Publication date: 10 October 2023
Mazda MX-30 R-EV
Review

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Quirky technology for quirky people

Review - Mazda has a range of sensible, functional and spacious family cars. Mazda also has a quirky and unique family car. That s the MX-30. It is now available with special propulsion; the "MX-30 e-SkyActiv R-EV" is an electric car with a rotary engine as its generator. Is that just technology for technology's sake or does this special approach serve a higher purpose?"

The rotary engine is also known as the "Wankel engine". In fact, Mr Wankel came up with this concept in 1920 and Mazda improved the technology. Mazda  refined the Wankel engine so much over the years that it gave it the name "rotary engine". However, in 2010, the last car (the Mazda RX-8) with a rotary engine was taken out of production and things remained quiet around the unusual technology.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Until Mazda announced the MX-30 in 2020! Indeed, under the unusual bodywork, which is somewhere between a tall hatchback and a low SUV, there is space for a traditional petrol engine (available only in Japan), all-electric drive or a combination of electric drive and a rotary engine. From the outside, only a logo on the wheel arch betrays that this is an "R-EV".

Space

Because different engines have already been taken into account in the design, the interior space is the same regardless of the drivetrain. Also, every MX-30 has rear doors that open against the direction of travel. This has the advantage of making entry to the rear seats easier. Moreover, it makes reaching a child in a child seat in the back seat much easier. However, the lack of a B-pillar (the beam between the front and rear doors) does mean that structural solidity must be found elsewhere. Therefore, the rear door can only be opened when the front door is open.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV
Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Despite the generous access, rear seat space is moderate. With large adults in the front, insufficient space remains in the rear for another two adults. Space in the front is good. The front seats are well adjustable, with the driver able to choose between a high seat like in an SUV or a low seat like in a traditional passenger car.

Equipment

The interior is not only different from that of other Mazda cars because of its layout, but also because of the use of materials. Most notable here is the cork finish. This not only provides a warm look, it is also environmentally friendly as it grows quickly. The test car is a "Makoto"version and it leaves little to be desired in terms of equipment. Think a head-up display, a well done infotainment system and a climate control system. The Bose audio system is not recommended: the sound is intrusive and lacks detail, making it unpleasant and tiring to listen to.

Because the MX-30 has been on the market for several years, the model does not have to meet European Union requirements from 2024. The MX-30 therefore has no disparaging or interfering features that "assist" the driver. Given the experience with these features in other cars, the absence of the latest safety features has now been perceived not as a problem, but as an advantage.

Rotation engine: the theory

A "Otto engine" (traditional petrol engine) has cylinders that go up-and-down. A rotary engine, on the other hand, has a triangular disc rotating in a large combustion chamber. Igniting fuel from different corners of that combustion chamber keeps the disc rotating. The rotary engine never became popular because of its high consumption, both of petrol and oil. Moreover, reliability always left something to be desired.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Mazda has revived the technology for its nostalgia. It produces a special sound and is part of the brand's heritage. Moreover, Mazda has reduced consumption through a modified shape of the combustion chamber and reduced oil consumption with a better seal. And there are rational reasons for choosing the rotary engine! It is relatively easy to run a rotary engine with alternative fuels, and in this way Mazda is preparing for this. Finally, a rotary engine is smaller than an otto engine and therefore the rotary engine fits under the bonnet of the MX-30 alongside the electric motor.

Yes, alongside to the electric motor. This is because the MX-30 R-EV is a plug-in hybrid ("PHEV"). Its 17.8 kWh capacity battery can be charged with a plug (25 minutes at the fast charger (36 kW) or 50 minutes at a public charging point (11 kW)). Then, the MX-30 R-EV can cover about 85 km. After that, the rotary engine does not take over the propulsion, but acts as a generator generating electricity to drive the electric motor.

Rotary engine: in practice

It is also possible to let the computer choose the best time to recharge the battery. In practice, this is from about 43% battery charge, after which the internal combustion engine regularly kicks in. This is audible, but not perceived as disturbing. Besides: the rotary engine speed goes more or less with the driving speed and therefore it feels natural.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

In practice, the R-EV's performance is more than adequate. Very importantly, the R-EV always offers the superior smoothness of an electric motor. This is in contrast to conventional plug-in hybrids that fall back on drive by a petrol engine, which then also offer less performance and less comfort. Therefore, falling back on the combustion engine is perceived as much less of a loss than with other plug-in hybrids.

However, this is the only rational advantage. Because the special combination is not frugal at all. When only the rotary engine provides the energy, consumption rises to 9 litres per 100 km. When driving on the battery alone, electricity consumption is 18 kWh per 100 km and that too is higher than that of similar electric cars. The combination alone makes for fair consumption figures. However, the low energy consumption is due to the assistance of the petrol engine and the low petrol consumption to plug-in charging (test consumption: 14.8 kWh / 100 and 4.3 litres per 100 km).

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Driving characteristics

Perhaps the most important aim of the MX-30 is to offer exceptional handling, without opting  for sporty performance. After all, due to traffic rules and traffic congestion, it is rarely possible to actually harness the sprint power of a fast car. That's why the MX-30 R-EV manages to charm with its quirky engineering and good-natured handling.

The driver feels the beautiful interplay between the two engines and how effortlessly the R-EV performs. This is complemented by refinement in the suspension. The steering is not sharp, but it is effortless. The MX-30 asks little of the driver and makes driving easy. Just as driving hard in a sports car is satisfying because it exploits its potential, calm and smooth driving makes one feel good about the MX-30 because the car is made for just that.

Mazda MX-30 R-EV

Conclusion

Is the combination of an electric motor and a rotary engine in the "Mazda MX-30 e-SkyActiv R-EV" just an engineering feat or does it have real benefits? Unfortunately, the combination offers no advantages, other than the compact size of the whole thing. Performance is no better than average, while both power and petrol consumption are higher than those of conventional plug-in hybrids or all-electric cars. Nor is the price lower than the competition.

And yet, the MX-30 R-EV was found to be an extremely pleasant car. The test driver even sat behind the wheel with a continuous smile! The MX-30 R-EV has a distinct character and with that comes special engineering. If Mazda opted for a standard plug-in hybrid, that character would be lost. Moreover, the MX-30 R-EV appeals to a new target group. Those who are not yet ready for an all-electric car may be tempted to take the step towards electric driving thanks to the extra range of the combustion engine. But with quirky technology for quirky people.

plus
  • Unique character
  • Refined handling
  • Smart construction of rear doors
minus
  • Moderate space in the rear
  • High consumption (petrol and electricity)
  • No more economical than a fully electric car