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car review

2022 Mazda MX-30.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Do you live in Quebec or British Columbia? If not, you don’t need to read this review of Mazda’s first electric car. In Canada, it’s only sold in those two provinces.

Mazda will tell you this is because those provinces have their own incentives for buying electric cars, which makes them more appealing: There are some restrictions, but in Quebec, you’ll get up to $8,000 back from the province, and in B.C., you’ll get up to $3,000 back. This is on top of the $5,000 all Canadians are eligible to receive from the federal government.

The main reason is because those two provinces have legislation that fines auto makers that don’t sell enough electric cars. Last year, when Mazda sold about 21,500 cars in Quebec, it paid more than $11-million in penalties to the provincial government because it didn’t meet the targets for selling electric cars. In B.C., where it sold more than 7,000 vehicles, it paid the government more than $4-million.

It’s a complicated system of accounting, where the maker needs to sell more than 10 per cent of its total fleet as electric vehicles, but it was a little more straightforward for Mazda, because it had no electric vehicles to sell, period. It was the same story for Subaru.

Now Mazda has the new MX-30 electric vehicle, which is probably five years behind the times.

The trouble with the MX-30 is that it has very limited range: The company claims 161 kilometres in ideal, 21-degree Celsius conditions. Mazda calls this “range for the everyday” and that’s true for city drivers who rarely cover more than 50 or 60 kilometres in their daily commute. Five years ago, it was not uncommon for EVs to offer this kind of range.

Whether you need it or not, however, most Canadians want more range. I’m one of them. I live in a small town outside Toronto and I don’t want to drive a car that makes me turn off the heat or air conditioning to make it home.

The MX-30 has a small battery because it was designed to be offered with an optional small rotary engine as a “range extender,” like the original BMW i3. There’s plenty of space under the hood for this engine alongside the electric motor, but Mazda shelved its plans for it last year, at least in Canada. There was no explanation, but it was probably all becoming just too expensive to produce.

This year, it’s expected that Mazda will introduce the MX-30 as a series plug-in hybrid with a rotary generator to extend its power, but so far, there are no promises.

In the meantime, in Quebec and B.C., we’re stuck with the MX-30 that I drove in January, in temperatures of minus 10 degrees.

Putting the issue of range to one side for a moment, the MX-30 is a good-looking, nicely put together vehicle.

I drove it with no concerns for range because I was close to home and the car was pleasant to experience. Nothing special – not particularly quick, like a Hyundai Kona EV, or spacious in the rear seats, like a Tesla Model 3 – but pleasant enough.

Mazda's MX-30 is probably five years behind the times.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The rear seats are actually quite cramped. They’re reached by rear-hinged, half-size doors, similar to Mazda’s old RX-8 or the BMW i3, which need the front doors opened first. And when you do open the Mazda’s front doors, they swing open very wide, a true 90 degrees. Watch out for them in any parking lot, and I’d advise any driver who values their own undented car to never park beside an MX-30.

At the end of my week with the car, after plugging it into my 120-volt home socket and taking more than two days to charge in below-freezing temperatures from 30 to 100 per cent, I returned it to Mazda. This was a 93-kilometre drive on Highway 401, and the temperature was minus 8 degrees. The car told me my range would be 131 kilometres, but I could add 16 kilometres to that if I turned off the heat.

I drove toward Toronto in prewarmed comfort at 105 kilometres an hour and watched the range drop dramatically. After 30 kilometres, I pulled over to turn off the heat and cover myself with a blanket. I left on the electric seat heater and steering wheel heater, as well as my woolly hat, and lowered my speed to 95 kilometres an hour. When I arrived at Mazda, I had an 8-per-cent charge and nine kilometres of range left.

Sure, I could have stopped along the way for a quick 10-minute top-up, but the first Level 3 fast charger between my home and my destination, on one of the most travelled highways in Canada, is in Scarborough, very close to the destination. My only option, if I wanted heat, was an hour-long layover at a slower Level 2 charger in Bowmanville or Oshawa.

The problem is, this is a $42,000 car at its most basic trim. Yes, it qualifies for all the various government rebates, but I can buy any number of EVs now for $45,000, plus those same rebates, that offer twice the range. Why on earth would I not do that?

The cabin feels spacious up front, with a floating centre console that provides space for a small bag or purse underneath.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Tech specs

2022 Mazda MX-30 EV

Base price/as tested: $42,150/$48,000, plus $1,950 freight and delivery

Motor: AC Synchronous with 355V lithium-ion battery

Drive: Front-wheel drive

Maximum charging speed, 20-80 per cent: Level 3 (50 kilowatts), 36 minutes; Level 2 (240 volt), 2 hours, 50 minutes; Level 1 (120 volt), 13 hours, 40 minutes

Alternatives: Hyundai Kona EV, VW Golf EV, Kia Niro EV, Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt, Nissan Leaf

Looks

There’s nothing wrong with the way the Mazda MX-30 looks, though my wife compared it to our old Toyota Tercel. It’s more hatchback than coupe and looks sportier than it actually is.

Interior

The cabin feels spacious up front, with a floating centre console that provides space for a small bag or purse underneath. The use of cork accents and leatherette/cloth seating (fabric on the lesser-priced GS trim) reinforces the idea that this is an environmentally aware vehicle.

The power of the MX-30 is nothing to write home about, and there are no electronic drive settings for Sport or Economy.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Performance

The power of the MX-30 is nothing to write home about, and there are no electronic drive settings for Sport or Economy. Push the pedal to the metal and the car doesn’t snap your head back as many EVs do. The motor creates 143 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, which is adequate for everyday driving.

Technology

I drove the loaded GT edition, which adds features like a 360-degree monitor camera and blind-spot assistance. It still had the same seven-inch centre display screen as the less-costly trim, but it’s not touch operated; it’s controlled by a rotary dial on the centre console. There is a separate 7.5-inch touch screen for climate control. Other EVs offer far more for a similar price.

The MX-30 is more hatchback than coupe and looks sportier than it actually is.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The real tech comes inside the battery, but it’s not that special compared with the competition. It’s a 355-volt lithium-ion unit with a capacity of 35.5 kilowatt hours. This means it has a maximum input of 40 kilowatts at a fast charger, or 6.6 kilowatts at home. Almost every other manufacturer is way ahead of this.

Cargo

Everything behind the front seats is a tight fit. Leave the second row in place and there’s just over 400 litres of space in the trunk; fold them flat and it’s a little over 1,000 litres.

With the second row in place on the 2022 Mazda MX-30, there’s just over 400 litres of space in the trunk.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

The verdict

If you like Mazdas and you live in Vancouver and never drive far, you’ll probably like the MX-30, even though other EVs offer more for the same money. Everyone else should wait for the expected rotary engine extender or plug-in hybrid that will take away the worry about range.

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