Mazda has been slow to jump into the electric-vehicle pool, but now it’s here, albeit at the shallow end. The 2022 MX-30, a CX-30-sized all-electric SUV, offers much of what Mazda is good at—an artful interior, a stylish exterior, responsive steering and handling. All of which makes it more baffling that Mazda didn’t take advantage of electric-motor torque and power delivery to create a truly sporty compact people hauler, choosing instead to dial back the performance and range, resulting in an SUV that quickly runs out of zoom-zoom.
The MX-30 starts out promising, with a very different look from the CX-30 it’s based on. Rather than its sibling’s big five-pointed grille and upright liftgate, the MX-30 has the high, small grille and smoothed fascia we’re starting to associate with EVs and a rounded rear almost like a hatchback. It continues to cosplay as a coupe by hiding the rear doors—which hinge at the back, like an early-’00s extended-cab pickup (or like Mazda’s RX-8). Swing those doors wide and admire the airy interior, available in a white-leatherette-and-gray-fabric combo or, in the Premium Plus trim, an optional darker interior in black and cocoa. Both are lovely, and both use a variety of recycled fabrics such as woolly felt on the door panels and sustainable natural materials like cork, which lines the floating console.
The cabin is well equipped, with even the starting trim getting a power moonroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, and multiple charging outlets. Phones connect quickly with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto supported and stow neatly beneath the console. The recycled felt on the doors and the tweedy seat materials not only are fashionable, but colors, material, and finish designer Simona Merker assured us that the plush textiles and the cork-lined door handles and trays are just as durable and easy to clean as more common automotive interior plastics and leathers. The seats are a little firm beneath their center racing stripe, but the seating position is good, and they offer eight-way adjustability with power lumbar support and seat-position memory. The back seats are a bit cramped due to the curve of the roof, and entry through the smaller doors is tight. But there is decent legroom for adults, and egress is easy thanks to powered front-seat position buttons on the seatbacks.
If you get the feeling that we’re lingering over the interior finishes to avoid taking the MX-30 on a drive, well, you’re right, because things get a little disappointing once you’re in motion. It’s not that the MX-30 is unpleasant to pilot—quite the opposite. It rides lightly over bumps and broken pavement, and it turns easily, aided by Mazda’s electric G-Vectoring Control Plus, which adjusts torque and braking at barely perceptible levels to control weight transfer and improve handling feel. This is technology that Mazda uses on its gas-engine cars, but the nature of electric-motor tuning makes for even more precise programming. As a result, the MX-30 takes corners with more poise than the CX-30, despite being claimed some 420 pounds heavier. We drove a CX-30 out to the MX-30 drive program, and while its handling remains a favorite among small SUVs, the new MX-30 feels even better. Braking, too, is excellent on the electric SUV, with regen levels easily adjusted on the fly via the steering-wheel paddles.
So what’s the problem? If your usage case for an EV is what Mazda predicts—30 miles of daily commuting on largely flat terrain, plugging in at work and at home—then there is no problem. But if you want to take advantage of the MX-30’s engaging driving dynamics in a hilly area or enjoy a weekend road trip in its cozy seats, you’ll run into a couple of complaints. Mazda’s EV is currently only available with a single motor making 143 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. It’s zippy enough around town, but on the highway, or even some of the wider, meaner streets of Los Angeles County, you won’t be passing any Teslas—or even Chevy Bolts. The sluggishness is a surprise, especially since the MX-30’s $34,645 starting price is more than the Bolt’s. We tend to accept a certain lethargy in small gas engines in return for fuel economy or a low buy-in price, but electric motors need to make up for their lack of fun noises with fun acceleration. The drivetrain in the MX-30 feels detuned, maybe to stretch the range of its small battery pack, which leads us to our next performance demerit.
The argument can be made that the average owner doesn’t need more than 100 miles of range, but we aren’t going to make it. It’s 2022, we’re seeing 500 miles from electric cars, and 200 miles should be expected. The MX-30 offers an EPA rated 100 miles of range. Recharging at a Level 3 charger, it can get 80 percent topped up in 36 minutes; this takes 2 hours and 50 minutes at a Level 2. Our ride from home to the test-drive site and back wouldn’t have been a possible round trip in the MX-30. Mazda does offer 10 days of no-cost loans of other vehicles from its fleet for the first three years of ownership, but who wants to swap cars any time you want to leave your neighborhood?
Some of the MX-30’s limitations might be explained by taking a bigger-picture view. Mazda is a small company, it’s offering the car in the global market, and the single motor and small battery offer the modularity to go hybrid or even back to a gas engine. There’s no frunk under the hood, which could easily be home to any powerplant combination. We already know there are plans for a plug-in hybrid with a rotary-engine component—maybe that will offer all-wheel drive and a little more zoom. In the meantime, plug it in and pet the seats while it charges.
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