When you’re invited as one of the few to test drive a pre-production model of a brand’s new flagship, it’s an offer you can’t refuse. Especially when it comes from one of Japan’s smaller but still independent carmakers, Mazda. Its CX-60 PHEV might look familiar from the outside, but it houses a lot of ‘Mazda firstlings’ underneath.
A plug-in hybrid is a first for Mazda, which only recently chose somewhat reluctantly to follow the electrifying trend without giving up ICE. The result is a sizeable AWD-SUV, Mazda’s most powerful and most expensive ‘premium’ offer. But with a moderate starting price of €48 890, that’s relative when playing in this category.
Rather conventional, well-designed
You will get a rather conventional but well-designed SUV with all modern trimmings for that money. It might look like the CX-5 at first sight, but it is bigger and roomier with its 4 745 m length, 1 680 m height, and 2 870 m wheelbase. It’s rather playing in the league of the BMW X3 xDrive30e. Mazda likes to see the CX-60 as a step up to that premium segment.
The 2,5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine (141 kW), combined with the 129 kW electric motor, totaling 241 kW (327 hp) and 500 Nm of torque, make the CX-60 Mazda’s most powerful road car so far. It accelerates from 0 to 100 kph in just 5,8 seconds and has an electronically limited top speed of 200 km/hour.
Integrated into the eight-speed transmission
The electric motor/generator is integrated into Mazda’s own eight-speed automatic transmission that doesn’t have a classic torque converter as an input clutch but a multi-plate clutch.
It allows for smooth shifting, although in the pre-production models we drove, this sometimes led to unexpected ‘hicking’ or noises that Mazda will rub out in the production version, it assures.
Reassuring driving experience
That power and the outstanding handling result in a pleasant and reassuring drive, helped by the new rear-wheel drive-based AWD platform with Mazda’s Kinematic Posture Control (KPC) technology to stabilize the vehicle when cornering.
Even in demanding road conditions like hilly and winding roads as we could experience in a one-hour and a half drive along the Portuguese Estoril coast. Too short for an extensive test, but looking forward to doing that once the car arrives in Belgium.
You might expect rather stiff suspension settings, as the SUV we drove sat on large 20-inch wheels instead of the standard 18”. The CX-60 offers five drive modes, including an off-road, a towing, and an EV mode. The news that the CX-60 is allowed to tow up to 2 500 kg (braked) will be music to the ears of lovers of heavy boat or horse trailers and caravans.
Sixty-kilometer electric autonomy
While standard in hybrid mode with the ICE standing by when needing maximum power, the EV mode allows driving pure electrically for some 60 km on a 17.8 kW battery. That battery, weighing 176 kg, sits centrally under the floor to lower the vehicle’s gravity point.
Sixty kilometers of electric autonomy is better than the BMW X3 xDrive30e’s 40-50 km range but still rather conservative compared to other PHEVs reaching the market with 80 to 100 km pure electric range.
More important, it is to meet the EU’s standards with its ‘environmental credentials’; 1,5 l per 100 km fuel consumption combined and 33 g/km CO2 emissions.
No gimmicks allowed
You’ll find more rather conventional Mazda designs on the inside. Nicely crafted with the better materials and, in this case, with redesigned, well-supporting, and wider seats than in the CX-5, that can be electrically adjusted to fit the best driving position.
Mazda deliberately refrains from adding ‘gimmicks’ like dashboard-wide or monster-sized touch screens on the middle console, nor a myriad of settings for interior lightning colors or dashboard layouts. There are no one-pedal driving features, but only a high or low setting for regenerative braking tucked away in the EV settings.
It looks straightforward and classic, with buttons for all traditional functions, gear shift paddles on the steering wheel, and a central 12,3-inch infotainment center display. That features, for the first time Android Auto, wireless, next to Apple CarPlay as a standard.
The Japanese swear by their base criterium to focus everything around a safe driving experience without distraction. Hence Mazda allowed itself one ‘frivolity‘: a new Driver Personalisation System.
The latter uses a one-time input of the driver of his body length to propose the correct driving position by managing all the driving position settings and more than 250 adjustments in total, including mirrors, audio, and air-conditioning.
It uses an interior camera with facial recognition to store up to six profiles that will be set automatically as one of them steps into the car. It worked fine for us, though other colleagues had not all the same positive result.
Being a good farmer
Being relatively small on a global scale, Mazda has been a good farmer in Europe lately, according to Mazda Europe’s vice-president of Customer Experience, Communications & Public Affairs, Matthias Sileghem.
Despite corona and semi-conductor crises, it grew its sales in Europe from 150 000 units in 2020 to 160 000 in 2021. It was not the all-time record yet of 240 000 it used to realize in the past, but it is going in the right direction.
He sees an excellent opportunity to raise that to 200 000 this year, propelled by the ongoing success run of the classic CX-5, MX-30, Mazda’s first battery-electric offer the upcoming MX-30 R-EV with a rotary range extender, and the new PHEV flagship, the CX-60.
Sileghem is confident we’ll see the first ones of the latter in European showrooms in autumn, but for countries like Belgium, where the full fiscal advantage for PHEVs ends beginning of 2023, that’s a pity.
But Mazda is pretty sure it will be able to deliver the CX-60 within three months of the order, which could be an advantage as others struggle with component shortages that are predicted to last until 2023.
In Europe, going electric is a matter of catching the right wave to surf on. Not only to anticipate growing EV demand but also to comply with the EU’s more stringent emission standards that are to follow.
Mazda is in no hurry, it seems, as it doesn’t have the billions of financial means of big boys like VW or other German carmakers to rapidly develop a complete electric line-up if it wanted to do so.
Still, Mazda announced three BEVs, five PHEVs, and five conventional HEVs of its own design to follow by 2025. By 2030, there should be a BEV alternative for every model in the line-up, next to ICE versions with some form of electrification.
The Japanese management seems to have dawdled over going electric for a long time. There is another world outside of Europe, they say.
Mazda still believes in its own know-how of the combustion engine, proof the new 3.0-liter gasoline and 3.3-liter diesel straight six-cylinder engines to follow later this year, both coupled with mild-hybrid 48V technology. Time will tell whether keeping six-cylinder combustion engines alive was the best investment for their money.