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Mazda has launched a rear-wheel-drive, six-cylinder diesel SUV. Mad or brilliant?

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They’re falling like flies now.

Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus diesel – dead. Every Renault diesel car – dead. Volvo XC40 diesel – dead. Even BMW has killed off much of its diesel range, including former mainstays like the 330d and 530d, citing falling demand.

I drove from Kent to Yorkshire and back in the CX-60 and I loved it. It can do 600 miles on a tank, the nav and cruise control work well and it’s a lovely place to be. If this is how you use your car, I can see it making a lot of sense, but the ride would still bother me.

A bizarre time, then, to develop and launch a car built on an all-new platform designed for longitudinal inline four- and six-cylinder engines, including an equally brand-new 3.3-litre diesel unit.

It seems that the Mazda CX-60 diesel comes about 20 years too late, but Mazda says it demonstrates a “commitment to a multi-solution approach to sustainable mobility and the principle of the right solution at the right time”. The idea is that the CX-60 also offers plug-in hybrid and petrol options, but that there is still a place in the range for a torquey, frugal powerplant to satisfy high-mileage private buyers, and people who need to tow.

That makes sense in theory, but the reality is that diesels always used to be the darlings of the European fleet market, which has now switched more or less wholesale to plug-in hybrids and EVs owing to incentives and rising diesel prices.

The other problem is that although the CX-60 PHEV impressed us on the launch, we subsequently ran one as a long-term test car and found it wasn’t very efficient, the gearbox was clunky, it felt nowhere near as quick as the figures suggest and the ride and general refinement were poor. Can the diesel version save the CX-60 range?

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Range at a glance

The CX-60 was launched in 2022 with the four-cylinder, four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid. The next year, it was joined by the 3.3-litre mild-hybrid diesel, available in two power outputs. The range will be completed later on by two versions of a new 3.0-litre straight-six petrol using Mazda’s petrol compression ignition.

The three trim levels are Exclusive-Line, Homura and Takumi. The higher trims mainly upgrade the appearance and interior materials. Takumi isn’t available on the entry-level diesel.

Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv D RWD*197bhp
Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv D AWD251bhp
Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv PHEV323bhp
Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv X RWDtbc
Mazda CX-60 e-Skyactiv X AWDtbc

*Version tested


8-spd automatic         


02 Mazda CX60 RT 2023 front cornering

For the past 10 years or so, Mazda has been pushing gently but steadily upmarket with its design and the quality of its interiors. It hasn’t been shouting about it, because such claims, if spurious, inevitably get picked apart by anyone who has set foot in a BMW or Audi. Like Volvo, it has just steadily been improving, which is arguably the right way to go about it. And now comes the next step: the ‘right’ mechanical layout to push into the higher segments.

Mazda has developed an all-new architecture for longitudinally mounted engines, giving native rear-wheel drive. Most versions of the CX-60 have four-wheel drive by way of a clutch-based system.

The only exceptions to the CX-60’s relatively restrained exterior style are the fake quad exhausts. Black plastic body cladding is painted in body colour on higher trims, but we quite like it as it breaks up some of the car’s big surfaces.

The plug-in hybrid version uses a 193bhp development of the 2.5-litre Skyactiv G engine found in the Mazda CX-5, supplemented by a 173bhp electric motor driving through an all-new eight-speed transmission. The latter is a conventional planetary gearbox, but instead of a torque converter it uses a wet multi-plate clutch – a similar set-up to what you will find in many Mercedes-AMGs. A 17.8kWh (total capacity) lithium ion battery under the cabin floor supplies the current for the motors.

The subject of this week’s road test is the mild-hybrid 3.3-litre straight-six diesel CX-60, more specifically the entry-level rear-wheel-drive 197bhp version. It sits in the range below the 251bhp four-wheel-drive version of the same engine. Both use the same gearbox as the PHEV but with a smaller, 17bhp, 113lb ft electric motor sandwiched between the flywheel and clutch pack. The 48V mild-hybrid system can provide a slight boost under acceleration, smooth out the gearchanges and run the electrical system while the diesel engine is shut down.

The diesel engine itself is a new development. Mazda reckons a bigger ‘right-sized’ engine doesn’t need to work as hard as a downsized one, and can therefore run cooler and more efficiently, governed for longer periods by its innovative new combustion control software, than a smaller one. The net result, it says, is a six-cylinder engine with better fuel economy than a four, plus the benefits of a six-pot: smoothness and a more appealing sound.

The innovations are twofold. The first are piston heads with roughly half-egg-shaped combustion chambers that use the available air more efficiently. The other is what Mazda calls Distribution-Controlled Partially Premixed Compression Ignition (DCPCI). The idea is that by partially pre-mixing the air and fuel before they enter the cylinder, it can burn at a lower temperature without producing more soot or NOx.


10 Mazda CX60 RT 2023 dashboard

We had plenty of gripes with our plug-in hybrid long-termer, but the interior ambience was decidedly not one of them. Mazda wants to establish a uniquely Japanese brand of premium that is different in nature but equal in quality to what you get from the German marques.

That is most obvious in Takumi trim, with its light maple wood, fabrics, leather and unusual stitching. In the entry-level Exclusive-Line, some of the leather and fabric is replaced with slightly less special leatherette. However, you still wouldn’t be disappointed stepping into it from a BMW X3.

There is quite a lot of space under the boot floor, but it is inefficiently used by an awkwardly shaped foam piece.

The CX-60 also maintains an array of physical buttons and switches – a usability delight. There’s a general feeling of simplicity. That’s mostly a positive, although the digital gauge cluster could have been made more useful with some extra flexibility.

The CX-60’s cabin is far from the most practical, however. You might expect the tall and wide centre console, now relieved of the battery pack it houses in the hybrid, to have plenty of deep storage bins, but there are just the two cupholders and a pretty shallow space under the armrest. The wireless charging tray isn’t very deep, and the charger itself often malfunctioned.

The rear leg room is similar to that in an Alfa Romeo Stelvio or Audi Q5 but slightly tighter than a BMW X3’s. Some SUVs from the class below, which use transverse engines, have more space in the back. The Mazda is quite a way behind on boot space, with just 477 litres (the X3 and Q5 have 550 litres, while the new Mercedes GLC has 620). Some of this deficit is explained when you lift up the floorboard. Underneath is actually quite a large space, but it is mostly filled by a bulky and awkwardly shaped piece of polystyrene-like material. It presumably has a noise-dampening function, but it’s hard to believe it couldn’t be shaped in a way that liberates more boot space.

Multimedia system


As with almost everything else, Mazda has a clear vision of what’s right and what’s wrong and is sticking with it, prevailing winds be damned. For a long time it refused to offer a touchscreen at all, and while in its most recent models it has one, it only works with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both available wirelessly), and then only while stationary. The latter is slightly frustrating, because smartphone mirroring doesn’t work that brilliantly with the rotary controller, although you do get used to it.

Otherwise, the system performs very well, with crisp but restrained graphics, a clear navigation system, not too many menus to navigate and some shortcut buttons to help you do so.

The standard stereo system sounds decent and gives you options to tweak the sound. You can’t have the Bose alternative in the Exclusive-Line, but having tried it on another occasion, it’s not a huge upgrade.


20 Mazda CX60 RT 2023 inline six diesel engine

You might look at the 3.3-litre capacity of the Mazda’s straight six and wonder how it manages to make only slightly more power (197bhp) than the BMW X3 20d’s 2.0-litre (188bhp). For comparison, that’s a specific output of just 60bhp per litre for the Mazda, versus 94bhp per litre for the BMW. The thing is, that is deliberate: to a point, an understressed six-cylinder will be nicer to drive and more economical than a harder-working four. That’s Mazda’s theory, and it claims a thermal efficiency of 40%.

To make matters worse on paper, our rear-wheel-drive CX-60 was 57kg heavier than the four-wheel-drive X3. Both cars use very similar gear ratios, so it appears the slightly higher torque saves the day for the CX-60, because it proved a fair bit faster than the BMW in all metrics. Most notably, it was quicker to 60mph by 0.7sec, and by as much as 2.2sec from 30-70mph in fourth gear. For outright speed from a standing start, although not in-gear pace, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio still has the Mazda beaten.

Th mild-hybrid 3.3 turbo diesel is an all-new development. Being a straight six, it needs every inch of the long engine bay. Despite being covered by two pieces of plastic and a bonnet, its diesel clatter can be heard quite clearly at low revs.

As an experience, the CX-60 diesel is novel in how old-fashioned it is. It takes a few revolutions longer to fire than most cars, and at low revs and low loads, especially with the oil still coming up to temperature, the engine clatters like a city bus. First impressions are certainly that this is not a particularly refined powerplant. You can even feel the vibrations at idle.

But get some heat into the engine and some revs on the tacho, and you can tell that it switches to a different cycle, and acquires that smooth but unstressed straight-six diesel sound. It spins to the redline quite happily, too. The best thing about a big diesel like this is the rich seam of effortless mid-range torque, ready to be mined. A plug-in hybrid might be faster under full-bore acceleration but will always feel and sound like it’s working much harder.

If you like a bit of mechanical interaction, you will probably enjoy the honesty of this new engine, because most of the time the gruffness isn’t intrusive, but it’s also a far cry from the hush of EVs.

The mild-hybrid system does work hard to silence the engine by shutting it down when coasting down hills. The system works well in that it’s not overly keen to kill the engine, but it’s not always perfectly smooth when re-engaging drive.

The eight-speed automatic is smooth and responsive and picks its shift points cleverly. That’s a surprise given the same gearbox can be very clunky in the PHEV.

The brakes, which operate via a by-wire system, are exemplary, too. Despite some damp patches on the track, the CX-60 stopped in the same distance as the Audi SQ5 did in the dry, and the feel from the pedal is reassuringly firm, making smooth stops child’s play.


21 Mazda CX60 RT 2023 front cornering

There are two distinct sides to the CX-60’s handling. To say it feels like a big Mazda MX-5 would be a gross exaggeration, but so long as the road is not excessively bumpy, it is possible to detect some shared DNA.

We need to go back a few years to find a similar family car with steering as slow as the CX-60’s, but then that is a Mazda-typical trait. For a sports car, the MX-5 has slow steering too. And apart from during parking manoeuvres, when the CX-60 requires a lot of arm twirling and could use a bit more self-centring below 10mph, it feels absolutely appropriate. It’s remarkably feelsome, and the slow ratio lets you dial in as much lock as you need.

Our rear-drive diesel’s weight was distributed 54% front, 46% rear.

Get on the power in this rear-drive version, and with the ‘TCS off’ button pressed, the systems will allow this diesel SUV to gently adopt a few degrees of yaw. It’s slightly bizarre but quite satisfying.

Mazda talks about ‘Jinba ittai’ – oneness between horse and rider – and on German roads that would ring entirely true, but on bumpy British roads, this horse still needs a lot of taming, because it doesn’t half like to buck. The rear axle in particular feels badly overdamped, and over the worst bumps can lose adhesion with the road, which is especially disconcerting in the middle of a corner.


Comfort and isolation

The jittery suspension affects handling only occasionally, but it’s a constant blight on the CX-60’s comfort. There is the constant head toss over craggy roads, and it’s made worse by the crashy, wooden secondary ride. Some cars get foxed by a particular kind of road imperfection, but the CX-60 can’t seem to deal with any of them. Even on the motorway it never settles, with a constant background restlessness. Believe it or not, the PHEV is even worse, adding strange creaking and groaning noises from the suspension to the mix.

Suppression of road noise isn’t a strong point of the CX-60 either, and it proved 2dBA louder at 70mph than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, and 4dBA louder than the BMW X3. It’s no better than the cheaper Mazda CX-5.

At least the driving position is comfortable, with a steering column that comes out a long way and a commanding view over the long bonnet. Even here, however, it’s not a perfect score, as we wish the cushion was longer or had a pull-out thigh bolster.

Assisted driving notes


The CX-60 comes with AEB and blindspot monitoring as standard, but everything else is included in the £1100 Driver Assistance Pack on the PHEV and the £1900 Convenience & Driver Assistance Pack on the diesels.

The systems work well. Turning off the lane keeping assistance is quite involved, but we never felt the need to do so because it rarely intervenes unnecessarily. The blindspot monitoring has an audible warning when you indicate into the path of an overtaking vehicle. The adaptive cruise control is smooth, doesn’t panic easily when other cars cut in and can be set to standard cruise control, and the lane following does a good job too.

There are a few niggles. The adaptive cruise can occasionally be late to detect stationary traffic, the collision avoidance can be confused by parked cars and the analogue speedometer is replaced with a fairly pointless surrounding traffic graphic when the cruise control is activated.


01 Mazda CX60 RT 2023 lead driving

Mazda has made the peculiar decision to develop an all-new diesel engine and launch it in a market that is moving away from the fuel towards EVs and plug-in hybrids. It needs to make a statement with the CX-60’s fuel economy, and there is no doubt that it is very economical.

Over the course of 1000 miles, we averaged 46.2mpg, which contrasts with 37.1mpg in the BMW X3 20d and the 37.7mpg in the Alfa Romeo Stelvio 2.2d. We have not road tested any current-generation rivals with a six-cylinder diesel, but it’s safe to assume they would do worse.

At the same time, bear in mind that those rivals have four-wheel drive as standard, which carries a fuel economy penalty. Nevertheless, Mazda has achieved its goal here of making a large-capacity six-cylinder that delivers the fuel economy of a 2.0-litre four.

Spec advice? Exclusive-Line looks the best, thanks to its black exterior trim breaking up the tall sides, and you can add most of the equipment that trim misses out on with option packs. Takumi is tempting for its lavish interior materials. Every version of CX-60 can tow 2500kg.

Whether diesel in general still makes sense for you will depend largely on whether you are a company car driver. Plug-in hybrids with a good electric range (which the CX-60 PHEV is, on paper at least) get hugely preferential rates. The CX-60 PHEV falls into the 12% band, whereas the RWD diesel incurs 30% and the AWD diesel 32%. In absolute terms, a 40% tax payer will pay £2178 per year for an Exclusive-Line PHEV but £5129 for the lower diesel – more than double.

However, the CX-60 diesel does have one more financial trump card. Thanks to a much lower CO2 figure and a lower list price, it is quite significantly cheaper as a company car than any of its diesel rivals. For instance, an Audi Q5 40 TDI falls into the 37% category and will cost the same 40% tax payer £7242 per year.

07 Mazda cx60 rt 2023 fake exhaust 0

A 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engine will join the range later on. If Mazda can repeat the trick of making it as economical as rival 2.0-litre fours, that will most likely be the first choice for private buyers.

A further argument for the CX-60 is the price. Even the four-wheel-drive diesel is about £1500 cheaper than a BMW X3 xDrive20d or Audi Q5 40 TDI, and the gap to the Volvo XC60 B4 or Mercedes GLC 220d is even bigger, although those last two are better equipped as standard. And if you have no need for four-wheel drive, there’s another £2500 to be saved. What’s more, option packs are reasonably priced, so the gap widens with equipment.

The CX-60’s residual values are predicted to be behind rivals’, but not by much. As a result, monthly PCP rates are competitive, looking much cheaper than an equivalent X3 and about level with an equivalent Q5 (though that is helped by Audi’s generous deposit contribution).

Illya Verpraet

Illya Verpraet Road Tester Autocar
Title: Road Tester

As part of Autocar’s road test team, Illya drives everything from superminis to supercars, and writes reviews, comparison tests, as well as the odd feature and news story. 

Much of his time is spent wrangling the data logger and wielding the tape measure to gather the data for Autocar’s eight-page road tests, which are the most rigorous in the business thanks to independent performance, fuel consumption and noise figures.

Mazda CX-60 First drives