Mazda reveals its electrifying entrance to the EV world
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Mazda has unveiled the first look at its new electric vehicle offering – and Driven was among the first in the world to put the new technology through its paces.
The Japanese carmaker invited 40 of the world’s top motoring journalists to Oslo, Norway for a sneak peek at the technology that will power its first foray into EVs, which are due to go on sale from next year.
The heat is on the company to deliver after Mazda has been somewhat sneery about the look of some rivals’ EV offerings – even describing some competitors’ designs as making cars that look like fridges.
Mazda believes its new EV will be a strong enough performer to convert drivers of gas guzzler to the benefits of going electric.
First up the tech: the new Mazda EV has a relatively small battery, with total electric power of 35.5. kWh in the form of a water-cooled lithium ion battery. Maximum output is 105kw - and Mazda is confident the battery will have a life span of about 160,000km.
The carmaker is keeping specific details of its battery close to its chest - and has yet to divulge the expected range for the pure EV. But the company has confirmed it will also offer a range-extending EV with a rotary engine. Its use in an EV is very much a case of back to the future for Mazda, which hasn’t featured a rotary engine in its line-up since 2012.
The carmaker believes the rotary engine's small size, combined with a high power output, is the best way to combat prospective EV buyers’ “range anxiety” – the fear that an EV won’t handle longer trips.
Mazda says opting for a smaller battery is environmentally responsible and also invites drivers to think realistically about the daily range they really require in a vehicle.
Mazda’s executive officer in charge of vehicle development, Hiroyuki Matsumoto, told Driven in Oslo that the perception that bigger was better in an EV battery was not necessarily accurate.
“If you’re going to use the EV, what’s your real driving range that you need, and we hope to bring an understanding up to that - perhaps giving a shift to some of the public opinion that’s out there,” he explained.
Matsumoto says Mazda has focused on delivering one EV technology platform to feature across a range of options designed to meet customers’ differing needs in relation to range and vehicle use.
The carmaker is bullish about the new EV’s potential to convert drivers of a traditional internal combustion engines to a cleaner, greener future.
You could say they’re making up for lost time by committing to its ‘well-to-wheel’ policy to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – the CO2 produced both in the manufacturing process of vehicles as well as from the tailpipe – to 50 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030 and to 90 per cent by 2050.
To achieve this Mazda expects its entire range will be electrified by 2030, with 95 per cent of its cars featuring some form of hybrid powertrain. The remaining 5 per cent will be full-electric options.
More details about the new EV are expected to be unveiled at next month’s Tokyo Motor Show.
The test drive: Putting Mazda’s new EV through its paces.
Our small Kiwi contingent has flown just under 21,000km to test-drive the EV prototype on a 35km route at Lake Gjersjoen, a 20-minute drive from downtown Oslo.
The test vehicle looks impressive in a matte black finish (Mazda stresses this isn’t the actual EV’s shape necessarily, it’s the battery motor placed in the new CX30 SUV chassis and body).
I’m assigned a cheerful “co-driver” (I prefer the term “navigator”…) who is no doubt along for the ride for insurance purposes and to make sure I don’t get too carried away – I’m test driver number two of 40 and they’ll be needing to keep all the prototypes in working order.
The obvious temptation is to floor the pedal and immediately test the reaction. This is the first of many pleasant surprises on the test drive – the car surges away with all the alacrity of a petrol-driven motor.
Immediate impression? This car is bloody swift – the power delivery is surprisingly good, not just for an EV but even for a petrol version. The throttle response is equally superb and subtle, delivering plenty of power.
Mere minutes into the test drive and I’m close to being converted – the driving experience is entirely as good as a petrol car, with plenty of power where it’s needed. The great thing about having a co-driver manning the GPS is that it feels like having a navigator in a rally car – and you speed up accordingly.
The test route snakes inland and slightly uphill and the car takes the incline in its stride, sweeping around a corner – and straight into disaster.
OK it’s just a big truck but when you only have 35km of test driving you can’t afford to waste a kilometre or two trapped behind a slow vehicle.
This truck is slowly going nowhere, oblivious to the fact that the vehicle stuck behind it is Mazda’s much-awaited foray into the EV market - and that I flew 27 hours just to take it for a quick spin.
The truck then indicates to turn right, only to stop in the middle of the road. “I might need to go round him,” I say to the co-driver and am instantly disappointed that it came out more like a question than a statement.
“It’s a bit of a blind corner ahead,” my unflappable navigator helpfully observes.
It’s a credit to this car’s acceleration that I’m totally confident I can make the move safely. Fortunately the point is moot as the slowpoke truck finally makes its promised turn and I can speed away.
As the road gets windier it becomes apparent just how good this car’s handling is. The steering is particularly precise and requires minimal exertion, even on the windier corners. The suspension is strong and stiff, best demonstrated when I slightly miss my line on a tight corner at speed and clip the road shoulder.
“Maybe a bit wide,” my Zen co-driver notes with a relaxed chuckle.
Fortunately for me Mazda has improved body stiffness on this test car by rigidly fastening the battery pack to the vehicle body, while the steering was honed by testing conducted in New Zealand at Wanaka’s snow farm. It’s just a bit ironic that we flew all this way to Norway for a test drive we could’ve done in Wanaka.
That said, all this testing has delivered a vehicle that hugs the road and delivers a comfortably composed ride feel.
Next up a steep hill looms and this leads to the only underwhelming moment of the test drive. While the EV has shown power in abundance on the flat it’s just not quite enough heading uphill. With the speedo sliding back from 80km/h I plant my foot – and not a lot happens: the speedo is maintaining but it’s definitely not increasing.
It’s the only time on the 20-minute drive that I’m reminded this is an EV, not a petrol car. And it also proves what a lazy driver you can become in an internal combustion engine, safe in the knowledge that you can downshift, emit a big belch of emissions, and power away in a lower gear.
As the incline fades away the power returns and normal transmission is resumed – rather than being disappointed at the brief lack of grunt I have to concede that the power on the flat had simply lulled me into a false sense of security.
The final part of the test drive takes us on to a motorway and again Mazda’s EV more than holds its own in traffic (not so surprising given Norway’s roads are already flooded with EVs).
As I enter the E6 highway from an on-ramp I realise I’ve strayed into a bus lane and change lanes - only to see a big truck bearing down on me in the rear view mirror. I hit the gas pedal and the throttle response is again excellent as we zoom off to create a suitable following distance.
I slightly sheepishly look at my navigator but he’s as chill as ever. It’s only after the test drive that I remember that in Norway EV cars can legally use bus lanes, one of countless perks and tax breaks to encourage EV sales.
With the NZ Government in the early stages of eyeing up feebates for EVs, anyone looking for a new car should at least have an EV on their radar.
And as the technology rapidly evolves a lot of the old reasons for not considering electric are fading away – ‘range anxiety’ can be countered by a hybrid option, while rapid charging can provide 80 per cent of a battery charge in less than half an hour.
From a pure driving experience, Mazda has produced a prototype that drives and handles as well as a petrol car in most situations. The carmaker believes its new EV range, due to go on sale next year, is good enough to convert motorists to electric. The early signs are this confidence is well-placed.
· Oskar Alley travelled to Oslo courtesy of Mazda.