What is it?
Mazda has always refused to join the rush to all-out electrification, arguing very firmly that there is still a great deal of practical and emissions-friendly development to come from petrol and diesel engines. So when the Japanese brand finally launched its first full electric vehicle in 2020, the MX-30 SUV was rather different, prioritising the driving experience and light weight over pure range.
The MX-30 indeed drives rather better than the average electric SUV, but that’s partly because its battery is much smaller than the norm and at 310 kilos around half the weight, and as a result provides a range between charges of just 124 miles. Plenty, says Mazda, when its research concludes that the average motorist does no more than 26 miles a day – even the Government quotes the average weekly mileage as around 100 miles. Yet for some, that modest range is a good reason not to buy an MX-30.
So now we have a new version, the MX-30 R-EV, a hybrid model with a range-extender petrol engine added – its sole purpose to charge up the battery when it’s depleted and the engine having no connection with the wheels. It’s been done before, but of course Mazda is doing it somewhat differently to the rest – the engine in question is a rotary unit.
Invented by Felix Wankel in 1934, the rotary engine was first brought to the market in 1963 by NSU, and many other makers tried to master it – all gave up except Mazda, which brought many rotary-powered cars to production, the most recent being the RX-8 sports coupe which was last made in 2012.
The big advantage of a rotary is that it is small and light (the MX-30’s is just 830cc), which in turn makes it very smooth. And as an electrical generator it really comes into its own – the principle is just the same as hydro-electric, nuclear, even wind turbines.
The battery in the MX-30 R-EV is at just 188 kilos much smaller and lighter again than that in the standard all-electric version, and as such it offers a maximum range of just 53 miles. But the ability to automatically recharge adds another potential 350 miles removes any range anxiety a potential owner might have.
The R-EV offers three driving modes, headed by Normal which has a default setting, the engine coming to life for recharging duties when the battery is depleted to 43%. However the driver can change this, to anything between 20 and 100%.
There’s a full EV mode, in which the car will operate on full electric power only until just above an empty battery, though if more power is needed than the battery can supply (for example if the driver accelerates hard) the engine will provide it. And there’s a charge mode, as the name suggests the engine filling the battery for when the driver needs it, such as in a city centre.
A small battery does mean fast recharging, especially as unlike most plug-in hybrids, the MX-30 R-EV will accept fast DC charging, as well as Type 2 and CCS systems. The battery can be boosted from 20 to 80% in 25 minutes, or 50 minutes with a normal fast-charger. Even a 7.2kw AC unit only takes an hour and a half.
In terms of specification the R-EV mirrors the full battery MX-30, though the three trim levels now have catchy titles dubbed Prime-Line, Exclusive Line and Makoto. Both battery and range-extender are priced the same, ranging from £31,250 (plus between £500 and £1800 for the exterior colour unless the buyer likes white) and apart from the drivetrain, the only difference is on the top-spec Makoto versions – the R-EV has a three-pin plug socket allowing ‘Vehicle to Load’ – powering equipment, such as a lighting system or camping cooker from the car.
Generally the specification is comprehensive, even base-level cars including such extras as adaptive cruise control, a head-up display and a reversing camera. And a wide suite of active safety aids come as standard, the MX-30 earning a top five-star Euro NCAP safety rating.
What do we think of it?
The MX-30 is different even before one gets in it. Like the RX-8, the car lacks a central pillar and the back doors are hinged on their rear edges, the so-called ‘suicide doors’ supposedly making entry easy as the whole of the car is exposed. But they can’t be opened before the fronts and the steeply sloping roof means that rear-seat passengers will find their surroundings cosy to say the least, and thanks to the small windows dark – unless one chooses the Makoto, which includes a standard-fit sunroof.
Up front it’s rather more spacious and rather more satisfying, with the sensibly laid-out controls and high-mounted infotainment screen that are signature Mazda products. The fit and finish is of high quality too, and includes eco-friendly elements such as cork surfaces recalling Mazda’s earliest history as a manufacturer of the material.
The ‘raison d’être’ of the MX-30 is borne out on the road – it is fun to drive and thanks to its lighter weight handles rather better than a typical EV. This is further borne out in the R-EV which behaves in a keen and assured manner on the road. It trims a bit over half a second from the EV’s 0-62mph time and in truth feels swifter than its stated 9.1 seconds. With the added benefit of Mazda’s electronic chassis aid e-GVC Plus, which changes its grip bias from front to rear wheels for tighter control of G forces when cornering, the car handles very well.
You can’t feel the difference either when the engine wakes up or when switching between drive modes, but after a while you will hear it. The rotary only generates electricity so it’s not affected by variations in demand, but as a result it emits a low but constant-note and mildly irritating buzz.
Like most EVs there is a full range of regenerative braking levels, returning useful power to the battery. And one should take every opportunity to replenish one’s kilowatts as based on the launch test drive making excessive use of the engine could see fuel ec0nomy below 40mpg.
Overall the MX-30 R-EV is an effective machine with a major potential drawback of the full-electric model removed. It will find an audience – but perhaps a rather specialist one.
Mazda MX-30 R-EV Makoto
Price: £37,700 (range starts £31,250)
Motor/Engine: 125kW/830cc rotary
Max Power: 170 hp
Max Torque: 260 Nm
Top Speed: 87 mph
0-62mph: 9.1 seconds
E-range: 53 miles
CO2: 21 g/km