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Range-extending option for MX-30 EV marks the rotary engine's return, bringing much-needed updates

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The limited 124-mile range of the Mazda MX-30 electric crossover has been addressed in the eccentric kind of way that only Mazda knows how.

The new Mazda MX-30 R-EV has been introduced to sit alongside its fully electric stablemate and is the third iteration in a series of ‘Mazda Experimental’ cars - hence the ‘MX' name.

When we first drove it, we liked the MX-30 EV for its unrivalled uniqueness, but the pithy range and lacklustre pace made it feel suited only to urban environments, making it a compromised machine you could only really choose if you had another car.

However, Mazda promises that it has fixed this issue with the help of an unusual ally. The MX-30 R EV is a range-extended EV with a new 830cc rotary petrol engine under the bonnet. This acts as an electricity generator only; it never drives the wheels directly. The pure EV remains on sale alongside it.

The rotary engine provides power to a 17.8kWh battery, which drives an electric motor, which in turn powers the front wheels for a (claimed) driving range of around 400 miles.

But do you actually want to go 276 miles farther? In other words, does this new-age tech work to pleasing effect in practice?

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DESIGN & STYLING

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Mazda MX30 R EV review 2023 side

Designed by Jo Stenuit as a “natural progression” of the 3 saloon and larger CX-30, the MX-30 is a three-box crossover that doesn't look much like a three-box crossover, managing to be way more interesting than the Kia Soul EV and less angrily angular than the concept-like Toyota C-HR.

In a world of suits, it’s a Hawaiian shirt that’s distinguishable by what it does have as much as what it doesn’t. Regular rear doors have been ditched for rear-hinged 'suicide' items, like on the old RX-8.

It employs Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design language to give it squat proportions that allow it to stand out irrespective of trim level and sculpted front and rear lights.

The R-EV has the same 1555mm height, 1795mm width and 4395mm length as its all-electric brother; and apart from a couple of badges (notably a rotary symbol on the front fender and an ‘R-EV’ badge on the tailgate) and refreshed alloy-wheel designs, it’s almost indistinguishable. The alloys themselves are only available with a diameter of 18in but get a diamond-cut finish on higher specifications.

Several paint schemes are available with a striking three-tone effect available on mid-rung and top-spec cars. Our test car came with a ceramic grey body, a black roof and black door mirror caps - a £1500 option.

INTERIOR

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Mazda MX30 R EV review 2023 interior dashboard

Compared with the exterior, the innards exhibit a similar yet different attitude to design.

Minimalism takes precedence here, with physical buttons reserved only for the climate controls, radio controls and steering wheel, but it’s restrained in its design.

Most of the other functions, such as the audio controls and sat-nav, are controlled using one of the most slick and intuitive infotainment systems this side of £50,000. It’s controlled using a rotary dial that can also be moved from side to side to change the song or radio station - a very useful feature.

The 7.0in dashboard-mounted screen is minute compared with what else is available these days and controls everything except the HVAC. That's operated through a similarly intuitive (and also 7.0in) screen directly in front of the gearshift, which you use as a touchscreen or via buttons mounted on either side.

The rest of the interior follows the trend of making more expensive cars feel overpriced. The materials feel solid, even ones you don’t often touch, and there are some nice touches, like cork lining the centre console (referencing the fact that Mazda was originally a cork manufacturer).

There’s a slick finish to the way the buttons and switches operate that make them feel like they’re built to last. Even the windows work without a sound. In fact, other than some tyre roar at motorway speeds, there aren’t a lot of sounds to be heard.

Surprisingly for a car with such small rear doors, leg room and head room is good, but those over 6ft 5in tall may might to crouch to prevent their scalp from rubbing against the headlining.

The seats have a blend of soft-touch and sustainable materials that are attractive to look at and feel, but they're slightly hard on longer journeys and lack some support - strange for a car with sporting intentions.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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Mazda MX30 R EV review 2023 engine bay

There’s only one powertrain to cover here, but it’s quite complicated to dissect, because there’s so much going on. However, you’re never aware of what it’s doing unless you really listen.

It might looks slow on paper, with 168bhp, 191lb ft of torque and a 0-62mph time of 9.1sec (0.6sec faster than the EV), but you’re never left wanting for performance. 

Where it performs best is in the mid-range. Pick-up from 40-70mph is so smooth that you wonder how it can possibly have two engines.

At lower speeds, however, a slight issue rears its head. The rotary tends to run from 2300rpm to 4500rpm, so if you find yourself doing 20-30mph as the revs spin at a rate at which they aren’t normally hushed, the sound protrudes into the cabin like a drill.

You can solve this by switching between modes, of which there are three: Charge, Normal, and EV.

Charge mode allows you to top up the battery using the rotary if you need to run on EV-only mode in a low-emissions zone and is where the rotary engine makes its voice heard.

In Normal mode, the car runs as an EV up until the battery charge drops below 43% or if the excellently weighted throttle pedal is positioned spiritedly.

EV mode does what it says on the tin: makes the car run on electric power alone until it has no battery charge left, at which point the rotary generator will kick in.

RIDE & HANDLING

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Mazda MX30 R EV review 2023 rear three quarter tracking

How does this translate on the open road? As mentioned, the throttle pedal is nicely weighted and the brakes are a class act in progressiveness.

The steering takes some getting used to but after a short while feels easily manipulatable and still allows you to place the car where you want it.

The MX-30 is no MX-5, but it still manages to inspire the sort of confidence that makes you want to drive it hard for the sake of it - a trick not many crossovers can pull off.

It gets MacPherson Struts up front with a multi-link set-up at the back, and the suspension is tuned nicely to UK roads. It absorbs bumps with aplomb and achieves Lexus UX levels of comfort, at the slight detriment of body roll.

Which brings us onto a couple of other problems: the steering is very numb and the chassis has a tendency to understeer in damp conditions, probably as a consequence of the eco-friendly tyres. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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Mazda MX30 review 2023 front three quarter 01

The MX-30 R-EV is (relatively) affordable, with prices from £31,250 for base Prime Line trim, or around £300 per month if you want a good lease deal.

However, with 21g/km of CO2 emissions spouting from the exhaust, it incurs an 8% rather than a 2% benefit-in-kind tax rate, as the pure-electric MX-30 does.

Our mid-range test car averaged 48mpg and 3.8mpkWh over a 100-mile mixture of country roads, towns and motorways with each driving mode used.

Those are decent figures in isolation, but fuel economy is a far cry from the claimed 282.4mpg in reality – unless of course you run it in EV mode the majority of the time.

There’s plenty of standard equipment if you choose a Prime Line car. You get a head-up display, a 7.0in touchscreen, blindspot monitoring, Apple CarPlay and a reversing camera to make it the best value of the bunch.

Prices rise by £1900 for the next level up, Exclusive Line, which gets front and rear parking sensors, torque-vectoring, electric seats and plusher interior fabrics, while top-rung Makoto commands £36,000 for the addition of a heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel, a sunroof and 12-speaker Bose sound system.

Mazda expects the largest proportion of MX-30 sales, 44%, to come from Exclusive Line cars, with base and top-of-the-range cars taking a 24% and 32% sales share respectively.

VERDICT

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Mazda MX30 R EV review 2023 front

The MX-30 R-EV would be better if its hybrid system were more refined and economical at low speeds and, being the maker of the MX-5, Mazda should know better than to give it such lifeless steering. But that’s mostly where the criticisms end.

To answer the original question, then, yes, the MX-30 R-EV does work well. The range increase over the pure EV represents a massive and much-needed improvement, because now you have the breathing space to enjoy what was an already decent crossover.

This is only a good thing, because the MX-30 is a car that wants you to discover more about it. The deeper you go, the more it gets under your skin. It has endearingly good looks, the sort of interior build quality that's very difficult to find at this price and a strange but charming powertrain that has been quite well dialled in.

And now that it's been allowed to show its true self, it’s not just a good hybrid, it’s a good car.

Jonathan Bryce

Jonathan Bryce
Title: Editorial Assistant

Jonathan is an editorial assistant working with Autocar. He has held this position since March 2024, having previously studied at the University of Glasgow before moving to London to become an editorial apprentice and pursue a career in motoring journalism. 

His role at work involves writing news stories, travelling to launch events and interviewing some of the industry's most influential executives, rewriting used car reviews and used car advice articles, updating and uploading articles for the Autocar website and making sure they are optimised for search engines, and regularly appearing on Autocar's social media channels including Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.