First drive review: 2022 Mazda MX-30 arrives more than fashionably late to the EV party

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Our drive of the 2022 Mazda MX-30, on a route Mazda chose around Irvine, California, was meant to show the MX-30’s city and suburban bona fides. And the MX-30 is actually quite nice to drive, with well-sorted suspension and steering tuning. 

But the overarching thought over my head the whole time was: Does this really matter?

Any discussion about what does matter for MX-30 centers around one key factor: its range. The small electric SUV only offers 100 miles on the dot of EPA estimated range, which stands out when you consider that the competition offers more than double that in nearly all cases. On top of that, the MX-30 will come in very limited quantities for the 2022 model year and will only be for sale in California. 

That leads us to wonder if this vehicle has any purpose beyond compliance with California’s Air Resources Board. Is it something Mazda had to do, rather than wanted to?

2022 Mazda MX-30

There isn’t much power to speak of, the MX-30 shrinks the whispered Mazda mantra from “zoom zoom” to just a single “zoom.” A single 80.9-kw electric motor is mounted up front and produces 143 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. Power comes from a 35.5-kwh lithium-ion battery pack mounted beneath the floor.

The MX-30’s accelerator pedal is tuned to make it feel the same as driving an ICE engine, so it lacks the same jolt of instant torque found in other EVs. The acceleration is linear and while the MX-30 won’t win races, the pedal is well-tuned—at least in its default and low-regenerative-braking settings.

When you order up a higher level of regenerative braking, the accelerator tuning becomes more deliberate, and in the highest two of the five different regen settings, it takes too much effort to get the vehicle moving. In normal or lighter regen modes, it’s perfectly fine. Don’t expect anything resembling one pedal driving, even with the regen cranked all the way up letting up on the throttle won’t bring the MX-30 close to a stop. 

The brake-by-wire system also leaves something to be desired. It does a decent job blending the regen and standard braking systems but requires too much effort at the top of the pedal’s travel to begin braking. This also makes it hard to dial that effort back to stop smoothly. 

Artificial powertrain noises that can’t be turned off are a pet peeve of mine, but the MX-30’s is about as inoffensive as it gets. The sound is only played inside the cabin (the pedestrian detection noise outside is different) and starts quiet but gets more noticeable at speed or as you press the accelerator pedal harder. Luckily, it’s so unobtrusive that I didn’t really notice it toward the end of my two-plus hours behind the wheel.

2022 Mazda MX-30

2022 Mazda MX-30

2022 Mazda MX-30

The MX-30 is based on the CX-30, but offers superior handling and dynamics to that vehicle. It flips the CX-30’s 60/40 weight distribution (front/rear) to 40/60, and even though the power is solely moving through the front wheels, this still makes the nose of the vehicle feel lighter and more nimble. Having a 683-pound battery pack stuck low between the frame rails drops the center of gravity as well, and the MX-30 drives more confidently and rides more smoothly than its ICE counterpart.

My drive covered 64.1 total miles and dropped the MX-30’s estimated range from 100 miles down to 33 and the battery’s state of charge from 100 to 32%. The MX-30 also wasn’t particularly efficient over those miles, averaging 3.1 miles/kwh in mild weather (mid-70s and partly cloudy). This is far off from the 3.7 miles/kwh I got in a Nissan Leaf Plus driving only on the highway. 

2022 Mazda MX-30

Inside, the MX-30 closely resembles the CX-30 up front (no surprise there) but the cabin feels much smaller. The MX-30 returns the rear-hinged “freestyle” rear doors from the RX-8, and those flip open to reveal a rear seat that feels like it might have been lifted from that vehicle as well. It’s tight back there. With the seat set where I like to drive (I’m five-foot-11), I physically couldn’t squeeze myself in behind the driver’s seat. Only if I move the passenger seat up as far forward as I can comfortably do I barely fit behind it, with only about an inch between my knees and the seatback.

The MX-30 is offered in two trim levels, base ($34,645 including destination charges) and Premium Plus ($37,655). Both come well equipped, and a head-up display, faux leather upholstery, a power sunroof, heated front seats, rear parking sensors, and a power driver seat come standard. The Premium Plus adds a Bose sound system, blind-spot steering assist, front cross traffic alerts, a 360-degree camera system, and a multi-tone paint scheme.

2022 Mazda MX-30

2022 Mazda MX-30

2022 Mazda MX-30

Though well equipped, that price point for the MX-30’s 100 miles of range is hard to swallow—even with the MX-30 qualifying for the full $7,500 federal tax credit and other state incentives. The Mini Cooper SE offers 110 miles of range, but costs just $30,750, and the base 2022 Nissan Leaf features 149 miles of range and a price of just $27,375, along with a backseat you can actually use.

Mazda seeks to alleviate some of the MX-30’s built-in range limitations is the ability to get a loaner car from a Mazda dealership for 10 days a year, for the first three years of ownership. There’s also a $500 credit via ChargePoint to apply towards its public charging network or on the installation of a Level 2 (240-volt) charger at your residence.

Even if you look at all of these caveats and decide that the MX-30 still works for you, there’s one last gigantic hurdle to overcome: availability. For the 2022 model year, only 560 vehicles will be offered. And that makes this whole exercise feel even more futile. The MX-30 could have driven better than a Miata (it doesn’t) and it feels like it wouldn’t have mattered.

Mazda says that the 2023 MX-30 will expand to nationwide availability and that the series hybrid model with a rotary engine range extender will arrive as a part of that model year. We’ll have to see what kind of volume will be planned for those vehicles, but for now, the 2022 MX-30 feels like a vehicle that arrives without consequence. And that’s a shame.

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