Mazda MX-30 prototype drive – at the wheel of the FrankenEV

Mazda MX-30 prototype drive – at the wheel of the FrankenEV
Mazda MX-30 prototype drive – at the wheel of the FrankenEV

This is Mazda’s first mass production electric car, the MX-30. And more than a year before it goes on sale, we’ve driven it. Okay, let’s clarify that. We’ve driven what could be referred to as Mazda’s ‘FrankenEV’. And no, I haven’t bumped my head. Let me explain.

While Mazda has been pushing its new petrol-cum-diesel SkyActiv-X technology — which has already begun to appear in its internal combustion engine (ICE) models such as the new Mazda3 and CX-30 — behind the scenes the Japanese company has been developing its new electric platform and model.

Badged MX-30, the latest stylish and innovative Mazda, complete with its ‘freestyle’ doors, is a city car and crossover, and was unveiled earlier this year at the Tokyo Motor Show. It’ll come to Europe next year, with the first cars not arriving in the UK until 2021. So we’re well ahead of the schedule with this first drive.

While the rest of the world’s car manufacturers jumped on the electric bandwagon many years ago, these are clearly early days for Mazda’s plug-in assault on the market. But though it may be late to the EV party, Mazda is planning to deliver a completely different take on the electric car.

So, as the MX-30 design model — it’s the same one-off model which was shown at Tokyo — stood proudly in the presentation hall upstairs, we got a first experience of the driving technology.

Ok, so what exactly are you driving?

Mazda MX-30
The MX-30’s high-tech running gear has been squeezed beneath a CX-30’s bodywork for early test drives (Photo: David Smith)

Let me introduce you to my new friend, “FrankenEV’. There are three of them; two are here in Portugal, the other still in Japan … so you can only imagine how much each is worth. I asked. I received a knowing smile and: “They’re very, very expensive.” Enough said.

Looking futuristically cool in its matte black with gloss decals, the car I drove is essentially the body and chassis of a CX-30 with all the new EV’s e-SkyActiv technical wizardry and powertrain tucked away in its guts. Sharing the same underpinnings and almost identical dimensions meant taking this prototype for a drive ensured a good insight into the handling of the MX-30.

Read more: 22 of the biggest electric cars going on sale in 2020

It’s no coincidence the new EV has the MX nomenclature. Thirty years ago Mazda introduced it with the MX-5. Today, according to Mazda, the MX-30 has been “engineered to again challenge automotive philosophy, which is exactly what we did with the MX-5”.

Mazda MX-30 Prototype

Price: £29,000 (est)
Powertrain: 35.5kW Li-Ion battery, 105kW electric-motor
Power: 140bhp
Torque: 195lb/ft
Transmission: N/A
Top speed: TBC
0-62mph: TBC
Range: 124 miles (est)
CO2 emissions 0g/km

Tell us more

While other manufacturers are focusing on installing bigger, heavier and more powerful batteries into their EVs, and increasing range, Mazda is taking a completely different approach. Worth highlighting here that having carried out its own research, the average Mazda driver in the UK covers 26 miles a day. In Europe it’s 27.

The MX-30 uses a relatively small 35.5kWh battery, similar to the titchy Honda e. That means the range will be 200km, or 124 miles in real money. Maximum output is predicted to be 140bhp. Importantly, Mazda believes the battery size is the sweet spot for EVs in terms of CO2 emissions, both in production and everyday use.

There’s only one full-size MX-30 in existence at the moment (Photo: David Smith)

Go on then; what was it like to drive?

Impressive, to be honest. The immediate feeling was that it handled exactly the same as any other Mazda; sporty, direct, intuitive and enjoyable. But more important is the torque map which has been chosen for the MX-30.

While other EVs deliver their power often in a big lump — which some people love because they get all the torque immediately, allowing them to boast about the rapid 0-60mph time — the Mazda system is more refined.

The ease of the power delivery means you get a real, honest feel for the car in terms of communication, placement and power delivery. Here we should return to the ethos of the MX-5. You don’t need to be going fast to have fun and enjoy it. The soft-top’s appeal is the combination of feedback and predictability. And that’s exactly where the MX-30’s powerplant shines.

The prototype has a familiar Mazda feel to its ride and handling (Photo: David Smith)

Despite tipping the scales under two tonnes, on the hilly route west of Lisbon it was possible to modulate the throttle to accelerate out of corners as they opened up, and increase the pace in a smooth way in which many other EVs aren’t capable of as they pile on the torque delivery.

But is it quick?

It is; and it’ll be even quicker. And not only was it quiet, but it was incredibly stable under ‘swift’ cornering (not too swift, mind you, as I had a Mazda ‘tech bod’ sat next to me ensuring I didn’t do anything too silly with her ‘very expensive prototype’). That stability and rigidity — the EV platform is actually more rigid than the CX-30 — comes as a result of a ring around the skateboard-placed Panasonic batteries which has been bolted to the full width of the underside of the chassis.

Ride? Smooth as smooth can be; even over a lengthy stretch of Portuguese cobbles. It may be a prototype, but it already looks like Mazda has nailed the suspension.

I assume it’s quiet

Not quite. Mazda has intentionally introduced an artificial sound to indicate acceleration or deceleration; in practice it works well. The boffins are still fine-tuning it, and debating whether to introduce an ‘on-off’ button for those who prefer total silence.

Of course, as is the case with all EV driving, coasting and regen will become a factor. While the final production car will be fitted with paddles behind the steering wheel to increase or reduce the regen rate, FrankenEV was hardwired to the most common, every-day use setting.

Mazda MX-30 interior
The interior features “vegan-based” leather, which probably isn’t as cruel as it sounds (Photo: David Smith)

And what about recharging?

Mazda says the MX-30 will be capable of being recharged from 10 per cent to 80 per cent in three to four hours on a standard charger. This will plummet to around 30 minutes on a fast-charger.

The really intriguing prospect is marrying this electric powerplant and handling package, with the innovative and adventurous design of the MX-30. With its ‘freestyle’ — think suicide — doors, five seats, sizeable boot, architectural front-end, ‘vegan-based leather’ and cork-infused interior, the MX-30 is set to have a noticeable impact on the EV market.

How much will it cost?

Expect the MX-30 to start sub-£30,000, including the £3500 plug-in grant. While those keen to get more information can post a note of interest on the Mazda UK site, it’ll be mid-2020 before deposits and orders can be placed ahead of first deliveries around March/April 2021. Twelve months or so after that, the Wankel-powered REX MX-30 range-extender version will arrive, if you want more EV range.

So, will the MX-30 sell?

There’s a common sense approach to Mazda’s interpretation of the need for EVs. Most families nowadays aren’t restricted to one car, with the majority having two, or even three cars. As the industry morphs into new technology and powerplants, it’s logical to have a mix on your driveway. An ICE car for weekends and longer journeys, and an EV for daily use which can be conveniently recharged at home overnight.

Mazda rocked the automotive industry 30 years ago with the MX-5. It might well be poised to make an equally big impact with the MX-30.

The MX-30 is expected to go on sale in the UK in 2021 (Photo: David Smith)

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