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2022 Mazda MX-30 first drive review: Is 100 miles enough?

Mazda's first battery-electric model is hitting the road, and it already has a lot of catching up to do.

Mazda's first battery-electric model in the US already has a lot of catching up to do.
Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

The 2022 Mazda MX-30 is the first all-electric vehicle from the Miata's makers and, to be frank, it's a tough one to recommend. It's a handsome urban runabout with a premium-feeling interior and funky Freestyle doors, but the model's performance and range are more in line with what you'd expect from a competitive new EV in 2011, not 2021.

This compact SUV is scaled similarly to the gas-powered CX-30, albeit with a truncated, coupe-like roofline that -- along with a slightly higher floor -- costs a bit of rear headroom and cargo space. Both are shorter overall than the Mazda3 hatchback, to give you an idea of how small we're talking.

Up front, the MX-30 features a smaller grille than the rest of the automaker's crossovers. Aat its flanks, you'll find the model's most interesting design feature: Freestyle doors. Like the RX-8 sports coupe of yesteryear, the MX-30's truncated back doors swing out on rear-mounted hinges, which helps maintain the vehicle's two-door look and coupe-like profile while still offering decent access to the rear seats. When set up for my 5-foot, 10-inch driving position, I was even able to get in and out of the second row without moving the front bucket. Of course, I couldn't do the same behind my video producer (who's well over six feet tall) without some seat shuffling.

Is 100 miles enough?

Beneath the MX-30's floor is the 35.5-kilowatt-hour battery pack. With a full charge, it's good for an EPA-estimated 100 miles of range. One hundred. Full stop. Mazda argues that the average urban dweller only drives around 30 miles per day, and the MX-30 offers three times that range, so this capacity should be more than enough with daily charging. That math may be true, but it hasn't stopped literally everyone who's asked me about this vehicle's range from recoiling in horror. 100 miles may be enough, but in a market populated with 200-plus-mile competitors, it doesn't feel like enough.

After only 56.6 miles traveled, I parked my example with 35 miles left in the pack. If I'd hit the EPA's mark, that should have been closer to 45 miles. That's fine for a day's drive, but I probably could have spent less time nervously eyeing the meter with a bit more reserve. What's worse, my test drive took place in balmy Southern California. Had my drive loop been in a colder climate, the MX-30's range would likely have been significantly smaller. 

Without a big battery to fill, at least the MX-30 charges fairly quickly.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

On the plus side, the automaker is working with ChargePoint to give owners $500 in free juice to get them started, as well as offering up to 10 days of loaners in the company's other (presumably gas-powered) models for three years. Known as the Mazda MX-30 Elite Access Loaner Program, this plan is designed to ensure that owners have vehicles at their disposal for long-range trips. 

Fortunately, recharging doesn't take too long. On a Level 2 charger, the MX-30 can fill up in 2 hours and 50 minutes. At a Level 3 50-kilowatt DC fast charger, the pack can go from 20% to an 80% charge in about 36 minutes before slowing down. And if you want to plug into a regular AC outlet with the included 1.8-kW charging cable, the pack will take under 14 hours to fill.

Now playing: Watch this: 2022 Mazda MX-30 EV first drive: It's not for everyone

Mazda also makes the case that it wants the MX-30 to be small and nimble, to "feel like a Mazda should." Big batteries are heavy and by thinking small, the automaker has been able to keep this crossover's weight within a few hundred pounds of the conventional CX-30, plus the weight is carried lower in the chassis where it's easier to control. The Japanese automaker has also honed its G-Vectoring Control Plus dynamics and brake-by-wire systems for improved performance and agility from the electric powertrain.

Low-jerk performance

That's all good in theory, but the MX-30's powertrain feels weaksauce in practice. The 107-kW electric motor twists the front wheels to the tune of 143 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Those aren't massive numbers, but EVs usually have a way of surprising with their instant torque delivery off the line. Unfortunately, it seems Mazda has tuned a good deal of that responsiveness out in pursuit of a more comfortable "low-jerk" ride (their terminology, by the way).

I expected the MX-30 to boast a more torquey electric feel off the line.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Matting the accelerator when the light turns green returns a not-unpleasant level of acceleration, but it also wasn't enough for my producer in the passenger seat to notice I was doing a launch test. I certainly noticed I was getting walked by pretty much every other car around me. Zero-to-60 mph happens in due time. It's not a thrilling event. The MX-30 also runs out of steam at higher speeds, where its reserved acceleration feels more pronounced when it's time to pass or merge near freeway speed limits.

The Mazda's regenerative braking system has three user-selectable levels summoned by the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The highest level slows things quite a bit on lift, but it's not quite the one-pedal driving mode that many EVs offer. In all modes, the MX-30 will creep forward when lifting from a stop like a conventional combustion-powered car. As a driver who prefers one-pedal EV driving, I was further annoyed that the regen setting doesn't stay where you put it from one trip to the next. Instead, it reverts to the default setting at the beginning of every trip or after shifting to reverse and back.

By contrast, the MX-30's handling is pretty good. Its steering has a precise and neutral feel with nice feedback, and it can be satisfying to chuck this SUV 'round a corner. The ride is a touch firm over bumps and dips in the road, but it's never harsh or jarring.

Little things, like this "electric" badge being just a sticker, make the MX-30 feel like a placeholder until the PHEV arrives.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Popping the MX-30's hood reveals a lot about why the EV is the way that it is. There's a huge, awkward empty space where the automaker eventually plans to install a gasoline range-extending engine for the upcoming plug-in hybrid version, a model due to arrive in late 2022. The MX-30 was designed as an electrified platform, but not necessarily a pure electric one, so you end up with small compromises, wasted space and underwhelming range and performance figures that probably could have been better with more focused development.

Interior design and tech

On a brighter note, the MX-30's cabin and seats are well designed. They make use of recycled materials and strike a good balance between budget-friendly and premium. In a nod to Mazda's origins as a cork manufacturer over 100 years ago, the center console and door pulls feature cork trim that make for a unique visual and tactile touch.

With a novel use of cork and recycled materials, the cabin straddles the line between budget and premium.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

At the top of the dashboard is the 8.8-inch screen, which runs Mazda's Connect infotainment system featuring standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity in addition to optional onboard navigation. The screen has an ultra-wide aspect ratio and is tucked down into a nook in the dashboard, so drivers who like to sit low in their seats may have trouble seeing the lower edge. The main display isn't touch sensitive -- it's controlled by physical buttons and a wheel on the center console -- but the dedicated 7.5-inch climate control screen at the bottom of the dashboard is.

The driver aid suite varies between the MX-30's two trim levels. The base MX-30 EV features blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors and a backup camera. Upgrading to the Premium Plus package adds front parking sensors, a 360-degree camera system, as well as front cross-traffic alert and blind spot assist with collision-mitigation steering -- both features are new feathers in the automaker's cap.

The MX-30 is tough to justify when competitors offer over double the range for the money.

Antuan Goodwin/Roadshow

Limited appeal

The MX-30 won't be for everyone, but Mazda seems to know that. The automaker's rollout is as subdued as this model's performance, limited only to California for the first model year and to only about 560 units. Next year, sales will open to all 50 states alongside the launch of the PHEV version. Packing more range and potentially less conservative performance, this version might be worth the wait.

The 2022 Mazda MX-30 starts at $34,645 for the base model or $37,655 with the Premium Plus upgrades. That includes the $1,175 destination charge, but not any potential state or federal EV incentives or rebates which could bring the model's bottom line below the $30K mark.

At this price, the MX-30 has to compete with the Nissan Leaf Plus and the Chevrolet Bolt EUV, both of which offer well over 200 miles of range for the money along with more interior space. If the MX-30 were more fun to drive, I think I'd be willing to forgive its short range and less is more mission. But it isn't, so I can't.

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.