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The Mazda MX-30.Courtesy of manufacturer

Starting this fall, Mazda will bring their first fully electric vehicle to select Canadian markets. Available in British Columbia and Quebec only, at least initially, the MX-30 is a small and quirky crossover that previews a new powertrain offering for the brand, and also the return of an old Mazda specialty.

But first, here are the details on the battery-electric version of the MX-30 that will lead Mazda’s electrification efforts. Roughly the same length as the combustion-powered CX-30 that Mazda already sells in Canada, the MX-30 is the size of your average compact hatchback. Instead of four full-size doors, it instead gets two conventional doors and two small doors that open to the rear, like the old RX-8 sports car.

However, the sporty layout and MX designation does not mean Mazda intends for the MX-30 to be a particularly performance-oriented vehicle. Acceleration times for European models have clocked in at 9.7 seconds for accelerating from 0-100 km/h, albeit with quick initial response thanks to the electric torque. Peak power is 144 horsepower, with torque a readily available 200 lb-ft.

The cabin is simple and stylish.Courtesy of manufacturer

Mazdas are typically great to drive, and overseas reports seem to indicate that the leisurely sprint time isn’t the only story here. Instead, balanced cornering, good brake pedal feel, well-weighted steering, a driver-centric cockpit, and just a general sense of fun is baked into the MX-30′s identity. In many ways, it’s a lot like the little MX-3 hatchback from the 1990s: frugal, but fun. Inside, the MX-30 looks to offer an upscale experience. Mazda’s interior designers have been doing excellent work as of late, and the cabin here is simple and stylish. Cork is used on many touch points, which is both a nod to Mazda’s pre-automotive origins, and much nicer than the usual plastics. The trunk holds a useful 366 litres.

The MX-30′s battery is 35.5kW, slightly smaller than that of the current base model Nissan Leaf. Range for European versions is claimed at 200 km. Cold weather (-10 degrees Celsius) operation at highway speeds while using the heater – the highest battery-drain driving situation for EVs – results in a still-usable range of around 120 km of range. Mixed use in cold weather is more like 150 km. That’s not a lot, but for a large percentage of Canadians, it will be enough if they plug in at home, hit the commute, and then top off at work. Should you forget to plug in at work, a 50kW DC charger will charge the MX-30′s battery from 20 per cent to 80 per cent in 36 minutes. Mazda Canada further indicated that it would be working with ChargePoint to provide more charging options for MX-30 owners.

Mazda’s claim is that the manufacturing footprint of a larger battery pack is not without its environmental costs. The company has a point. A study by Volvo, contrasting its combustion engine XC40 and battery-powered Polestar 2, showed that it could take as much as 110,000 km of driving before the BEV’s greater manufacturing costs broke even with the conventional car’s greater C02-per-mile.

Two small doors open to the rear like the old RX-8 sports car.Courtesy of manufacturer

However, it’s worth noting that in B.C. and Quebec, both provinces with huge hydroelectric power reserves, the break-even point for vehicle lifetime emissions is much lower. Still, buying more battery than you’ll actually use is more expensive. And for those customers who will occasionally wish to drive longer between plugging in, there’s a blast from the past coming shortly.

It’s the return of the rotary engine. Mazda’s signature engine technology will be available on the MX-30 at some point in the future as a range-extender. It’s the perfect application.

Rotary engines are compact, and have a high operating efficiency in a narrow range. It makes them great racing motors, but in the stop-and-go of street driving, a rotary belches pollutants and lacks torque. A tiny rotary spinning up to charge a battery can be ultra-efficient, and doesn’t take up much space. I drove a prototype Mazda Demio (Mazda2) with this hybridized powertrain in 2013, and it worked very well.

The trunk holds a useful 366 litres.Courtesy of manufacturer

For a suburban commuter in Vancouver or Montreal, the fully-electric MX-30 makes a lot of sense. Vancouver to Whistler is a single charge, and the MX-30 promises to be fun on the likes of the Sea-to-Sky highway.

The final factor will be cost. Mazda Canada hasn’t announced pricing yet, but overseas the MX-30 is the same price as a base model Nissan Leaf. If the case is the same here, that’s roughly $45,000 minus provincial rebates of $3000 in B.C. and $8000 in Quebec.

All together, the MX-30 promises to be an interesting little EV. It’s got something of a sporty character, is nicely finished inside, and should be good fun to drive.

Frankly, this last is to be celebrated. There are plenty of very fast battery-electric vehicles on sale today – and more on the way – but they do tend to be expensive. Mazda has often made cars that make enjoyable driving that much more accessible. The MX-30 is a first step into electrifying that ethos. It’s a welcome addition to the lineup.

Courtesy of manufacturer

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