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Car of the Year Awards 2024: Plug-in Hybrid of the Year

The best plug-in hybrid cars offer a long all-electric range, reducing fuel consumption, emissions and tax bills. Yet they must still drive well and not compromise on practicality...

WINNER: Plug-in Hybrid of the Year

Mazda MX-30 R-EV Prime Line

COTY 2024 logo with Motoreasy

The futuristic vehicles in Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds are a snapshot in time; when the Tracey family and its high-tech fleet first burst onto the small screen, a great many of them incorporated that great 1960s buzzword: atomic power. From space stations to submarines, they all carried tiny power stations to create the electricity that made them work.

The Mazda MX-30 R-EV does the same, and while there’s nothing nuclear about its on-board power plant, the technology it uses is almost as exotic; while other plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have conventional combustion engines with pistons, this range-extender electric vehicle (EV) has a tiny, lightweight rotary engine.

In many ways, this engine is a perfect fit. Charged with generating electricity rather than driving the wheels directly, the smooth-spinning rotary’s traditional Achilles’ heel of limited pulling power becomes irrelevant, because the car’s electric motor delivers full power right from the get-go.

Mazda MX-30 side

The R-EV is, in essence, an electric car like the regular MX-30, but while the latter can officially travel for only 124 miles before needing to stop for a top-up, the R-EV’s 50-litre fuel tank should support 400 miles of driving – 53 of which are officially possible on electric power alone. The R-EV is more powerful than the regular MX-30, too, and therefore nippier (by 0.6sec) in the sprint from 0-62mph.

Okay, the runners-up in this category – the BMW X5 and Mercedes GLC – are faster still, but it’s really their petrol engines that are doing the heavy lifting. If you use all that performance, their fuel economy and emissions – the whole reason for a PHEV’s existence – will quickly go out of the window.

In the real world, the MX-30 should be much more sparing on petrol than its larger PHEV rivals. And unlike the X5 and GLC, it doesn’t just make sense for company car drivers (who can enjoy their low benefit-in-kind tax ratings); the MX-30 R-EV is also a cost-effective private purchase, being around half the price if you’re buying outright. In fact, it’s one of the cheapest PHEVs you can buy right now.

Mazda MX-30 driving interior

But it certainly doesn’t feel that way inside; the MX-30’s interior looks and feels much nicer than any rival’s at similar money. Plus, its use of recycled materials, including denim for the upholstery, cork in the storage trays and recycled bottles for the door trims, helps to reduce its environmental impact.

Even tall folk will be comfy in the front, plus the MX-30’s driving position is terrific, and the infotainment system is one of the most intuitive on the market. Kids will probably enjoy the drama of its small, reverse-hinged rear doors, too (a feature shared by Mazda’s now-defunct RX-8 sports car and the BMW i3 electric hatchback), although adults won’t thank you for cooping them up in the tight rear seats for long.

Neither front seat occupant will be in a rush to leave their seat, though; the MX-30 R-EV is fun to drive, and the passenger will enjoy a controlled ride that bounces less than that of the rival DS 4 E-Tense. As the Tracey clan would say, the MX-30 is FAB.

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