First drive: Mazda EV prototype

It’s fair to say Mazda hasn’t been quick off the mark for electrification, instead choosing to focus on improving the delivery of traditional fuels. One outcome has been the impressive spark plug-controlled compression ignition technology, introduced on the new Mazda 3, which promises to “combine the economy and torque of a diesel engine with the performance and lower emissions of a petrol unit”.

Nonetheless, no maker can put off the inevitable – introducing an electric model – for much longer, given the next tranche of emissions targets landing in 2021. And so we find ourselves in Frankfurt, Germany, driving the prototype of Mazda’s first EV, disguised beneath the body of the upcoming CX-30, just days before the model is fully revealed at the Tokyo motor show. 

The production EV will be a small SUV, able to accommodate the underfloor battery but also be suitable for city driving, given its relatively short range – expected to be less than 150 miles on a single charge, provided by a 35.5kWh battery.

Mazda has a different reason to most firms for its relatively small range. It’s looked at the entire lifecycle of a car and how that affects emissions, and found that a 35.5kWh battery produces fewer emissions than a petrol-powered 3 or an EV using a massive 95kWh battery (as the Audi E-tron does). 

Christian Schultze, research and development boss at Mazda Europe, said: “We should not be excessive with battery size. We should understand how much range does a customer really need? How much battery can we avoid to reduce CO2 substantially? We deceded 35.5kWh is a useable size where you can do your shopping, take kids to school and go to the office before you need to recharge.”

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control also plays an important part in the EV’s handling, with Mazda explaining that you can achieve “tiny torque control with an electric motor that you can’t with an engine”, helping to stabilise the car around corners as well as during downhill driving. On our short drive, the prototype impressed on this front, feeling well-planted around corners, helped by its low centre of gravity. 

All in all, then, Mazda must be commended for what it’s achieved so far. Not only does this prototype feel original to drive for an EV, but also – for those who desire it – more like a car in the traditional sense of the word. 

For now, Mazda’s attention is on launching its EV, but a range-extender variant will be added to the model line-up before long. Excitingly, it will be powered by Mazda’s famed rotary engine. The Japanese firm hasn’t offered a rotary-engined road car since the RX-8 went out of production in 2012, but it has remained interested in reintroducing the technology to production since. The RX-Vision concept, which was shown at the Tokyo motor show in 2015, used such a powertrain.

Schultze says: “With the rotary engine range extender, we can recharge during driving and the car becomes long distance. It is a multi-fuel engine, so in the future, we could use with CNG, LPG, hydrogen. We think it’s important to have a global view.” The model could also offer plug-in hybrid and series-hybrid variants.