Caroline and the Mazda CX-30 EV Prototype

Mazda MX-30 EV Prototype First Drive Review

Caroline and the Mazda CX-30 EV Prototype
Caroline and the Mazda MX-30 EV Prototype

In 2020, Mazda will launch the brand's first ever electric vehicle, the Mazda MX-30 all-electric SUV. I had an opportunity to preview the new MX-30 in Portugal, and test drive Mazda's new EV technology in a prototype vehicle.

Mazda has set out to bottle up the company's Jinba Ittai - driver and car as one - engineering ethos, and produce an electric vehicle that delivers ‘outstanding driving pleasure’. The MX-30 will be the third new generation Mazda - after the 2019 Mazda3 and CX-30 - when it goes into production towards the middle of 2020.

At Mazda's Technology & Design Forum in Lisbon, we had the opportunity to speak in great detail with the MX-30 European product development team, led by the passionate and articulate Christian Schultze, Director and Deputy General Manager at the Mazda Motor Europe R&D Centre. Schultze has been working with Mazda in Europe since 1990 and told us about the product development that saw the European team in consultation with their Japanese colleagues from an early stage. The MX-30 will be a global car but will launch first in Europe in 2020 and has been developed for this market.

The new Mazda EV prototype in action in Sintra, Portugal
The new Mazda EV prototype in action in Sintra, Portugal

The MX-30 uses the brand's new Skyactiv-Vehicle Architecture and employs a number of new technologies and innovations to create the most natural feeling EV powertrain. Electric G-Vectoring Control Plus (e-GVC Plus) is an evolution of a system already found in Mazda's fleet and promises a feeling of more natural feedback by precise torque control and sound that lets the driver know exactly what the car is doing. Mazda has developed its own bespoke motor pedal concept for the Mazda MX-30 for a more natural feel relative to the driver’s intended amount of acceleration and deceleration. They have also developed special sound or ‘aural feedback’ through the audio system corresponding to the driver’s pedal action that helps the driver to more precisely control vehicle speed and adds to the driving pleasure.

Power will come from a 35.5 kWh battery giving a power output of about 140 hp, torque of 265 Nm and an electric range estimated somewhere in the region of 200 km. Mazda engineers also spoke to us about the possibility of a rotary engine being installed as a range extender.

The test vehicle provided to us in Portugal on a bright December morning was an e-TPV (electric technology proving vehicle) using the chassis and body of a CX-30. The MX-30 and CX-30 are closely matched in size and wheelbase so this was a realistic preview of what the MX-30 is going to feel like on the road.

The interior of the prototype - don't touch the red button
The interior of the prototype - don't touch the red button

I was accompanied by a member of the Mazda event team who briefed me on the vehicle. He was monitoring the technical underpinnings of the car through a tablet and the big red button on the dash you can see in the photos was where he could cut the power to the car, should any warnings or faults appear on the system. Before we set off on the test route on a beautiful mountainous road through the Sintra region, he let me know that the only safety equipment the test vehicle had was ABS - no airbags, no lane departure warning, no ESC, etc. I looked down the ravine to the left and thought...okay... just before I met one of the locals who thought he was driving in my country.

I was so excited to be driving this new electric car from Mazda that feels like no other. The Mazda DNA is very quickly apparent. The steering was natural and fluid, the car willing to play ball among the twists and turns of our test route with a pleasant amount of grip through the front tyres in fast cornering.

The most interesting and frankly, brilliant, innovation here is the aural feedback from the car and sensations through the pedals as you accelerate and decelerate. Electric cars are typically devoid of any feedback through the pedals or controls. Not so with the CX-30 EV prototype. It feels and sounds not much different than a petrol CX-30 in typical stop/start driving. Up and down inclines, I had the opportunity to experience this new technology and I loved it: gurgles and resistance like a good old-fashioned ICE.

We test drove the Mazda EV prototype to preview MX-30's new EV technology
We test drove the Mazda EV prototype to preview MX-30's new EV technology

The nature of the weight distribution of an EV versus a front engined mid size SUV was apparent in the way the car shifted its weight around corners, but it was remarkably good to drive. Certainly I felt the relative 'low' power of the CX-30 EV prototype (140 hp) versus some of the similarly sized EVs I've driven at home, as it doesn't feel quite as lively off the line.

Mazda is persevering to push a 'right sized' battery approach that they claim is kinder to the environment when you look at where battery and EV technology is right now. But there are obvious shortcomings to this approach in an era where many rivals are pushing out EVs with 64 kWh batteries and range in excess of 400 km.

This wasn't an adequate test of battery range and practicality in every day life but from an engineering perspective, what we drove in Lisbon was really promising for the future of EVs and the Mazda brand. It's worth noting that the MX-30 is just one part of Mazda's 'multi-solution approach' to the debarbonisation of transport. The brand is also working on improving engine efficiency with innovations such as Skyactiv-X, the world's first petrol engine with compression ignition, and a new clean diesel coming next year. Mild hybrid technology has already begun to be rolled out in the brand's newest product ranges and Mazda will offer more electric, plug-in hybrid and range extender vehicles in the future.

Caroline KiddCaroline Kidd