We take Mazda's first all-electric model for a spin ahead of its Australian launch to see how the company's latest experiment stacks up.

Launch Review | While the ‘MX’ nameplate may be most commonly associated with the Mazda MX-5, it’s actually one that dates far further back than that – all the way to 1981, in fact, with the Bertone-designed MX-81 Aria. Standing for ‘Mazda eXperimental’, the moniker has been applied to a number of concept cars but very few have actually made it to production, with the MX-3 (sold in Australia as the Eunos 30X) and MX-6 being the only exceptions aside from the more notable MX-5.

Now, though, a fourth car has finally joined the very short list of experimental models to actually hit the market – the 2021 Mazda MX-30 Electric. The first Mazda model to be offered solely with electrified drivetrains, it first launched in Australia a few months ago with a mild-hybrid drivetrain known as the G20e which paired a 2.0-litre petrol engine with a 24V mild-hybrid system wrapped in a funky small SUV body. Different, certainly, but a Mazda3 X20 with its Skyactiv-X engine uses the same mild-hybrid tech bolted to a far more interesting engine.

That’s why, if you’re looking for experimental, this is the MX-30 you’ll have been holding out for. Officially dubbed the MX-30 E35, this is the first fully electric production model from Mazda. Set to be offered solely in top-spec Astina trim here in Australia, it’ll be yours for a steep $65,490 plus on-roads when it arrives in showrooms come August.

Compared to other electric SUVs, it looks to sit parallel with the Hyundai Kona Electric Highlander and Kia Niro EV Sport on price, while being undercut big time by the price-leading MG ZS EV. However, while the Kona and Niro comparison might look favourable, there’s a big catch here – the MX-30 offers merely a claimed 200km of range on the WLTP. That’s not only less than half of the Kona’s 484km and Niro’s 455km claims, but it’s 63km less than the ZS as well.

Clearly, then, the Mazda MX-30 Electric ought to stack up in other areas to account for that steep price tag. To find out, I grabbed the keys to one ahead of its local launch and set about doing a full charge’s-worth of testing in just one day, taking it out to the beautiful Barossa Valley wine region in South Australia. And when I say a full charge, I mean it – with where I’d be heading, I’d be right on the limit of how far I could take it on a single charge.

When collecting the car from Mazda’s Adelaide offices early in the morning, one thing that it holds over its rivals became immediately clear right off the bat – while other electric SUVs up to this point have simply been conventional designs wearing a funky face, the Mazda MX-30 oozes cool, slick eco-chic inside and out.

The front-end design looks great – with more painted bumper and less grille, it looks like a return to noughties car design – while the back is classic Mazda ‘Kodo Design’ with its round taillights and sweeping roofline, but it’s the doors that are going to turn the most heads here. Fans of the rotary-powered RX-8, rejoice, too, for the MX-30 marks the return of the ‘freestyle’ door layout which reveals hidden rear suicide doors once the fronts have been opened. The three-tone paint-scheme of my tester (Soul Crystal Red Metallic with grey pillars and a black roof) really brings the best out of the design, too, although it does charge an extra $1490.

It’s on the inside where the MX-30 really shines, though, with its interior not only feeling incredibly premium, but also unique and fitting for an EV. Not only do all the materials feel soft and well-padded, making it feel incredibly comfortable once you’re slotted into the driver’s seat, but there are welcome splashes of natural colour everywhere you look.

The seat bolsters are trimmed in gorgeous Vintage Brown faux-leather (which Mazda calls Maztex; white is also available, along with black cloth), the door cards feature splashes of light grey thanks to panels made from recycled PET bottles, and the Heritage Cork trim on the centre console and door-pulls adds not only a natural feeling but recalls the company’s history as a cork producer. From what I hear, an Australian working in Japan came up with the idea to put it there, and I’m glad they did as it looks and feels wonderful, and really drives home the message of this interior being largely sustainably-sourced – in fact, were it not for the real leather steering wheel and shifter, it would be a vegan interior.

While sitting up front awards you with the typical driver-focused feel you get behind the wheel of other Mazdas, sitting in the back seat isn’t quite so comfortable – the suicide doors do make getting in and out incredibly easy, but there’s very limited legroom back there for adults, so it’s really just for your kids to sit on.

On the tech front, it’s a largely familiar affair – the semi-digital instrument cluster is a carry-over from other Mazda models, minus the tacho being swapped for a power usage gauge, as is the 8.8-inch non-touchscreen infotainment system which is controlled only by the rotary controller on the centre console – but there is a new touchscreen climate control unit which makes its first appearance here. It looks great and works really well, but I do feel it’s a bit underutilised as making it function as a writing pad or keyboard for the sat nav system like the lower screen does in some Audis would make it feel more worthwhile.

Regardless, you’re not lacking for gear inside the MX-30 – a head-up display, 12-speaker Bose audio system, heated front seats and steering wheel, automatic wipers and headlights with auto high-beam, keyless entry and push-button start, a 360-degree camera, and adaptive cruise control with a lane-centring system are all standard in the E35 Astina along with the usual expected amenities, so that premium feel certainly extends to the features list.

What powers the Mazda MX-30 Electric doesn’t exactly look terribly exciting on paper – a single water-cooled electric motor that makes 107kW and 271Nm, which drives the front wheels through a single-speed reduction gear. However, through clever tuning know-how, Mazda has managed to make this thing feel properly engaging to drive as you’d expect given the company’s Jinba-Ittai (horse and rider as one) mantra.

Key to this is the tuning of its ‘motor pedal’ – that’s the throttle or accelerator to you and I – which intelligently adapts to the driver’s inputs to deliver torque gradually if pushed slowly, or rapidly if depressed firmly. As a result, the MX-30 never delivers all its torque early on before the torque curve takes a nosedive – rather, it swells and feels progressive, almost like a turbo diesel engine, which is no surprised as Mazda has intended for other non-diesels like its 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine to feel this way.

It feels far more progressive and less strained than other EVs with a similar power level such as the Hyundai Ioniq or Nissan Leaf, and it’s more responsive as you exit corners at higher speed, too, so the way it’s been tuned has definitely done the trick as it feels absolutely fantastic.

With the intelligent accelerator having been tuned to work with the regenerative braking system as well, it’s worth mentioning that the regen feels great in the MX-30 as well. Offering five levels of braking that are controlled by the paddles on the back of the steering wheel, the regen feels strong but never harsh, and the fact it defaults back to the middle position means you’re never having to cycle through all five levels to get to a different desired amount.

As with almost all electric vehicles, the batteries being positioned under the floor of the car means it has a very low centre of gravity, and while this can be felt through the bends, there’s actually more body roll than you might expect through longer sweepers. However, view it the way that you would in an MX-5 – the roll allows you to feel and control the weight transfer more easily, making it feel natural and forgiving. Overcook it on the entrance to a bend and the new e-GVC torque vectoring system kicks in to save the day as well. That softness to its suspension not only allows for some natural body roll but for excellent ride quality as well.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the MX-30, then, is that it really does feel like an electric Mazda to drive, and not just another electric car, and the same can’t exactly be said for EVs from other manufacturers.

But while it might feel great to drive, there’s one massive catch when it comes to the MX-30 – how far you can drive it on a single charge. With it only featuring a 35.5kWh battery pack, hence the E35 nomenclature, that 200km real-world range claim I mentioned earlier really does get you worried when you’re out in a more rural area as I was in the Barossa. While 200km is perfectly fine for the average city commuter who can simply plug it in at home (the average Aussie only drives around 233km a week on average anyway) on a drive like this it can get stressful if there isn’t a charger to be found.

While there is a 50kW fast charging station located at the Barossa Visitor Centre which would have charged it from 20-80 percent in just 36 minutes, on the day I went there, it turned out it was out of order, and it’s about then that the panic started to set in as I calculated that to get back home, I’d be about 20km short.

Although I quickly located another charger at a nearby hotel, I was promptly told before I’d even got it going that it was for guests only and was then asked to leave immediately, and while there were Tesla Destination Chargers at a number of other locales, those weren’t compatible with other makes.

Fortunately, I managed to track down a business in the area that did have a 6.6kW wall charger that would get me from 20-80 percent in around three hours and was kind enough to let me stay plugged into it even after everyone had gone home, so I killed some time having a meal at a pub down the road and was on my way afterwards, feeling relieved I hadn’t had to wait nine hours to get the same range from the portable charger.

Now, it goes without saying, the fast charger in Tanunda being broken isn’t the fault of the car, but it really does bring the viability of taking limited-range EVs on drives to areas like this – which many will want to do, given how big a tourist hotspot the Barossa Valley is – and as such, 200km really isn’t enough to work with. For now, then, much of the viability of EVs seems to fall in the hands of the kindness of strangers, or in some instances, the lack thereof. Had the public fast charger been working, though, I likely wouldn’t be saying any of this.

I can see where Mazda gets the $65,490 starting price of the MX-30 Electric from – it’s incredibly refined to drive, the sustainable interior materials no doubt drive the cost up, and it is the company’s first venture into making a pure EV. However, when 200km of range is all it can muster, it really does limit it to city buyers, and that’s a lot to pay for a commuter car.

Of course, depending on where you live, there are grants and subsidies on offer for those willing to take on EV ownership which will help bring the cost down, but with some other Australian states such as Victoria or South Australia introducing controversial world-first taxes on EV owners, it only presents a hurdle out of all manufacturers’ control to these vehicles becoming more widespread, which would bring the cost down in time.

The MX-30 is an incredibly loveable little thing, and it shows just how good Mazda’s design and engineering teams are – the only problem it really faces is one that’s created by Australia (and much of the rest of the world) not being ready to support EVs and EV owners.

Here’s hoping Mazda sees fit to put a bigger battery in this thing – I’m thinking in the 60kWh region – to make it properly useable in Australian conditions, because with that, it would have an absolute winner on its hands.

2021 Mazda MX-30 E35 Astina List Price: $65,490 | As Tested: $66,980
  • 7.5/10
    Performance - 7.5/10
  • 9/10
    Ride & Handling - 9/10
  • 8.5/10
    Tech & Features - 8.5/10
  • 7.5/10
    Practicality - 7.5/10
  • 7/10
    Value for Money - 7/10

Pros: Beautiful interior design packed with sustainable materials, funky ‘freestyle’ door arrangement, excellent throttle pedal tuning, handles impressively for a small SUV
Cons: Incredibly limited range, cramped back seat, you’re paying a big premium for its eco-factor

In a nutshell: The MX-30 is a true pleasure to drive, and its interior impresses big time with its eco-chic feel, but 200km of real-world range in a $65k vehicle simply makes it seem too pricey, and is a reminder of what you’re paying to be an early adopter. 

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Mazda Australia ahead of its Australian launch.

Patrick Jackson
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