First drive: Mazda's first electric car touches down in NZ

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Words: NZ Autocar
1 May 2021

In recent years, Mazda has had a few “first-ever” vehicles. Add the MX-30 to the list, the company’s opening salvo in the battery electric vehicle war.

Because it’s a Mazda you just know it will be different; the company likes to be edgy. Perhaps the most predictable aspect is that it’s a compact SUV, amongst the biggest sellers here at present. But even then it isn’t conventional, sporting RX-8-style ‘freestyle’ or reverse-hinged doors.

In a world seemingly obsessed with ever-increasing battery size and touring range, Mazda has deliberately taken the opposite tack, instead opting for a moderate sized 35.5kWh battery pack, modest vehicle weight and a resulting NEDC range of 224km. The reasoning? EV batteries are incredibly carbon intensive so the smaller the pack, the quicker an EV reaches a break even CO2 point where it becomes more environmentally acceptable than a comparable ICE-powered vehicle.

Given the average daily commute in New Zealand is 28km, there’s sufficient for around a working week of travel before needing to recharge. Most owners will simply install a 6kW wallbox and reinvigorate the battery pack each night (3 hours) or on alternate evenings. It takes an hour (10-80 per cent) on a 50kW fast charger.

This is envisaged as a compact urban SUV, in the main. Despite that, the launch drive involved both town and country ramblings, for any Mazda should drive as good as it looks. And on appearances, it won the Japanese Car of the Year design award for its modern Kodo styling.

We’d expected it to be dynamically interesting as it shares many mechanicals with Mazda3. Despite having freestyle rear doors and no B pillar it actually ends up having a more rigid body. For proof, it aced both the EuroNCAP and ANCAP crash test programmes.

To drive, it is much like a higher riding Mazda3, though still feels more car-like than SUV, perhaps in part because of its electric G-Vectoring Control Plus, a system that uses wheel braking and motor torque to optimise front-rear load shifts. It makes steering feel more natural and aids stability. Through tighter roads it threads a fine path. The ride is pretty decent, the occasional jiggle like the result of its torsion beam rear end, but it’s still an easy riding, easy steering drive.

It’s not a big vehicle, at under 4.4m in length, and rear seat leg room reflects that but there’s easy access via one-touch front seat movement. You’d fit two adults in the back providing the front seat passengers were willing to shift forwards a touch. That said, it’s likely to be bought by empty nesters. There’s decent load space on hand too (341-1146L), with an underfloor cubby.

Sticking to speed limits and making best use of the variable regenerative function (five settings) means one-pedal driving is quite possible and we achieved energy usage of 15.3kWh/100km, the 60-km out trip using up one-quarter of available charge. That equates to around 240km of touring range. On the return journey home we tried to be more liberal with the throttle but even then only registered 15.7kWh/100km. Clearly the smaller battery pack and reasonable overall weight pay dividends.

It’s an intuitive drive the MX-30. Mazda designs its vehicles thus, to be human-centric. Stepping inside the cabin, it’s next-level simplistic. You want reverse gear? Push the lever left, done. Drive, you pull the lever from R downwards to D. Most EVs rush headlong away from a stop but this is more measured; Mazda has designed it to look and drive like a regular car; it even has a grille.

The touchscreen is easy to run and there’s a separate screen for AC functioning. Controls are just where you’d want them to be, nav instructions are on screen, along with local speed limits for the area. And even radio stations are quick and easy to select. Human-centric indeed.

The interior is bright and breezy, featuring a floating centre console, and there’s a mix of natural and recycled components, with things like vegan leather, textiles made from recycled plastic bottles, and cork tray linings, the latter harking back to the origins of Mazda. There’s every conceivable safety item in attendance, right down to head-up display, adaptive LED lights, and active cruise control with lane keeping.

About the only real design failing relates to the rearward visibility, the thick backwards opening doors creating a blind spot when checking what’s coming up behind.

You know it’s not ICE powered because it is hushed beyond belief. There’s very little tyre noise, and the only motor noise is a synthetic mechanical whirring that sounds quite throaty when pushed. It’s quieter on the go than most executive offerings.The MX-30 costs more than an ICE-powered equivalent, with an RRP of $74,990.

MX-30 launches midyear and there’s the usual five-year warranty and free servicing schedules, while the battery pack is covered for eight years. Plus, you’ll get five native trees planted, further improving your carbon footprint.

We imagine Mazda will sell all they can get their hands on, for it presents and drives well, is quick to recharge and has decent range for urban running, with sufficient for the odd jaunt out of town.

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