Mazda MX-30 R-EV long-term test: report 1

This well-priced small SUV is our reigning Plug-in Hybrid of the Year, but what's it like to live with? We're running one to find out...

Mazda MX-30 R-EV doors open

The car Mazda MX-30 R-EV Makoto Run by Allan Muir, managing editor

Why we’re running it To see how much more usable this quirky small SUV is when it's a plug-in hybrid rather than a regular electric model

Needs to Be more than just an urban runabout, successfully combining the refinement and lower running costs of an electric car with the ability to tackle longer trips without hassle

Mileage 2789 List price £35,895 Target Price £34,282 Price as tested £37,895 Test economy 36.5mpg Official economy 282.5mpg Options fitted Soul Red Crystal paint with black roof and upper side panels (£1800), dark grey cloth trim with brown leatherette (£200) 

21 April 2024 – Rejoining the rotary club (sort of)

Since the late 1980s, I’ve had a soft spot for Mazdas, and rotary-engined Mazdas in particular. That’s because, back in the day in New Zealand, I owned a Mazda RX-3 coupé, a two-door version of a small, rear-wheel-drive 1970s saloon that was hugely popular because it was a cheap way of going fast.

My car had been fitted with the largest of the rotary engines available and was substantially modified, so it was not only rapid but also loud, and it revved like a superbike. I loved it. It’s a shame I didn’t keep it, because it would probably be worth a small fortune now.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV with pic of RX-3

There’s a lot to admire about Mazda’s current model line-up, too. True, few of them are outright class leaders, but many of them are good to drive, they're packed with safety kit and their interiors are generally a cut above those of most other mainstream brands, with lots of lovely materials and a BMW-style rotary controller for the infotainment system.

Mazda tends to do things differently from other brands – sometimes flying in the face of fashion – and that, to my mind, makes its cars a bit special.

The fact that my latest company car is a Mazda with a rotary petrol engine bodes well, then, even though it’s nothing like my old RX-3. 

Mazda MX-30 R-EV panning

The MX-30 R-EV is a small plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUV, but unlike most other cars of this type, its petrol engine doesn’t ever drive the wheels. Instead, the small, smooth-spinning rotary acts purely as a generator to top up the battery that powers the electric motor. Essentially, the R-EV is an electric vehicle (EV) that doesn’t need plugging in on long journeys.

The battery isn’t huge, with a capacity of 17.8kWh, but it gives the R-EV a respectable official electric-only range of up to 53 miles. And on long trips, with the petrol engine kicking in when necessary to keep the battery at a comfortable state of charge, the car can cover at least 300 miles (according to the trip meter) and potentially up to 400 miles (if you believe the official figures) before its 50-litre fuel tank runs dry, whereas the regular electric version can officially manage just 124 miles between top-ups.

Although the R-EV costs £3500 more to buy outright than the EV version and is in a slightly higher company car tax band (because it isn’t emissions-free), its greater versatility should more than justify the extra outlay. And with a starting price of £31,495, it’s still one of the cheapest new PHEVs you can buy. A further incentive is that the R-EV makes a bit more power than its sibling (168bhp versus 143bhp), although it’s still no fireball by EV standards, covering the 0-62mph sprint in 9.1sec. 

Mazda MX-30 R-EV over shoulder

Of the three trim levels available, I’ve gone for range-topping Makoto, which comes with a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, a head-up display (which projects key information onto the windscreen in the driver’s line of sight), a 360-degree parking camera, adaptive cruise control, an electric tilt-and-slide sunroof and a Bose audio system. Light grey cloth and leatherette seat upholstery is standard, but I’ve forked out an extra £200 for dark grey cloth with brown leatherette. 

Soul Red Crystal paint (with a black roof) isn’t a cheap option at £1800, but it looks so good that it was impossible to resist. Black diamond-cut 18in alloy wheels are specific to the R-EV version of the MX-30. 

Mazda MX-30 R-EV in rear seats

I am aware that the MX-30 isn’t the most spacious or practical of small SUVs, with a coupé-like roofline and short, rear-hinged rear doors that can pose challenges when accessing the rather snug rear seats. Nor is the boot suitable for hauling massive loads to the recycling centre. However, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for me. There’s plenty of space up front and the driving position is excellent. And as expected, an interesting mixture of materials and colours (including cork inlays), a robust feel and a user-friendly layout all add to the interior’s appeal.

With its novel combination of electric drive, the range (hopefully) of a regular petrol car, the repurposed rotary engine, potentially low running costs and its unusual body configuration, the MX-30 R-EV is a fascinating car on many levels. And the fact that it’s our reigning Plug-in Hybrid of the Year is further proof that it has a lot to offer. My RX-3 may be long gone, but after more than 30 years, running another Mazda feels sort of like coming home.

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