Mazda MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV review

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Brilliant breakdown + serious savings

Mazda's clever little MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV is a PHEV, but not as you know it. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.

Ten Second Review

Mazda's little MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV is a Plug-in Hybrid, but a very different one. The rotary engine's unique, never drives the wheels and constantly defers to an electric motor offering 53 miles of range. Sounds promising.

Background

It's been a very long time since we've seen a Mazda with a rotary engine, that Wankel technology inextricably linked with the brand, who produced more than 2 million rotary engines between the launch of the Mazda Cosmo in 1967 and the end of production of the RX-8 sports car in 2012. Since then, rotary tech's been absent from the company's line-up, but now it's back, not in a high performance coupe but in a model we'd previously thought was an EV, the little MX-30 hatch.

The MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV is effectively the range extender version of that car. That's a description which might conjure up memories of the old BMW i3 range extender model, which had a rather crude little motorbike engine stacked out back to noisily cut in when the EV batteries were depleted. As we'll see, Mazda's R-EV tech is a great deal more sophisticated than that. In fact, the rotary engine it uses never directly powers the wheels. Sounds intriguing. Let's take a closer look.

Driving Experience

We quite liked the ordinary full-electric MX-30 when we first tried it, but wondered who would live with a real-world driving range figure of not much more than 100 miles (official figure 124 miles). This R-EV Plug-in Hybrid version seems a much better all-round proposition, it's 17.8kWh battery pack offering 53 miles of pure EV mileage before a little single-rotor 830cc 73bhp rotary Wankel petrol engine pipes in and adds a further 320 miles of range.

Rather like Nissan's e-Power system (though that can't be plugged in), the engine isn't there to directly power the wheels. Instead via a generator, its role is to create energy for the 168bhp electric motor which (aided by 260Nm of torque) ultimately powers the car. There are three selectable driving modes - 'Normal', 'EV' and 'Charge'. 'Normal' uses the electric motor alone and keeps the rotary engine switched off unless battery charge becomes low. 'EV' mode forces the car to keep the engine switched off for even longer; and 'Charge' merely uses the engine to (rather inefficiently) charge the battery - you can set a target charge level in 10% increments. Regardless of which drive mode you choose, top speed is limited to an extremely modest 86mph, but 62mph is dispatched in a rather more eager 9.1 seconds, fractionally faster than the full-EV model.

Design and Build

All versions of the MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV feature a rotor badge on the front wings and an e-Skyactiv R-EV badge on the tailgate, plus this PHEV variant gets unique wheels. Otherwise, you're going to struggle to differentiate it from the ordinary full-electric MX-30 model, which offers its own unique expression of the brand's usual so-called 'Kodo' design theme, here apparently "emphasising the car's beauty as a solid mass". You'll be intrigued by the 'freestyle doors' (some unkindly call them 'suicide doors') - seen previously on Mazda models like the RX-8 - which are hinged unconventionally; the front doors open forward to an angle of 82 degrees, while the rear doors open backwards to an angle of 80 degrees. Peer in and you'll note the open spaciousness of the cabin and what is quite a stylish and driver-focused interior.

Inside, the sense of space is enhanced with a floating centre console that sits independently from the dashboard, while the use of environmentally-friendly materials has been carefully matched to meticulous quality and finish. Leather is replaced by a vegan alternative. The lower console incorporates a 7-inch colour touch-screen air conditioning control panel, and (in a nod to Mazda's founding as the Toyo Kogyo Cork Company in 1920), the MX-30 features cork lined centre console trays and inner side door handles. One clever R-EV added feature is a vehicle-to-load supply socket, with a three-pin plug that will allow users to run electrical items at up to 1,500 watts. The back seat can take a couple of adults in reasonable comfort. But boot capacity falls from the 360/1,171-litre total you get in an ordinary MX-30 to 350 litres and 1,155-litres here.

Market and Model

The MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV prices from launch at £31,250 with base 'Prime-Line' trim - exactly the same as the equivalent full-electric MX-30 model - which is an interesting approach. The same applies with mid-range 'Exclusive-Line' trim. But for reasons that are too dull to go into here, the top 'Makoto' variant costs £250 more with the R-EV drivetrain - which means an asking price of £36,000. Add on a further £200 if you want the upholstery to come in a combination of dark cloth and either brown or black leatherette finishing. At the top of the MX-30 range is the R-EV-only 'Edition R' - priced at £37,950 and limited to just 400 examples in the UK.

Like all MX-30s, this one comes with the brand's Mazda Connect centre-dash infotainment system, including navigation, plus 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring, while the technology tally also includes Mazda Radar Cruise control and a driver's knee airbag. The latest camera-driven safety elements also feature, including 'Smart Brake Support' autonomous braking and 'Intelligent Speed Assist', which can adapt your velocity according to posted speed limits.

Cost of Ownership

We gave you this car's total 373 mile combined driving range figure earlier, with 53 miles of that being on pure battery power. In order words, this MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV will go three times as far as the ordinary full-battery MX-30 model manages between charges. Mazda claims the usual fairyland combined cycle three-figure PHEV fuel reading - in this case 283mpg. More relevant is the quoted CO2 result, 21g/km, which means you'll be BiK tax-rated at just 8% (it's 2% for the ordinary EV MX-30). There's a 50-litre fuel tank and this Mazda can recharge at up to 36kW DC, allowing for a full-top-up in about 25 minutes. You'd need about an hour and a half to fill the 17.8kWh battery from a conventional 7.2kW home wallbox.

Mazda says that engine efficiency has been improved here by the use of direct fuel injection, which reduces the tendency for the fuel and air mixture to collect at the back of the combustion chamber without fully combusting. An exhaust gas recirculation system also features, which operates mainly at low revs to prevent cooling loss - which previously was an issue with rotary powerplants (which have greater surface areas than piston engines of equivalent capacity). Previous rotary engines suffered from rotor tip wear, but Mazda says that's been mitigated here by the use of wider, 2.5mm seals.

We should also mention the warranty, the usual unremarkable three year / 60,000 mile package. If you want to extend that, you can do so via optional 'Essential', 'Elite' and 'Complete' plans. Included in the standard package is a three year paintwork warranty and 12 years of anti-perforation cover. In addition, there's a 'Mazda Accident Aftercare' scheme which sees the company liaise with your insurer after an accident, making sure that you have access to a courtesy car if you need one and ensuring that all repairs are carried out to full Mazda standards.

Summary

The British government is nowhere near its targets in terms of public charging installation for the EV community and prices of electric vehicles seem to rise daily, as do our electricity costs. Given that, we wouldn't blame you for temporarily putting off the switch to a full EV and opting for something planet-friendly but a little more real-world usable in the meantime. Something like this MX-30 e-Skyactiv R-EV.

You can tell your friends it's basically an EV, because it basically is. You can plug it in, an electric motor not an engine drives the wheels and for commuting folk, the EV range is long enough to make fuel station visits an extreme rarity. Yet when you need the peace of mind of fossil fuel-propulsion, it's there for you. The perfect combination? Some will certainly see this Mazda that way. Why on earth would you choose the identically priced but range-restrictive full-electric MX-30 over this variant? Answers on a postcard please.

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