Mazda’s MX-30 EV –
MAZDA MIXES IT UP
It wasn’t long after Japanese automaker Mazda introduced itself to America that it reintroduced the rotary engine – initially known as the Wankel rotary – to that same American market. With fewer moving parts, an extremely compact package and an almost electric-like smoothness, the rotary was perfect for a family of compact coupes and sedans. But it was also thirsty, and Mazda’s timing – on the cusp of our first OPEC crisis – couldn’t have been worse. The rotary would subsequently appear on Mazda’s RX-7 and, later, the 2+2 RX-8, but those were sports/GTs, where efficiency played a secondary role to performance. Mazda is bringing the rotary back as a range extender for its MX-30 EV, but it isn’t here yet. And not here in time for this MX-30 review.
If you’ve been wondering why it’s taken Mazda so long to join the EV game, you’re not alone – but then, neither is Mazda. As a small OEM selling its product on most continents, Mazda’s product development team has been stretched thin. And on the environmental front, its SkyActiv gas and diesel powerplants have been a bright spot in the industry’s quest for efficiency and lower emissions. But the EV is gaining ground, if not in actual showroom sales but showroom conversation, loved by both pundits and politicians. While late to the game, the all-new MX-30 puts Mazda in the game. But with just 100 miles of real range in this, its first iteration, you have to ask: Whose game?
In the walk-up I was impressed by the MX-30’s alternate interpretation of EV architecture. Rather than electrifying an existing platform or asking Buck Rogers to design a new one, Mazda has done its own take. The end result is not unlike Honda’s late, lamented Element, redone in a more unified fashion – what the company terms ‘Human Modern’ – by Mazda. The freestyle doors (my 8-year old grandson Rhys immediately thought ‘luxury car’!) are perhaps the centerpiece, but the low roofline shouldn’t be overlooked – in part because it can be overlooked. The balance of the MX-30’s sheetmetal is done with restraint, making today’s Prius look decidedly, well, ‘Buck Rogers’.
Inside, and despite its relatively small volume, the design team hit a homerun. The floating center console and door grips are crafted from cork, while the top of the doors are covered in felt. It is, as Mazda claims, light and open, but also warm and inviting. And while the rear seat is relatively tight, my grandson – atop his booster seat – had legroom to spare, something he doesn’t have in our ’06 Grand Cherokee.
Under the MX-30’s hood is 143 electrified horsepower driving the front wheels – and only the front wheels. Torque is a healthy 200 lb-ft, but with 3,600 pounds to propel 0-60 is a leisurely 9.6 seconds. Compared to my ’66 Beetle – driven back in high school – it feels fast, but when compared to Kia’s Niro EV or Chevy’s Bolt it seems slow. The ride and handling balance is typically Mazda, which is to say good. But it’s not like this powertrain is there to entertain; instead, it seems designed to deliver an unexpected level of serenity. And it’s welcome as many return to the workday commute.
Five years ago a range of 100 miles was fairly typical for the segment. And if you have in-home charging and a short commute – or fast charging at the office – it would still work well. Without those options you’ll have to wait for Mazda’s rotary range extender (that’s once, of course, the MX-30 is sold in Texas – for now it’s California-only), or go to Plan B. Which – at this point – is available just about anywhere. But at an affordable $34K-$38K, less the federal tax credit, the MX-30’s price point is accessible, and its environmental footprint appropriately small.
Mazda recently announced a wave of hybrid and EV platforms, to hit showrooms over the next couple of years. With that, think of the MX-30 as an appetizer and not the full-boat entrée. Or, of course, a bento box.