Driving the Mazda MX-30 made me like our long-term Mini Cooper SE even more
These short-range EVs are stylish, premium and cost about the same. But the Mini is far better, and here's why.
Steven EwingFormer managing editor
Steven Ewing spent his childhood reading car magazines, making his career as an automotive journalist an absolute dream job. After getting his foot in the door at Automobile while he was still a teenager, Ewing found homes on the mastheads at Winding Road magazine, Autoblog and Motor1.com before joining the CNET team in 2018. He has also served on the World Car Awards jury. Ewing grew up ingrained in the car culture of Detroit -- the Motor City -- before eventually moving to Los Angeles. In his free time, Ewing loves to cook, binge trash TV and play the drums.
This story is about two EVs: our long-term Mini Cooper SE and the new Mazda MX-30. Both are cute electric hatchbacks that also happen to have some of the lowest EPA-estimated driving ranges among new EVs. But while the Mini gets a pass -- seriously, we all love it -- I cannot recommend anyone buy the Mazda.
Let me be clear: The range isn't the problem. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the Mini at 114 miles and the Mazda at an even 100, and both EVs charge at a maximum speed of 50 kilowatts, meaning their batteries take 30-ish minutes to hit 80% capacity. These are small cars designed for city-dwellers who don't need a lot of range; not every EV needs to have a 300-mile battery pack in order to make sense.
The issue with the Mazda is that it's flawed in other ways. Take a look at their specs, and you'll see the standout differences.
Mini Cooper SE vs. Mazda MX-30
Mini Cooper SE
6.9 sec (est.)
9.4 sec (est.)
Cargo (seats up)
Cargo (seats down)
41.3 cu-ft (est.)
The MX-30 is taller, wider and nearly 20 inches longer than the Mini. Yet its interior dimensions are roughly the same or, in some cases, worse. The Mini Cooper SE has more front headroom and more rear legroom than the significantly larger Mazda. The MX-30 does have the slight advantage of rear-hinged back doors, but in practice they don't swing open far enough to be that useful. Plus, they're inconvenient to use when parked alongside another vehicle and they create massive blind spots. The Mini? Visibility for days.
The Mazda bests the Mini on cargo space, especially with the rear seats upright. This is a huge advantage, but the numbers don't tell the whole story. The MX-30's load-in height is a lot higher, and the sloping roofline means you can't fit many taller items in the hatch. With the Mini, fold the rear bench and you've got a useful, squared-off hauling space.
Mazda's made a big effort to up the fanciness of its interiors, and that's obvious in the MX-30. The interior appointments are great, and the cork surfaces on the loaded Premium Plus trim is cool. But the Mini is equally quirky and cute, with more comfortable seats and a better arrangement of vehicle controls. The Mini's attention to detail reminds you this company comes from the BMW Group: There's a solidity to much of the switchgear that you just won't find in the MX-30.
Using the Mazda day to day reveals a lot of annoyances. The 8.8-inch multimedia screen is bright and colorful, but you can't operate it by touch, and the menu structure is downright obnoxious. Making matters worse, the secondary display by the gear selector is a touchscreen with redundant controls on either side. It's like two interfaces designed by different teams. It's not hard to use, mind, it's just... weird. Mini's system isn't perfect, however, essentially being a reskinned version of BMW's iDrive 6 software. But at least you can touch the screen and the climate controls are simple buttons and dials. It's so much easier.
A major ace up the Cooper's sleeve is its performance. This thing is an absolute hoot to drive -- arguably the best-driving new Mini Hardtop model. The 6.9-second 0-to-60-mph acceleration time feels conservative, mostly because the initial 0-to-30-mph blast is so immediate. Combine that with a super-low center of gravity and quick steering with lots of feedback, and this car is simply a barrel of laughs all the time. Even in its more restrictive Green driving mode, the Cooper SE has the same go-kart-like qualities I've come to love in modern Minis.
Mazda's electric powertrain offers comparable power, but the MX-30 has an extra 500 pounds of ballast holding it back. You don't really get the same thrill of instant acceleration with the MX-30; I find myself putting the throttle to the floor to make it up highway onramps. The taller ride height means the MX-30 has more noticeable body motions while cornering, though Mazda definitely knows how to engineer a good steering setup with the right blend of lightness and communication.
Still, all things considered, the MX-30 is unpleasant to use and dull to drive. Every time one of us gets into the Cooper SE, it makes us happy. The Mazda, on the other hand, feels like a bore. There don't seem to be any benefits to its bespoke platform and body style. An electric
would've made so much more sense -- especially since Mazda literally already sells one of these, but not in the US.
Price-wise, 2022 Mazda MX-30 is more expensive than the Mini to start: $34,465, including $1,225 for destination. The 2022 Cooper SE, meanwhile, costs $30,750 including an $850 destination charge. The Mazda isn't even cheaper on the high end: A top-shelf MX-30 Premium Plus costs $38,700. Our loaded Mini? $37,750.
So the MX-30 is significantly larger outside without any gains in passenger space, slower, has inferior tech, is more expensive and -- don't forget -- is currently only for sale in one state. Across the board, it's a flawed product. Maybe the MX-30 will become more appealing when the upcoming range-extender variant hits the road with its small onboard gas generator. But for now, I'll stick with the Mini. Low range is easy to forgive when there are so many redeeming qualities.