Doing things differently is the Mazda way.
In the mid-1960s, the brand debuted its take on the Wankel rotary engine. At the same time, Mercedes-Benz was also dabbling with the same technology. As the Germans struggled to get the concept past the experimental stage, Mazda found no such issue.
Some 50 years later, it had built nearly 2,000,000 rotary engines. At the time, it was still manufacturing them for its RX-8 sports car too.
Mazda's last rotary-powered vehicle gets a mention for more than just picture-painting unorthodoxy. It's here where you'll find Mazda's first set of 'freestyle doors'. The term stands for a pair of slim, backward-swinging doors that are only operational if the fronts are open. Funnily enough, they later appeared on the brand's commercial vehicle, with the Mazda BT-50 Freestyle cab named after their introduction.
Now, the 2021 Mazda MX-30 joins club freestyle. It's a brave move considering the rear doors on a sports car or extra-cab ute are seldom used, whereas on a small SUV they're likely used a whole heap more.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of whether these funky doors will satiate your piqued interest, let's take a look at the exact model we're driving.
It's the entry-level 2021 Mazda MX-30 G20 Evolve M Hybrid priced from $33,990 before on-roads. Optional extras include a Vision Technology Pack that bundles front parking sensors, front cross-traffic alert, extra parking cameras and a driver fatigue monitor for $1500, and two premium paint finishes for $495. Our car has neither, which makes it worth around $38,000 on the road.
|2021 Mazda MX-30 G20e Evolve|
|Engine||2.0-litre four-cylinder mild-hybrid|
|Power and torque||114kW @ 6000rpm, 200Nm @ 4000rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed torque converter automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.4L/100km|
|Boot volume||311L (1301L rear seats folded)|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars (tested 2020)|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Peugeot 2008, Toyota C-HR, Subaru XV Hybrid|
|Price as tested (before on-roads)||$33,990|
All Mazda MX-30 models in Australia feature some form of electrification, be it mild-hybrid (hence the M Hybrid name) or full EV.
Up from our MX-30 G20e Evolve model sits a pair of better-equipped models with the same powertrain: Touring for $36,490, and Astina for $40,990. Above all lies the full-electric halo dubbed MX-30 E35 Astina starting from $65,490. All prices stated are before on-roads.
With the privilege costing $2400 more than a larger Mazda CX-30, it feels fairly priced. With design being its trump card, consider the MX-30 the more emotional buy of the two.
So, let's get back to those doors. When people are getting into the back of a car, it's because someone is getting in the front and the method of operation means front doors must always open first.
Acknowledging that removes some of the accessibility burden. In situations where your kids get to the car before you, they'll either need to muck around and swing both doors open, or wait for mum and dad to arrive.
The physical side of entering is a funny one too. You can climb in through just the rear door aperture alone; however, given there's a huge space with no dividing pillar, an impeding top-mounted latch and front seats to contend with, it feels awkward, and since you've already swing the front door at least partially open to unlatch the rear door, it makes more sense to keep it ajar.
After challenging random punters with climbing in, some led with their bottom, with others going shoulder first. Instead of making life hard, you can instead slide the first-row seat forward quite easily. Doing so makes the experience feel strangely more like a coupe, and in turn more regular.
In terms of child seats, most forward-facing types pose no issue being installed, which leaves enough room for all. Where trouble arises is with rearward-facing seats, as their installation requires the first row of seats to be slid forward to make room. If you're a fresh young family, either consider riding in the back with the capsule or buying bigger instead.
If you're expecting to fit young or fully grown adults, factor in a few more things. The side glass in the back is chopped in half by a structural member, so some will find the experience claustrophobic. Another is that the rear windows do not open, which will likely affect the same group of people.
Taller folk will find their knees close to the seat backs, but there's enough general space to ferry a pair around. Infants just out of support seats won't have an issue, however. Some storage exists in the rear doors, but you'll find no air vents nor power outlets.
Boot space measures up at 311L, around 100L shy of some of the better efforts in the small SUV class. It's small in terms of outright height, but fair in terms of width and length. A compact stroller will fit, as will a pair of suitcases with a few overnight bags chocking them upright.
If you (and your offspring or spouse) can live with the downfalls stated above, then give one a go. You'll have to adjust and sacrifice some practicality, but if you're already tantalised by the uniqueness of the concept, you'll likely bend your rational side to get this past the keeper.
Up front, Mazda's light-hybrid eco-theme is carried through a selection of unique sustainable materials. The felt on the doors is made from recycled water bottles. Despite sounding harsh and, dare I say, cheap, the resulting finish is actually rather likeable.
The other eco-friendly material is cork produced from renewable tree bark. It's a delightfully textural material that adds warmth and character to a place usually dominated by black plastic.
Other new things include a digitised climate-control system that relies on a dedicated 7.0-inch touchscreen. Operating it while driving does create somewhat of a distraction, but at least temperature up/down buttons remain physical.
Parking the green materials aside, the overall cabin presents well. A large floating centre console creates a partition between the upper and lower, with the latter hiding a cork-lined section with two USB ports.
What's above is the aforementioned climate-control panel, gear shifter, and excellent rotary infotainment controller. There's also a pair of versatile cupholders that double as a storage tray, if you fold down even more cork-clad pieces of plastic. As a nice touch, opting for this configuration turns the armrest storage area into a freely accessible cubby.
Infotainment duties are handled by an 8.8-inch display featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio, and satellite navigation but no touchscreen capabilities. The gauge cluster first appears regular, but there's actually a 7.0-inch digital screen embedded inside that resembles a regular dial. Lastly, a nifty head-up display comes as standard that remains visible through polarised sunglasses.
We spent a lot of time in peak hour traffic with the Mazda MX-30, and found the experience both comfortable and conventional. The seats are supportive in terms of bolstering, but do lack adjustment for lumbar support. Visibility is decent when using your eyes to peer over your shoulders, but its small side mirrors do limit aft visibility.
Mazda's use of the term hybrid might lead to you to believe fuel efficiency is a high priority. Powering the MX-30 is a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, with 'hybrid' credentials coming from a combined alternator-starter motor that can assist the engine, and provide smoother star-stop operation, but can't power the car by itself.
Energy storage is managed by a 24-volt Lithium-ion battery, and energy multiplication by a regular six-speed automatic. The system generates 114kW/200Nm, which isn't huge but is adequate.
First, the fuel figures. Mazda claims it'll hit 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle, 5.7L on the freeway, and 7.6L around down. Our initial driving loop of highway, faster rural roads, then a commute from Sydney's north to its westerly side, during peak-hour, netted 6.9L/100km.
Bear in mind that two-thirds of the drive resembled situations more akin to freeway driving than suburban. In traffic we began to see the car's display showing mid-8s. After a whole weekend of further travelling in Sydney's traffic-laden inner-west, the MX-30 settled at 7.8L/100km.
A Toyota hybrid is the yardstick we often use at CarAdvice, and is probably the car you have in mind when you think hybrid, as under similar testing regimes we've continually seen figures around 5.0L/100km – some as low as 4.3L/100km.
Understanding that mild-hybrid and hybrid are two entirely different systems is important here. While the name hints at high efficiency, the MX-30 M Hybrid is more about marginal improvements to fuel efficiency.
The drive remains far less offensive. Mazda generally makes simple, fun to drive packages that are devoid of an overly firm ride, ridiculously slim tyres and hyperactive steering.
All of those remain true here. The ride quality strikes a good balance of being comfortable across general tarmac, while retaining firm enough damping force over potholes and bigger drop-offs.
Up at speed, it's clear in how it communicates pace back to the driver. It'll initially roll but feel secure thereafter. Steering weight is neutral and natural, being neither overly assisted or awkwardly heavy.
The MX-30 isn't threatened by mid-corner bumps at speed, which makes it ideal for those who often spend time out of the city. Braking performance is also excellent, and towards the better end for the segment.
In essence, it's an easy car to jump behind the wheel and quickly feel comfortable driving. The biggest downfall comes from general noise and vibration ingress into the cabin, with some particular sections of road causing enough disturbance as to be annoying. However, this was only encountered a handful of times.
As mentioned before, engine performance is adequate. The Mazda MX-30 will handle acceleration efforts in regular speed zones just fine, and continue to do so when loaded up with an extra adult and child.
However, late decisions to merge, or drastically increasing your speed on a motorway on-ramp, will require you to bury the pedal. You'll be met with a harsh, buzzy sound as the engine spins past 4500rpm chasing peak torque, but not a whole heap of forward progress.
This point becomes exacerbated the more it's loaded up. If you don't mind digging deep into the tachometer to get a car moving, then you'll find no issue.
Nowadays we're gifted (and spoiled) with low-end turbocharged torque, however, which the Mazda doesn't offer. Being naturally aspirated, it lacks the low-end punch that's often found in other, non-hybrid rivals at this pricepoint.
In an ideal situation, those who genuinely care about expressing themselves would all be driving something one-off and made just for them. We all know that isn't possible, but the Mazda MX-30 defies enough conventions as to feel nonconformist.
Any ergonomic flaws we've discussed today will likely be glossed over by its key audience, who seek to express their individuality through what they drive. It's great to see Mazda continuing to cater for the unorthodox, and even better its latest foray starts below $35,000.
However, the MX-30 claims to be more than just a design statement. It calls itself a hybrid, and in our testing fell short on delivering against that claim.
Design is subjective, but the data is not.
The question I have is, how many free spirits will walk into a Mazda dealership, then walk out with both a dose of reality and a bigger, cheaper CX-30?