The Mazda MX-30 debuted at the 2019 Tokyo Motor Show, and as it spun atop its turntable, happily revealing its thoughtfully shaped hatchback design, hopes were high. It looked like a winner. But one look at the specs sheet for the production version has chilled any enthusiastic ardor that might have been for the automaker’s first mass-manufactured electric vehicle.
On paper, we see the 2022 Mazda MX-30 has an undersized battery, lazy acceleration, and front-wheel drive. Any disappointing metric can be counterbalanced by a seductive price tag, of course, but unfortunately the MX-30’s base price of $34,645 (including $1,175 destination charges) doesn’t help the argument that it's an excellent value proposition.
Fortunately, Mazda is only subjecting 560 California customers to the MX-30’s unique blend of lethargy and expense in 2021, ahead of a 50-state strategy that will come into effect with the arrival of an optional rotary-engine range extender later in 2022. Until then, the MX-30 will remain a rare sight for the few consumers it will appeal to.
Designed To Move Metal
Before diving into dynamics and specifications, let’s take a moment to consider what’s going to catch people’s eyes: the design. Here, and with some success, Mazda has attempted to add an emotional element to a vehicle that sits in the largely unremarkable-looking compact crossover segment.
Built on the bones of the Mazda CX-30, the MX-30 shares that model’s exact length and width (173.3 inches by 70.7 inches). Although the two vehicles have a strong sibling resemblance, they are easily distinguishable. The grille, which electric vehicles need only sparingly because of reduced cooling requirements, has been reduced considerably compared to the CX, and the fascia is much improved for it.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Mazda CX-30
Despite the CX-30 and MX-30 having similar profiles, there’s some magical differentiation at play here as well. It mostly happens in the rear three-quarters, with the roofline taking the plunge toward the bumper in a slightly more dramatic coupe fashion on the EV.
This coupification continues with the treatment of the rear passenger doors. Borrowing a page from the BMW i3 book (and, in part, the RX-8), they’re hinged just ahead of the rear wheel arch and present as a coach door – Mazda calls them freestyle doors, a term it coined for that rotary-powered sports car. There is no B-pillar, which lends an openness to the car and aids back seat ingress.
The cabin of the MX-30 has a warm ambiance with a close-to-premium feel. The standard power moonroof helps keep the interior airy with its screen retracted. Although the MX-30 does sport several display screens, some may be happy to see a traditional assortment of analog buttons and dials.
The seats, upholstered with leatherette and an industrial fabric containing 20 percent recycled thread, are comfortable and firm with lots of lateral support. Drivers should have no difficulty adjusting the eight-way power seat (with memory) to find the perfect position.
The cabin of the MX-30 has a warm ambiance with a close-to-premium feel.
The steering wheel, leather-wrapped and not overly thick, tilts and telescopes to help tailor a custom fit. The gauge cluster is easily viewable through the wheel and features a circular speedometer with an average efficiency readout in its center.
The “floating” center console, home to a traditional gear selector and screen controls, sits on a base that is trimmed liberally with cork – a nod to the automaker’s 1920 corporate genesis, when it was known as Toyo Cork Kogyo Co. and manufactured an artificial version of the tree bark. Cork can also be found on the inside of the door grips, unseen but not unnoticed.
Mazda didn’t boast about the accelerative abilities of the MX-30 in its briefing materials, and for good reason.
Climate controls get their own 7.0-inch touch screen just in front of the console, with pressable buttons along its sides. Infotainment duties, meanwhile, are handled by an 8.8-inch display nestled in the top of the dash. It comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but you’ll still have to plug your in your device to take advantage of it.
The Mazda MX-30 wrings a mere 100 miles from its 33.5-kilowatt-hour battery, which is composed of prismatic cells from Panasonic. This is the lowest range of any 2022 all-electric model for sale in the United States and more in line with the first generation of battery-powered cars from traditional automakers – think the OG 2011 Nissan Leaf (73 miles) and Chevy Spark EV (82 miles) circa 2014.
Mazda didn’t boast about the accelerative abilities of the MX-30 in its briefing materials, and for good reason. It uses every bit of its 143 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque to do the 0-60 deed in a lackadaisical 9.4 seconds, according to a UK Mazda website. Judging from our experience, that sounds about right. To add insult to injury, with an 87 mile per hour top speed, its full gallop is not much higher than the top speed limits here in the US.
The compromises of the chosen hardware made a space for at least one area of the company to shine: marketing.
These stats get to the heart of the problem with the MX-30. It doesn’t go far and it doesn’t go fast because, it seems, engineers were assigned to come up with something electric but were limited to using an existing platform and off-the-shelf powertrain components. This keeps abilities low and the price high.
For instance, the electric motor bolted to the front axle is an 80.9-kilowatt unit sourced from Hitachi. It can deliver 107 kW (143 horsepower) for 10 seconds before power must be reduced to avoid overheating, which explains the slow acceleration. It is also limited to 10,000 RPM, yielding the relatively low top speed.
The compromises of the chosen hardware made a space for at least one area of the company to shine: marketing. The PR department tells us the size of the battery pack was purposefully limited to ensure good driving dynamics. Mazda also says it limited the initial power output to avoid “jerk.”
These explanations do have elements of truth. Indeed, a light car is easier to endow with good driving dynamics than a heavy car. And, yes, some early electric vehicles like the Hyundai Kona Electric and Chevy Spark EV have unsophisticated initial power delivery resulting in spinning tires and torque steer at takeoff.
For the record, Mazda rejects this label, but if it quacks like a compliance car – HONK HONK!
Still, the reasoning comes off as excuse-making. The reality is, this is a first effort and it literally comes up short. These specs, along with the decision to only sell the MX-30 in California, belong to a class of electric vehicles derided as “compliance cars,” or, sub-100 mile cars manufacturers produce to comply with California regulations. For the record, Mazda rejects this label, but if it quacks like a compliance car – HONK HONK!
So, as passionately as Mazda executives expounded on the philosophy behind the MX-30 powertrain, to our ears it rings hollow. Competitors manage to achieve better range and offer more excitement for similar prices.
Case in point: the Mini Cooper SE. This is also a low-range EV built using an existing combustion car platform. It’s not as large as the MX-30, so it can squeeze more miles (114 combined) from a smaller battery (32.6 kWh). But it doesn’t give up on excitement, and keeps its great handling while getting a decent enough 7.3-second 60 time. And, despite having a relatively premium interior, it keeps its price below that of the MX-30, starting at $30,750 destination included.
The Hyundai Kona Electric has just a smidge less cargo space at 19.2 cu ft, but with nearly double the battery (64 kWh) it has two-and-a-half times the range: 258 miles. It’s got a 7.6-second time to 60 and is in the same ballpark price-wise at $34,000 (destination not included). Its weak point? The interior may not quite be up to the standards of the Mazda or Mini.
Mazda went to some lengths to convince us of the effort put into creating an “electric car that doesn’t drive like an electric car,” with lots of emphasis on “jinba ittai” – a Japanese expression describing a oneness between horse and rider.
The first part of the drive was relegated to city streets. Not especially fun, but they were still a good place to begin my search for that mysterious “jinba ittai.” I was soon struck by how successful the engineers were in taking the “jerk” out of the EV’s acceleration. The go pedal seemed mildly annoyed every time my foot pressed against it, as though I was interrupting it from a conversation with entropy.
And trust me, you will never get either of the front wheels to chirp. Ever.
The car can pull away from a traffic light and lead the pack. At least, as long as no one in the other lanes are aware they’re in a race. But, it does take a significant amount of pedal travel. And trust me, you will never get either of the front wheels to chirp. Ever.
Finding myself close to the Pacific shore, I left our prescribed route in search of a picturesque spot to take a couple snaps. Pulling into a diagonal street parking spot in front of a paved walking path along the waterfront I found the ideal customers for this car. Older folks with no apparent job and no worries, strolling along in the noon sun, the ocean breeze tousling their silvery tresses. Some of them walked small dogs along the street lined with late model automobiles with understated premium pretensions. The Mazda MX-30 would fit in nicely here. These are its people.
Pleased with my discovery, I was soon back en route. While leaving stop lights, and not overwhelmed by the car’s 12-speaker Bose stereo which was switched off, a synthetic sound of electric motor acceleration whines inside the cabin. Louder than I would like and with no “off” setting, it eventually reached the sonic territory where you feel the car should shift gears. It does not, of course, since there’s only one forward gear ratio (9.986). It thankfully subsides, though, when you back off the pedal.
The other thing that happens when you relax your right shoe is brake regeneration. The car has five levels of regen – from nearly nothing to comfortably strong – that you can access by pulling back on the left or right paddle. Clicking the left paddle twice gives you the highest setting. It’s not “one-pedal driving” capable, but for someone like myself who likes a pretty strong regen effect, it was definitely acceptable.
The suspension feels soft and compliant, it absorbs uneven pavement quite nicely. My mind shot back to the beach people. They would like this. The steering wheel is nicely weighted, too. Turning is not race-car sharp by any means. I tugged at it left and right. There was some amount of waggle as the car moved to and fro within the lane. It didn’t feel heavy – just comfortable. Maybe a little lazy.
The MX-30 rotates around quite nicely, which I tested while performing a U-turn. There is a moderate but not unexpected amount of body roll. As it straightens out, I can feel the electronic stability genies put down their magic wands – I think in that moment I felt a smidgeon of the fabled jinba ittai.
The MX-30 really just wants to competently carry its owner about his or her business and look sharp.
The rest of the drive was pretty uneventful. There were no roads along the way with tight, technical turns or even light slaloms. Hustling along a highway, it feels like I’m doing a commute which is, really, what this car would be good for. A short commute, at least.
Sure, the suspension, with its trick e-GVT torque vectoring system, could come to life and help the MX-30 pivot around curves and bring a smile to the driver’s lips, but the car doesn’t really aspire to hooniganism. It really just wants to competently carry its owner about his or her business and look sharp – but not flashy – while doing it.
The Disappointing Sum Of Its Parts
It seems unlikely Mazda has a huge hit on its hands here. The automaker’s electric ambitions seem as unenthusiastic as the acceleration in the MX-30. It will release a couple more all-electric vehicles over the next few years, before finally getting serious in 2025 with its own flexible EV architecture that can fit under a range of models.
Meanwhile, the MX-30 should start rolling out to dealers and driveways shortly. Considering current market conditions, with automobile showrooms emptied and buyers actually looking forward to receiving calls from salespeople, the modest 560 examples it has available to distribute on our shores in 2021 should all find good homes… in California.
Taking into account federal and local incentives, these new owners may have to pay less than $30,000 for the limited amount of driving pleasure the Mazda MX-30 can achieve on a charge. And, as long as they don’t go off in search of long road trips, drag races, or an emotional connection with the car, they should be perfectly happy.
MX-30 Competitor Reviews:
Gallery: 2022 Mazda MX-30: First Drive
2022 Mazda MX-30