 minutes to 80 percent with a 50 kW DC charger.
Over time, Mazda will build plug-in hybrid MX-30s as well as true production hybrid MX-30s that use a rotary engine as a range extender. But right now we only get (560) BEV MX-30s here in the US. These use a 143 hp (107 kW), 200 lb-ft (271 Nm) electric motor that powers the front wheels.
In our pre-ride briefing, Mazda pointed out that the MX-30’s battery means the MX-30 has a rearward-facing weight distribution, which means that there is less stress on the front tires and less lateral weight shift during cornering . And the backpack contributes to a body that is 45 percent more torsion-resistant than that of the CX-30.
Mazda also told us that its G-vectoring control system (which uses tiny amounts of torque to control weight transfer when turning in) works faster than ever because it can control the power of an electric motor more finely and faster than an internal combustion engine. The fixed-mount electric motor also allows the Mazda to mount tires with stiffer sidewalls as it doesn’t have to worry about filtering out vibrations from the road that could disrupt an internal combustion engine.
Where is the zoom-zoom?
I mentioned earlier that Mazda knows how to build normal cars that reward drivers; Within the first five minutes of driving a CX-30, you know that something special is at work, possibly some kind of magic. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice any of this from the MX-30. The electric motor is high torque enough to spin its low rolling resistance front tires if your right foot is too heavy, but the driving experience is honestly disappointing.
The MX-30 has a single driving mode – there is no confusion with the Eco or Sport modes. But it also has increasing (or decreasing) levels of regenerative braking that you control via paddles on the steering wheel. The left paddle increases the lift generation; the right paddle will decrease it. Pedaling at High or Max is no problem, and when you are on the minimum setting the MX-30 can coast when you lift the throttle stick.
The springs and dampers handled sharp bumps like expansion joints just fine, but long-lasting street scars carried over into the cabin, where they found ways here and there to vibrate trim. The result is a driving experience that is sufficient for commuting, but not tempting to take the long, winding way home just for fun. Which you probably wouldn’t do anyway if a big detour was involved.
Our route was a little over 60 miles and a mix of canyon, suburb, city and highway. I measured an average of 3.8 miles / kWh which was only a little over 1 mile for each percent of the charge. Mazda research has shown that many commuters travel less than 30 miles per day, which the MX-30 range can easily handle. But I’m not sure if that’s the real customer for this electric vehicle.
I mentioned earlier that the MX-30 didn’t just remind me of the BMW i3 in terms of short range and suicide doors. BMW used the i3 (and before that the Mini e) to get some real-world data on its then-emerging EV technology, and Mazda needs all the EV data it can get. So it is possible that the MX-30 is a subsidized engineering exercise designed to inform Mazda’s next BEVs. Three Mazda BEVs are due between 2023 and 2025.
A more cynical, if more likely, alternative was offered by a colleague: Are 560 exactly the number of zero-emission cars Mazda needs to sell in California to avoid the wrath of the Golden State’s Air Resources Board?
Offering picture by Jonathan Gitlin