Mazda’s first EV is strange for a Japanese car, logical for a European one, but here’s why it could work in The EV Hell of Singapore
Mazda unveiled its very first full-production electric vehicle (EV), dubbed the MX-30, at the Tokyo Motorshow yesterday,
Here are the most important things you need to know about it.
It’s related to the CX-30, but not the same
The MX-30 is based on the CX-30. The CX-30, announced in March this year, is Mazda’s forthcoming product that strikes where the iron is hot – the small SUV segment, which includes cars such as the Nissan Qashqai and Honda HR-V.
But like the Audi Q3 Sportback is to the regular Audi Q3, the MX-30 is a coupe-ified version of its brother, besides being a fully battery powered vehicle, of course. You can instantly see that from the rear view of the car, with its contrast-coloured roof and thick C-pillar.
Dimensions wise it has the same wheelbase and width, and though it doesn’t look it, it’s actually 30mm taller (4,395mm x 1,795mm x 1,570mm), and Mazda says it chose the body-style due to engineering requirements to fit the battery (like so many other EV SUVs on the market.
The platform has unique touches to make it stiffer and stronger with the ring structures seen in the construction of the current Mazda 3, not to mention to contain the 35.5kWh battery pack
As Mazda’s first EV, it also departs a little from the rest of the Mazda range. Says the car’s chief designer, Youichi Matsuda (above) : “We wanted to emphasise the ‘Mazda-ness’ of it strongly, but also simplify it as well,” hence the focal point of the front is the Mazda badge and it lacks the usual grille.
It has a smaller battery pack than most other EVs, and for good reasons
Making an EV with a range of less than 300km seems a foolish move, but Mazda opted precisely for that on purpose. The MX-30 has a lithium ion pack of 35.5kWh capacity, and is expected to deliver around 200km of range – compare that to the Kia Niro EV, which has a 64kWh battery pack and quoted range of almost 500km.
The Hyundai Kona Electric’s less expensive base model has a battery pack with 39kWh, and a motor with 135hp so it looks like a key competitor for the Mazda. Read our review of the more powerful Long Range version here.
But, Mazda claims, not everyone needs maximum range all the time, quoting the average 50km of driving the average European covers daily, which is incidentally similar to the average Singaporean driver’s daily mileage in 2015.
“We should not be excessive with battery size. We should consider how much range does a customer really need and how much battery [capacity] can we avoid to reduce CO2 substantially?” Christian Schultze, Mazda Europe’s research and development head told Autocar UK.
A smaller battery, Mazda claims, allows the MX-30 to maintain a smaller overall lifecycle CO2 impact than a Mazda 3.
Plus a smaller pack is easier to package, reduces mass, is quicker to charge (should take less than six hours on a wallbox, compared to nine hours or more for the 64kWh Koreans) increases efficiency and driving fun, and could mean a smaller sticker price.
So far this approach bears true in Europe: In Germany, the CX-30 will be priced from EUR33,990, compared to EUR34,400 for the Kona Electric, and EUR36,800 for the least expensive Nissan Leaf.
It takes on luxury and sustainable aspects
We’ve written about Mazda’s ambition to become a premium version of itself which is beginning to pay off with the Mazda 3 being almost a luxury car without a luxury pricetag.
The MX-30 is no different, with the company adopting an open, lounge-like feel to the interior concept of the car – the ‘freestyle doors’ (Mazda’s term) are one aspect, as is the floating console, and new air-con touch controls.
The upholstery fibres in the door trim are made of a new recycled plastic fabric called ‘breathing fibre’ – it’s made from recycled PET bottles and has a soft touch. Other surfaces feature a Mazda and industry first, with recycled ‘heritage cork’ surfaces made from leftover cork byproduct for wine/drink stoppers.
“We use a special injection forming method, and add a unique coating to the cork so it can withstand daily use, as well as prevent moisture entering the material,” says Mazda material designer, Li Xintong (above).
She explained the process to make cork into an interior trim material was very challenging, but was also deeply significant to the company – Mazda began its existence as the Toyo Cork Kogyo company in 1920.
It’s the first Mazda EV but is full of cues from Mazda’s history
Next year is Mazda’s 100 anniversary, and it’s perhaps no coincidence the ‘Mazda-ness’ runs deep in its first EV in many ways.
The ‘suicide doors’ are of course a feature seen on Mazda’s last rotary engine powered coupe, the now discontinued RX-8.
Speaking of rotary, those with range anxiety needn’t worry since Mazda will offer a version of the MX-30 in future with a rotary-powered range extender – not quite the Return To Rotary RX fans have in mind, but very period-appropriate.
As to whether an EV can offer the same driving fun Mazdas have been known for, there are some encouraging signs. 140hp and 265Nm of torque are a good starting point, the fact that Mazda is integrating a special version of its G-Vectoring Control tech is one.
Another is the fact that it says it won’t drive like a normal EV – a one-pedal style is out, and the MX-30 will have a synthesised noise that rises like revs on a normal engine.
“EVs do not make much sound, and we found that this hampers the connection between car and driver. The MX-30 has (synthesised engine noise) and it helps make a big difference in a driver’s awareness of the car’s speed,” said Tomiko Takeuchi (pictured above), the MX-30’s product chief.
Lastly, the ‘MX’ tag isn’t a coupe-only thing, but, Mazda says, a name applied to cars which challenge assumptions in the automotive industry in the past – the famous one is the MX-5 (challenged the idea of an affordable sports car), but the MX-3 and MX-6, as well as the MXR-01 are other examples.
It could do well as any other EV in Singapore – or perhaps better
Small battery, suicide doors, range extender, quirky design, built by a brand with a focus on driving fun – the MX-30 sounds like Mazda re-making the BMW i3 into an SUV and losing the luxury badge/pricing.
That sounds like a bad thing, considering the i3 never quite took off the way BMW envisioned because it was expensive and had a relatively small operating range, but consider the fact that the i3’s sales have done better each year since it debuted in 2014, and is looking to set its own sales record in 2019.
Then consider that the MX-30 will be able to use the CCS fast charge system Singapore uses (it supports fast DC charging), unlike the Nissan Leaf (which only uses Chademo).
If brand snobs shun the impressive Koreans (Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona Electric) it could easily carve out its own niche as an EV SUV for those who will only buy from a known Japanese brand.