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2022 Mazda MX-30: A damn nice EV few will buy [First Drive]

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Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way right now: The 2022 Mazda MX-30 only has 100 miles of range. That’s equivalent to what you could get in the base 2016 Nissan Leaf, which now can get up to 226 miles of range.

Because of this, a lot of journalists and consumers are trashing Mazda’s first foray into the EV world before the vehicle even goes on sale.

My opinion: Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. So, for most of this review, I want to take range out of the equation and talk about the vehicle itself. Which is pretty damn nice.

Also, rather than take a typical review approach for this one, I decided to answer the most popular (and recurrent) questions I’ve gotten on social media posts for this vehicle.

So, how does it drive?

The short answer: Like a Mazda. You can tell the engineering team put a lot of work into the driving dynamics for the 2022 MX-30. The added weight for the electric powertrain meant they basically had to go back to the drawing board and work on steering response, weight transfer and throttle response to bring a family resemblance to the gasoline vehicles in its lineup.

I think they were successful. Mazda has always done an excellent job with making its vehicles feel more natural to human perception while the vehicle is in motion, lessening the “jerk” and visual disparities between vehicle movement and actual sensation.

In that regard, the MX-30 does very well. Whether I was driving through twisty bits on canyon roads or engaging in aggressive passing maneuvers on the highway, it felt natural and seamless – almost like the vehicle was reading my mind and responding immediately.

One thing you won’t get here: Any kind of an “insane mode.” MX-30 is equipped with an 80.9-kilowatt electric motor that delivers 143 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. And, yes, that torque is instantaneous, but you’re not looking at neck-braking acceleration. Mazda engineers specifically tuned it that way. Instead, it’s more in line with what you’d see from the non-turbo CX-30, which delivers 186 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque.

Though Mazda doesn’t give out 0-to-60-MPH times for its vehicles, I did a very (very) unscientific test during the preview, and my time clocked in at about 9.4 seconds.

Despite the lack of an EV-jolt-type acceleration, the MX-30 did just fine off the start as well as when I needed to merge with highway traffic. So, no complaints on that front.

In sum: It was plenty fast and held the road surprisingly well.

2022 Mazda MX-30

Does it at least have regenerative braking to help with range?

It does, and Mazda has done an interesting thing here. Rather than opting for a one-pedal drive feel like Tesla or opting for a complete gas-engine-coasting feel like the VW ID.4, Mazda is giving its owners five levels of braking feel to choose from, and you use the +/- paddles to adjust rather than hitting a button.

If you want more regen, hit the – paddle; for less tap the + paddle. It’s a simple operation, and it holds your selection unless you set the cruise control or put the vehicle in park – in both instances it defaults to the middle setting.

Since I only had a 2-hour test drive, I’m not sure how much the regenerative braking helped with range, but I generally liked the feel of the max regen, which means I could bring the vehicle almost to a complete stop just by lifting my foot off the accelerator. So, not exactly EV one-pedal driving – but close.

As Dave Coleman, vehicle dynamics manager for Mazda, explained it, the max regen in many ways is tuned to respond like a manual transmission, and people who are used to shifting gears to engine brake will probably like the feel of this better. Whereas the less regen options have a more automatic transmission “coasting” feel.

Um, what’s up with those rear doors?

Mazda calls these doors “freestyle” doors, though I’ve only ever heard them called “suicide” doors. If you’re familiar with the RX-8, it had these doors as well. While Mazda says these doors “help achieve a feeling openness,” the more likely reason for inclusion is ease of entry and exit to the second row.

As a compact SUV, rear-seat space is certainly limited, so the extra wide opening makes it easier for people to squeeze back there.

A biproduct of these doors, however, is also going to be exterior design differentiation. The 2022 Mazda MX-30 is built on the same platform as the CX-30, and the doors are an instant visual differentiator. The grille, headlights, taillights and roofline chrome accent will also be key differences.

2022 Mazda MX-30

Cork accents?

Fun fact: Did you know that Mazda started out as a cork maker? Yeah. I didn’t either. But Mazda’s origins are actually not as an automaker. Thus, the use of cork accents inside the 2022 Mazda MX-30 is not only sustainable but also a nod to Mazda’s history.

A lot of people questioned the durability of cork on the interior in my social media posts, but Mazda said it had been tested for longevity. And though the automaker didn’t confirm this, the cork felt as though there was some kind of a coating on it to help protect it over time.

Outside of that random bit of trivia, there’s a lot to love about the interior of the MX-30. There are dark and light interior themes, which both use recycled threads and plastic bottles as a part of their construct. Additionally, true to Mazda design, all the details are well planned and well thought out.

Did the infotainment system get a touch screen?

No. And I’ll pretty much leave that answer there. I posted a great video with Coleman walking me through the entertainment system on the CX-30 when it launched. So, before you make any decisions about the lack of a touch screen, you should watch it. It doesn’t completely suck.

What does get a touch screen, however, is the HVAC controls. Settled low on the center stack, this screen controls not only temperature and air speed but also heated seats and steering wheel. The screen is very touch sensitive, well laid out and easy to use. Plus, there are a couple of redundant hard-button controls that will make it easy to change by feel.

So, why an HVAC touch screen and not an infotainment one? The folks at Mazda said it all boils down to driver attention. Swiping through multiple screens and menus on an infotainment system is distracting, but a screen that doesn’t have any swipes isn’t.

2022 Mazda MX-30

Why doesn’t it have more range?

I probably got a couple hundred comments (no joke) on TikTok about the range, and yeah, 100 miles isn’t great. Mazda intends for this to be a city commuter vehicle, and though no one said it specifically, the understanding is the Mazda MX-30 probably won’t be someone’s only car.

The 100 miles of range makes sense – until it doesn’t. Take me, for example. On a normal day, I’ll go to the lake to run (14 miles round trip). Or go to the gym (5 miles round trip). Maybe I’ll go get a haircut (10 miles) or the grocery store (5 miles). Even if I strung a few of these together, I probably won’t top 20 miles on any given day.

But then there’s that day I go to my chiropractor in the suburbs (52 miles round trip), which is still doable – unless I run in to traffic or inclement weather. Then things get sketchy. Especially if I have post-chiropractor errands to run.

So, the first reason it doesn’t have a lot range: This vehicle is intended for someone who doesn’t really need to do a lot of distance on any single day.

The second reason is a limitation of the platform. While the EV architecture is scalable, the platform is the same one used by the CX-30, and with that platform, there just isn’t room for a bigger battery. So, the biggest battery they can manage is one that has a 35.5 kWh capacity.

However, the good news here is because the battery is small, with Level 3 DC fast charge capability (which is standard on all MX-30s), you can go from 20% to 80% range within 36 minutes. Got access to a Level 2 charger? That’s 2 hours and 50 minutes. Just plugging into a 120V wall jack? That’s 13 hours and 40 minutes.

What comes next?

Though the MX-30 EV doesn’t have a lot of range on its own, Mazda execs explicitly stated there’s more to come with this vehicle on this platform. In fact, they invited us to lift up the hood, to check out what’s under there – and (spoiler alert) it isn’t a frunk. You have a motor, wires and lots of space for “future stuff” (and, yes, that’s a direct quote).

What future stuff? Mazda did confirm there would be a rotary engine range extender coming for this specific vehicle. So, space under the hood makes room for that. Plus, in the media presentation, there was a slide that detailed Mazda’s EV product deployment and “stage 2” clearly states that an MX-30 plug-in electric hybrid is coming as a 2023 model. What is unclear is if the MX-30 with the range extender is the same thing as the PHEV, or if they are two separate vehicles.

Whichever is the case, just imagine 100 miles of all-electric range plus an additional 200 or 300 miles of extended range. Now we’re talking. Frankly, I think that’s been the primary plan all along, and this limited-range MX-30 is more of an experiment or a steppingstone than anything else.

Also of note, in addition to the MX-30, Mazda’s plan states there will be an additional PHEV and crossover hybrid – all coming between 2022 and 2025. Beyond 2025, Mazda is planning to ramp up EV production with a new architecture and (yes) more range.

Between 2022 and 2030, Mazda has plans for three EVs, five PHEVs and five hybrids.

2022 Mazda MX-30

Wait, it costs how much?

OK, other than range, the pricing is probably the next biggest sticking point with the MX-30 because at a base level, you’re looking at about $35k without options. Gulp.

The 2022 Mazda MX-30 will basically have two trims or grades: the base model ($34,645) and the Premium Plus package ($38,550).

That’s a bit of an ouch when you look at two of the more popular non-luxury EVs currently on sale.

The Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Bolt EUV both have more range (150 miles and 247 miles, respectively) at a base level and cost less ($28,375 and $33,995, respectively) than the MX-30.

So, what gives? Well, Mazda has been positioning itself as a near luxury brand for the past few years, and the pricing has gone up to match. So, Mazda would be loath to compare itself to a Nissan or a Chevrolet and would put itself more on the level of a Tesla Model 3, which has a base purchase price of $41,490 (sure the website says $35,590, but that’s the price after “potential” savings) and a range of 262 miles.

Whether the positioning matches the reality remains to be seen, but I will say the fine details on the 2022 Mazda MX-30 are excellent – as is the build quality. Whenever I’ve done back-to-back tests of Mazda vehicles versus German luxury automakers, comparing materials and details, Mazda has always won.

The bottom line on the 2022 Mazda MX-30

I’m still scratching my head a bit here. The 2022 Mazda MX-30 is an amazing vehicle except for the range. And that alone may prohibit people from even giving it a chance. But, when you understand that this first EV from Mazda is just a piece of the whole, it makes a little more sense.

Frankly, I’m looking at this as more of a large-scale R&D project than an actual vehicle people will buy. And I honestly don’t think Mazda intends to sell this car in any volume. Instead, they’re teeing up what comes next. And what’s next looks pretty interesting.

Editor’s note: Driving impressions in this “First Drive” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Mazda USA covered our accommodations, meals and transportation costs.

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Jill Ciminillo

Jill Ciminillo is the Managing Editor for Pickup Truck + SUV Talk as well as a Chicago-based automotive writer, YouTube personality and podcast host, with her articles and videos appearing in outlets throughout the U.S. Additionally, she co-hosts a weekly radio show on car stuff for a local Chicago station. Previously, Jill has been the automotive editor for both newspaper and broadcast media conglomerates. She is also a past president for the Midwest Automotive Media Association and has the distinction of being the first female president for that organization. Jill is also currently a juror for the North American Car, Utility and Truck of the Year (NACTOY).

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