Americans are obsessed with ambition, particularly when it comes to driving. Despite reality often painting a very different picture, people buy more vehicle than they need or generally use, because maybe one day they’ll do the thing. They’ll go off-roading on rocky trails or overland through the desert for weeks at a time. They’ll hit racetracks every weekend. They’ll road trip cross-country twice a year. The 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV is grounded firmly in reality, which means a lot of Americans aren’t going to like it.
Mazda is only now arriving on the electric car scene, the MX-30 EV its first electrified model. While the MX-30 has been on sale in other markets for a year or so, it’s new here for 2022. And while it’s available as a gas/electric hybrid elsewhere, the United States only gets a full-electric model for now. And it only goes 100 miles on a full charge. And they’re only making 560 of them and selling them in California.
“Compliance cars” were more of a thing about ten years ago, when California introduced legislation requiring a certain portion of new car sales be battery-powered. Some brands started building electric versions of existing small cars – the Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, and Chevy Spark EV – but they weren’t sold in much volume and were positioned as city runabouts due to their low range, a consequence of repurposing an existing platform for electrification. There’s only so many places to put batteries.
Mazda swears the 2022 MX-30 EV is not a “compliance car,” though that term was on my mind for the ten days I spent with one recently.
What Is It?
This is a 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV. It shares a platform with the Mazda CX-30 crossover, but looks and feels more like a hatchback. Where other markets get a hybrid, Mazda is only offering a fully-electric MX-30 for now. They confirmed a plug-in hybrid model will be launching here next year.
Pop the hood of the MX-30 EV – there’s no frunk here – and you’ll find the electric motor and powertrain bits and… a lot of empty space. Mazda needs that space for the gasoline half of the drivetrain that we don’t yet receive. The MX-30 EV uses a single electric motor to spin the front wheels. Powered by a 35.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack, it produces 143 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque.
Range from that battery is a claimed 100 miles, which Mazda says is sufficient for most drivers on most days. The “average American” drives about 30 miles per day. There’s that grounded-in-reality bit that nobody wants to admit.
Opening the clamshell doors (Mazda calls them “freestyle” doors) à-la RX-8 reveals a beautiful cabin with some interesting finishes. There’s touches of wool on the doors, two-tone leatherette-and-kinda-wool seats with orange accents, and cork on the center console and door pulls. Mazda got its roots as a cork producer in the 1920s, and its presence here is a neat nod to the company’s roots.
The dashboard is typical (great) Mazda, but with a touchscreen for climate control functions, flanked by hard buttons. Given the company’s stance on hard buttons and knobs being safer to use on the move, I asked about the screen. “The functions of the HVAC can be touched without looking, as opposed to the infotainment which needs the user to read what they are selecting,” I was told. Mazda’s not wrong, but it seems a bit like innovation for innovation’s sake given the CX-30 has a nicely-designed climate panel that could’ve been used.
MSRP of my 2022 Mazda MX-30 Premium was $38,150 before the $7,500 federal tax credit, for which Mazda fully qualifies.
Road Tripping the 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV
I figured most people who received a MX-30 EV to review would use it as intended, i.e. as a city car. My mom’s birthday was fast approaching, and I hopped in the MX-30 to take her out to dinner. The caveat is that my parents live about 150 miles away. Any gas- or diesel-powered car can handle the round-trip drive on one tank of fuel. Most EVs can handle it with one brief fast-charge stop and mileage to spare. Not so in the MX-30, but I wanted to try anyway.
Mazda’s stance is that MX-30 EV owners will charge at home overnight, and start their day at 100% charge. In an ideal world, that’s the case. I even chose my new high-rise because they have Level 2 (6.6 kW) chargers in the parking garage. Naturally, only two of the five chargers are actually set up and one of the two was broken. The working charger was selfishly blocked by a gas-powered Infiniti. I did manage to start my drive with a full battery, but only after creatively parking to charge the car.
My drive to see my parents was uneventful. I used the PlugShare app to identify a charging station along the route, an evGo station located at an outlet mall just off the highway. Mazda claims a 20- to 80%-charge time of 36 minutes on a DC Fast Charger, at a maximum charging speed of 50 kW. That rating seemed accurate, and I rolled in to the evGo station with about 50% charge, so I didn’t wait more than about fifteen minutes before continuing my journey.
Arriving at my destination, I used the 120-volt travel charger to plug in to my parents’ garage outlet. Mazda claims 13 hours and 40 minutes are required to get the MX-30 EV from 20% to 80%, and this is where things went a little sideways. I worked from their house the following day and unplugged the car around 4:30 PM to head home. It had been plugged in for an hour or so longer than Mazda said was needed, but I only had about 72 miles of range.
Distance to that one evGo fast charger? Google Maps said 74 miles. Gulp. I’m normally the type to refill a gas car at half a tank “just in case,” but threw caution to the wind.
I could have gone out of my way to another off-brand fast charger, the only one within 20 miles of their home at a local convention center. I decided to take my chances instead. Windows stayed up for aerodynamics, air conditioning was turned off for range. I allowed the cabin fan so I wouldn’t be entirely miserable. Music stayed off so the Bose amplifier and subwoofer wouldn’t sap any juice. I kept acceleration light, regenerative braking at its maximum, and top speed to about 60 miles per hour.
I’d reset the economy meter before setting off, and was averaging roughly 4.5 miles per kilowatt-hour. This saw me “earn more miles” on the MX-30’s estimated range. “Just don’t blow it,” I kept thinking.
I pulled in to the outlet mall parking lot with five percent remaining, the dashboard telling me I could have gone another seven miles. The MX-30 had chimed and asked me to recharge at 28% and 14%, respectively, but otherwise drove normally until the bitter end.
“Lawrence” was my savior – every evGo station has a name for each plug – and as he worked to charge the car, I wandered the mall and bought some affordable new clothes on a whim.
The MX-30 EV Works in the City, Sort Of
For the first three years of MX-30 EV ownership, Mazda will actually issue loaner cars from their dealerships. Owners can borrow a gas-powered Mazda for up to ten days per year, making road trips a non-event assuming you have a dealership nearby with available vehicles, and the time to go swap your car out for a few days. If you have another car or simply hate road trips, everything above is a bit of a non-issue.
Around town, the MX-30 EV is a peach of a car. Two hundred torques are plenty to scoot around Washington, D.C. and run errands. It’s small and easy to parallel-park. The rear seats fold down and provide more room than you’d think for larger items.
While it’s true that I can run errands and see many of my friends and not drive more than 30 miles or so, there’s also quite a bit to do in the DC metro area that is 40 or 50 miles each way. These destinations aren’t even day trips, they’re things you would do as part of your day – shopping malls, wineries, restaurants – but they don’t all have charging available. Some do, but not all.
Having a scant 100 miles of range meant that the car’s state of charge was constantly on my mind. The gauge moved every time I drove it anywhere. I felt like I never had much “extra” range and that I should top the car off at any possible opportunity.
Mazda says they purposely limited the size of the battery pack to retain “superb” driving dynamics and keep environmental impact of battery production on the low side. The issue here is that the MX-30 EV still weighs 3,655 pounds and it isn’t “Mazda enough” to drive. It’s very well-damped, providing great ride quality on Washington, D.C.’s notoriously beautiful and perfect roads. It’s solid on the highway, with wide-enough tires and weight down low.
Through a corner, though, the MX-30 EV is sloppy. Batteries provide a low center of gravity, but steering feel is uneasy and the electric drivetrain hangs out mostly in front of the front axle. It’ll take a corner, but not with the confidence I expect from a Mazda. Even the CX-9, their biggest crossover, has better steering feel.
I wanted to like the MX-30 EV. It’s well-styled, distinctive but not dorky. The interior is tremendously neat and the mixed materials concept should be pushed to every other Mazda on sale.
Even ignoring the road trip experience, though, it doesn’t land for me. The MX-30 EV has one rate of acceleration, which isn’t particularly quick past that initial torque surge, and I constantly felt a little anxious about having enough charge. I could accept the lack of speed if there were more range, or lack of range if there were more speed, but the car is too compromised – especially given how it’s priced.
The most basic MX-30 EV in Jet Black (the only free color) is $34,645 including destination. Sure, it’s $27,145 after that tax credit. But a Chevy Bolt starts at $31,000 with 259 miles of range. Nissan’s Leaf will go 149 miles for $27,400 before tax credits, or 226 miles for $32,400 pre-credit. They’re both similar in size to the MX-30 EV, and while I haven’t driven the Leaf, the Bolt was far more fun to drive in my testing earlier this year.
Mazda is so close here. I think the MX-30 plug-in hybrid will be a far more appealing vehicle for most buyers, and plug-in hybrids are more appropriate in many cases. While the MX-30 EV is not technically a “compliance car,” given the California-only sales and low production volume this year, it does feel like it on the surface. With more range, the MX-30 EV would be a much easier sell.