Mazda’s signature “zoom zoom” will get a little quieter this fall.
The Japanese automaker on Tuesday introduced its first electric vehicle, the MX-30, starting at $34,645. The 100-mile range SUV enters the compact EV market against U.S. competitors like the Chevy Bolt EUV, Volkswagen ID.4, Hyundai Kona EV and Nissan Leaf. The entry-level, battery-only vehicles are priced about $10,000 higher than comparable gas-powered SUVs — and about $10k lower than premium, compact SUVs like the Tesla Model Y and Ford Mustang Mach-E.
The MX-30 also tipped Mazda’s hand on a conservative electrification strategy like fellow Asian manufacturers Toyota and Hyundai. Mazda said it is assembling a diverse lineup of EVs, plugins and hybrids while other automakers like GM and Volkswagen focus on high-risk, EV-only lineups. Mazda even offers access to its gas-powered lineup for range-limited MX-30 owners who want to take long trips.
Though there is little consumer demand for EVs, automakers are facing government regulations forcing battery-powered drivetrains, corporate sustainability requirements and a generation of Tesla-coveting Millennial buyers.
The Mazda MX-30 adopts the “MX” moniker of the brand’s gas-powered halo, the MX-5 Miata sports car, as it seeks to lure EV buyers. Like the MX-5, the MX-30 promises nimble handling with a low center of gravity and tuned suspension.
“Mazda is taking a multi-solution approach to electrification,” said North America president Jeff Guyton. “The battery-powered MX-30 will begin the introduction of additional electrified models, including a plug-in hybrid with a rotary generator for MX-30, a plug-in hybrid for our new large platform, and a traditional hybrid for our new American-made crossover. Mazda fans can expect great driving dynamics and beautiful design across all models.”
Notable on that list is the revival of Mazda’s signature, gas-powered rotary engine that will be paired with an electric motor. The hybrid approach gives new life to the fuel-thirsty rotary that had struggled under government emissions rules.
Mazda’s strategy echoes that of Toyota and Ford which have hedged their bets on electrification. Ford is offering both EVs like the Mustang Mach-E and hybrids like the Maverick pickup and Escape ute. Toyota showed an EV concept car this summer and dabbles in hydrogen fuel cells — but otherwise is betting on gas-electric hybrids.
GM and Volkswagen, by contrast, have eschewed hybrids and gone all in on battery-power. GM’s luxury Cadillac brand will offer only EVs by 2030, with all of the Detroit automaker’s brands going electric by 2035.
The $33,995 Chevy Bolt EUV and $35k Mazda MX-30 are similarly priced but diverge on specifics.
The Bolt EUV is a more premium, high-tech experience than other Chevy models — even optioning Super Cruise, the hands-free driver assist feature offered in premium Cadillac and GMC models.
Mazda sticks to the brand’s zoom-zoom formula (even piping in a little sound to simulate a gas engine).
The sleek exterior echoes small, sporty SUVs like the Mazda CX-30 and CX-3. The most striking departure is the thin grille compared to traditional, full-fascia openings that feed air to the gas engines behind.
Under the hood, an electric motor powered by a 35.5 kWh lithium-ion battery drives the front wheels. The electric drivetrain produces 200 pound-feet of instant torque and 143 horsepower. Those numbers pale in comparison to a comparably-priced Mazda CX-30 Turbo which boasts 310 pound-feet of torque and 250 horsepower from its 2.5-liter engine.
The MX-30 will benefit initially from a $7,500 federal EV tax credit that will undercut the Bolt EUV since GM has exhausted its EV vehicle credits. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow has proposed a $13,500 EV tax credit exclusive to UAW-made, U.S.-assembled vehicle like the Bolt.
The Mazda’s size and 100-mile range is optimized for city driving. The Bolt EUV’s can go 250 miles on a charge.
In a nod to the MX-30’s range limitations, Mazda is offering an innovative “Elite Access Loaner Program” so that owners can reserve other, gas-powered Mazdas for longer trips up to 10 days. The MX-30 will initially only be offered in California, which currently makes up more than 40% of U.S. EV sales.
Mazda has partnered with the ChargePoint network to give MX-30 owners a $500 charging credit that can be used for public charging — or towards purchase of an in-home, 240-volt ChargePoint charger. On the latter, the MX-30 can be fully charged in about three hours.
Approach the MX-30 and “free-style doors” open like a cabinet. The stylish MX-30 interior appeals to green customers with sustainable cork materials (a nod to Mazda’s origins as a cork manufacturer). The familiar, minimalist Mazda design includes a recessed dash screen atop a floating console and electronic shifter.
The MX-30 offers a suite of standard features, and shoppers can upgrade to the $37,655 Premium Plus level that includes goo-gaws like blind-spot assist that will automatically steer you back into your lane if it detects a vehicle filling your blind spot.
In a nod to concerns about battery durability (Chevy recently recalled Bolts due to fire concerns), the Mazda MX-30 offers an eight-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.