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car review

The 2023 Mazda CX-60.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Mazda’s new CX-60 will not be sold in Canada, but the very similar CX-70 will come to Canadian showrooms later next year. Both are two-row SUVs that are a step larger than the CX-5 that’s now on Canadian roads. Their three-row sibling, the CX-90, will arrive in Canada a little sooner than the CX-70, also some time next year.

Mazda is still quiet on the final specifications of the CX-70, except to say it will be “a little wider” than the European CX-60 (for wider roads in North America), so I grabbed the key to the CX-60 and headed for the highways of Germany to see if it’s worth the wait.

It’s an all-new model, with a new chassis and powertrain that will help fill the gap before all-electric vehicles are expected to become mandatory for all new car sales in 2035. By the end of this decade, Mazda expects to sell 30 per cent of its fleet as pure electric vehicles, with everything else electrified in some way.

“Over the next decade-plus, up to 2035, [gas engines] are still going to be in a wide range of vehicles that consumers purchase and drive,” said spokesperson Chuck Reimer of Mazda Canada. “We see a large opportunity to keep improving this technology if we keep continuing to lower emissions of [gas] vehicles as we shift to EVs.”

As such, the CX-70 and CX-90 will both be offered with 48-volt mild hybrid engines, as well as with plug-in hybrid engines. They’ll also have new eight-speed automatic transmissions and will be rear-wheel biased, though they’ll provide all-wheel drive when needed. They will not be produced as totally electric vehicles; those SUVs and crossovers will be completely new.

The upscale edition was fitted with quality leather and a gorgeous cloth-like dashboard.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The CX-60 didn’t feel much larger than the current CX-5 and the off-road-oriented CX-50, though the numbers don’t lie: The wheelbase is 55 millimetres longer and will only increase with the CX-70. It’s enough to jump from being a compact to a mid-size SUV and should nicely fit the space below the CX-90.

The SUV I drove was the plug-in hybrid, which is powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Skyactiv-G gasoline engine attached to a 129-kilowatt motor. This makes it very powerful, producing 323 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. Just as relevant is the all-electric range, which Mazda claims to be good for up to 63 kilometres.

I roared onto the Autobahn, and as soon as the speed limit permitted, I mashed the throttle to the floor. The CX-60 didn’t feel especially powerful, but perhaps it was outgunned by the Mercedes and BMWs hogging the left lane at 150 kilometres an hour. Most important, it didn’t feel like the generally anemic compact SUVs that are sold these days. Mazda claims it will accelerate to 100 kilometres an hour in 5.8 seconds, which is similar to the sporty Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

There are four electronic drive modes (Normal, Eco, Sport and EV), but the engine engaged quickly in EV mode when extra power was needed. What was a concern was the new transmission, which seemed clunky at times on the country lanes. Mazda is known for excellent transmissions and this unit is built in-house, but it’s the maker’s first eight-speed and it’s apparently more efficient for not having a torque converter. Everything will be tweaked and adjusted for North America when the CX-70 and CX-90 arrive, so perhaps their gearbox will be smoother.

The seats were comfortable for the three hours I spent in the vehicle.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

I did not drive the 48-volt mild hybrid edition, which is matched to a 3.3-litre inline six-cylinder, which the CX-70 and CX-90 will also offer. It’s unusual for a hybrid motor to be attached to such a large engine, but Mazda asserts that the pairing is well suited for ideal economy and also power: The gas engine is augmented at lower and higher revs to save fuel, but runs economically without assistance in the mid-range.

The ride itself was smooth and well-balanced. The larger chassis allows the suspension to be remounted for better vertical co-ordination between front and back, and there’s a double-wishbone unit at the front with a multi-link at the rear. Germany’s roads may twist and turn, but they’re generally less bumpy than those in North America, so this setup is probably a good thing. We’ll find out soon enough.

The cabin provided plenty of space, with legroom and headroom to spare even in the narrower, European version. The PHEV’s 355-volt, 17.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery is stored below the feet of the rear passengers, not in the trunk, which helps keep its weight low and well-balanced.

I drove the upscale edition that included very effective driver’s assistance features. It was fitted with quality leather and a gorgeous cloth-like dashboard that is nicer than plastic or leather and held to Mazda’s premium aspirations. The longitudinal-mounted engine allowed greater width for legroom at the front, and the seats were comfortable for the three hours I spent in the vehicle.

All of this bodes well for the future. Mazda is late to embrace electrification, but it’s doing so now, given there’s no alternative. For the next decade, however, alongside all those EVs, we’ll see what can still be wrung out of the internal combustion engine.

Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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