The only electric SUV worth buying?

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(Cybertech) – Right now electric cars are a hot proposition – especially in the UK, where the diesel ban penned for 2030 will certainly make buyers consider their options. Maybe not right now, this very second, but you’ll more than likely be browsing around in the near future.

Such options – ones that are actually within the realms of affordable – include this, the Mazda MX-30, the Japanese maker’s first all-electric production vehicle. And it’s a compact SUV, to boot, which is very on trend right now as everyone seems to want to higher ride height.

Coinciding with the company’s centenary, the MX-30 is therefore a very important release. But with hot competition from the admittedly-not-SUV Volkswagen ID.3 and others, does Mazda get enough right on its first attempt?

Design

Hang on, is that a three door SUV? Hold your horses. You might see no rear door handles – and the space back there for the rear three seats is fairly tight – but this is the MX-30’s nod to Mazda’s RX-8. Because they’re suicide doors, i.e. the rears open ‘backwards’. We’re not sure why a compact SUV needs to nod to a legendary sports car, but there we are.

Which may seem like an odd thing to initially point out, especially when the MX-30 is such a distinctive looking car. Well, it is in part. It’s not too whacky, yet not too vanilla – it’s well balanced. 

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It’s the small touches that stand out: the protruding, almost cylindrical rear lights; the cut-away overhang to the front lights, too. It all gives this SUV an airy expression.

It doesn’t scream “electric car” either – well, ok, save for the “electric” wording scrawled beneath the rear windows on silver-colour panels – with no unnecessary pomp or fuss about its ways. The charging cap looks like a fuel cap. And in a world where SUVs are ten a penny, it fits in neatly, while showing it’s that little bit different without going overboard.

Interior & Tech

Much the same can be said of the interior. Open the drivers door and, in this higher trim spec, the seat mechanically readies itself for you to slink into place. A nice touch.

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There’s almost a mix of past, present and future about this interior. While many car-makers are going head over heels for everything being touchscreen controlled, Mazda seems to have shown some restraint. Daresay consideration.

For the MX-30’s combination of centre tunnel controls – there’s four main buttons and a depressable rotational dial – paired with a 7-inch tablet-like display/touch-based screen (to the front of this tunnel) reminds us a little of BMW’s iDrive system. Which, sure, is now on its way out – to pave way for the future and all that – but is eminently usable, in particular while actually driving.

That lower touchscreen has some physical side buttons, or you can use the power of touch if preferred to control settings such as cabin temperature or heated seats. It’s nicely out of the way of eyeshot, so it’s not distracting – allowing the main screen, front-and-centre of the dash in its elongated 8.8-inch panoramic form, to be available for quick glances.

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That main screen isn’t a hulking great thing like you’ll find in a Tesla, but it’s less distracting as a result. And whether you’ve got Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, or the in-car navigation setup on there, it’s very much easy to see.

There’s something purposeful about Mazda’s setup. It’s not show-off, but it’s very practical and it’s been a while since we’ve been able to say that about a modern day car.

Sometimes practical means you’ll lack some of the mod cons of some competitors though. There’s no driver’s display beyond the wheel here, for example, which is where the combined digital and analogue dials live. Instead, Mazda goes for what it calls an Active Driving Display, which is an adjustable near-invisible panel that’s in eyeline during driving, there to display speed limits, alert you to speeding, and various cruise-control and lane-keep activations. In other words: it’s a head-up display (HUD).

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Indeed, it’s the brightest HUD that we’ve experienced in any vehicle, asserting its prominence, but we actually had to dial it down to avoid its somewhat glinting nature.

We mentioned that Mazda is celebrating its centenary which means every MX-30 features some cork finished interior panels. Why, we hear you ask? Because the company began life as a cork manufacturer. Which is a very circular and complete story that, heartwarming as it sounds, doesn’t mean the cork inside looks the part. It almost looks unfinished. But each to their own, it’s all about preference – and you can’t say this isn’t unique.

Much of the interior is otherwise well appointed though. The seats are comfortable, here finished in (quoting Mazda) “light grey cloth and stone leatherette combined with orange seat stitching” – very oh la la. The side panels to the doors are made from recycled plastics – but the weave of the finish looks much more premium. The mix of soft-touch material and sometimes plastics all fits together well.

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Some other aspects are less well thoughout out. The two front USB sockets will require hand contortion to plug your phone in. There’s some cabin rattle along bumpier roads – from which part of the doors/cabin we could never quite determine, but it is there (although nothing nearly as bad as, say, a Volvo XC40).

Range & Drive

As for the drive, this is one comfortable cruiser, more than capable of hoisting you along at fair pace. Mazda’s electric motor doesn’t seem entirely confident – not in ability, although the 0-62mph time of 9 seconds is hardly sensational – but for the fact the company pumps pseudo combustion engine noise into the cabin. It’s fairly subtle, but having driven electric cars that go sensational on the fact that’s what they are – Porsche Taycan, Polestar 2 – the MX-30 seems to want to hide that a little.

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Its range, too, isn’t a standout figure. The WLTP rates the car as offering 124 miles (200km) per charge. Which is more than good enough for commuting, no doubt, but when the VW ID.3 offers nearer 200 miles (321km) it does raise the question of, simply, why not more? After all, this is a compact SUV – it’s not as though there isn’t the floor space to accommodate greater battery without significantly compromising driving dynamics.

In our hands, across a range of country roads and A-road driving we managed 32 miles (50km) and dropped the battery from 92 per cent to 55 per cent. So, realistically, when putting the pedal down and not thinking as economically as possible – it’s got to be done sometimes – this is more like a 100 miler (160km) per charge. Which puts it below even a Honda e – and that’s more designed much more as a city runaround – for its potential. That might seem at odds with what an SUV should be aiming to achieve. We don’t doubt that more economical driving would squeeze that figure north, but not likely by a huge amount. 

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Mazda has taken a similar approach in its energy recuperation to other electric car makers: there are two paddles to the side of the steering wheel to control the three levels of regenerative braking. Each time you turn the car back on, however, it resets to default – so if you want the brakes to be recuperating more energy automatically you’ll need to remember to toggle it back up.

It’s not the kind of aggressive recuperation you’ll find in the Polestar 2, which is pretty much a one-pedal car in its driving style – and frankly quite unlike anything else on the market – but then the Polestar is also unlikely to appeal to your wallet to the same degree as this Mazda, given the MX-30’s sub-£30k asking price (compared to the circa-£45k of the Polestar).

In some respects the MX-30 is hard to compare to other current EVs. The Lexus UX300e is perhaps a nearby comparison, but then it’s pricier and, oddly, altogether more conventional. Which brings us back down the pricing scale and, despite not being an SUV, the VW ID.3 is unavoidably knocking on Mazda’s door (the hidden ones?) – plus it’s a lot more fun to drive. Although the visibility in the MX-30 is far superior thanks to much more sensibly proportioned A-pillars.

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Overall, you’re not buying the MX-30 for speedy acceleration or sporty driving dynamics. You’re buying it for the higher ride height, the comfort, the quietness – all those things a compact SUV is designed to deliver. If you can forgive the range per charge then that’s all those important boxes otherwise ticked.

Verdict

The Mazda MX-30 feels like a well balanced mixture of past, present and future. That brings with it some great points and some not-so-good points.

First up, the range. People will criticise that it’s not going to do heaps more than 100 miles per charge. And fair enough. But for short journeys and commutes, if you have a wall charger at home, then that’s no bother really. Want more? Then definitely look elsewhere – and be prepared to pay more, too.

Second, the design. There’s a nod to the past – cork-lined interior panels; RX-8 suicide doors; the maker’s inability to not pump in some fake engine noise when accelerating. There’s a pinch of present – the tech setup’s physical controls are actually usable, not touch-obsessed to the point of ridiculous like so many competitors (yes, Volkswagen, the ID.3 is irksome in this regard). And a flirt with the future – that subtle exterior design with its cut-out lights is distinctive.

It would be easy to give the Mazda MX-30 a hard time for its limited range potential. But that would be to overlook its distinctive proposition in the EV space. So if you’re after a comfortable cruiser with high ride height and a genuinely usable tech setup that’ll all just slot into your life, then there’s not much else like this compact SUV on the all-electric market.

Also consider

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Volkswagen ID.3

No, it’s not an SUV. But it’s a similar price, has an airy interior, greater range and more pep. So if you don’t need the high ride height then it’s one EV that’s garnering a lot of attention right now. However, it’s touch-obsessed tech setup leans on the side of downright annoying.

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Lexus UX300e

A more obvious comparison, yet the Lexus is an electric version of the company’s existing UX range and, really, it feels like that – rather than something all-new. It’s also pricier. So while it’s more conventional and has a little more range, on balance the Mazda has something a bit more enthralling about its take on ‘EV SUV’.

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Polestar 2

Hardly a direct comparison, we know. Think of this more as the muscle car version of a Tesla. And wonderful it is too. Embracing its EV mantra every step of the way. It’s no SUV and it’s far pricier – but its range and driving dynamics are simply outstanding.

Writing by Mike Lowe.



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