Mazda’s first foray into the electric vehicle market comes in the form of the 2022 MX-30, a nearly subcompact crossover that sports a forward-looking design and a distinct driving dynamic compared with established rivals.

But the range is a disappointing 100 miles and production is limited to 560 units to buyers in California, which makes the future, and purpose, of this vehicle unclear.

The MX-30 carries a small 35.5-kilowatt-hour battery pack that drives an 80.9-kilowatt electric motor at the front. The powertrain delivers the equivalent of 143 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque. Engineers don’t want MX-30 buyers to be burdened with a larger battery because they say it will kill driving dynamics.

But they did design the MX-30 as a “multi-solution” vehicle that will accept other components. Some surmise Mazda will add a petrol-powered range extender to the MX-30, which will act as a generator to re-charge the battery on the go.

The Target Buyer

Mazda is targeting the MX-30 at young urban professionals that want to dip their toe into the EV segment. Mazda sees the MX-30 as an urban commuter—perhaps a couple’s second vehicle to get them back and forth work and around town for errands. It says buyers will need to have access to charging both at home and at work.

It’s not unreasonable to assume this demographic will be attracted to the MX-30. Its exterior is stylish, effortlessly blending the design language for which Mazda is known with a smooth jellybean silhouette and grille-less face that signals: I am electric. Its three available color schemes—red, graphite and a misty grey—are on-trend, especially with black accents all around, including on the side mirrors and roof.

But California is an early adopter state. Young professionals in both the northern and southern regions of the state already have been indoctrinated into the Tesla world, even after the EV builder surpassed its 200,000 electric vehicle cap, making it ineligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit.

Competitive Landscape

Tesla vehicles are pricey, but the company set the bar in terms of range. Its high-end Model S costs $82,000 but is loaded with premium amenities and can travel an estimated 412 miles on a full charge. The more mainstream Model 3, which Mazda says will land on the same shopping list as the MX-30, offers 263 miles of range for $37,000; an additional $10,000 for the larger battery pack yields 353 miles.

The MX-30 will also go to battle with the Hyundai Ioniq 5, which will go on sale this fall and offer a 300-mile range for around $40,000. Closer in size to the MX-30 is the established Kia Niro EV that costs about $39,000 for the base trim ($44,650 for the Premium) and can travel 239 miles on a full charge. Hyundai’s Kona Electric is a touch smaller but has a 258-mile range and starting price of $37,390.

2022 Mazda MX-30 First Drive: Hits A Few High Notes, Falls Way Short On Range

Mazda’s MX-30 starts at $33,470. It’s a bit above mainstream—drivers will feel encapsulated in a thoughtfully designed interior—so an argument could be made for prioritizing a dab of affordable luxury over a reliable range. But in the EV market, unless an automaker is channeling battery power for performance like Porsche does with the Taycan and Audi with its e-tron GT, range is everything. And 100 miles falls way short.

When hooked up to a Level 2 charging station, the MX-30 will recoup 80% of its battery in just under 3 hours. A Level 3 charger, or DC Fast Charger, will get it there in 36 minutes. If forced to trickle charge the EV using a standard wall outlet (Level 1), it will fill up overnight (13 hours and 40 minutes). But that’s assuming the driver has at-home charging options beyond 120 volts.

So barring concerns over getting stranded, the MX-30 is a cute experiment for Mazda. It will give the brand insight into what buyers really expect from an EV, especially in an already electrified state like California.

The Drive

One standout quality of the MX-30 is its on-road demeanor. Engineers took care to minimize “jerk” from the ride experience for smoother throttle response to make the transition to electric easier for gas drivers. The crossover is controllable, easy to drive and steering is responsive. Mazda added sound effects to connect the driver to the powertrain to evoke the emotional response humans feel when they rev an engine. The synthetic sounds cover up the air and tire noise, but EVs are supposed to be quiet.

The MX-30 uses paddle shifters on the wheel to bring the level of regeneration up or down two notches. The default regeneration setting gives little to no hint that the EV is in charging mode, though after a foot is removed from the throttle the pointer drops quickly into the blue “charging” zone on the gauge behind the wheel.

Speed is a curious thing on the MX-30. Though electric vehicles deliver instant torque and are quick off the line (Teslas deliver rocket speed when set in Ludacris mode), the MX-30 takes more than 9 seconds to get to 60. But it’s more than enough gusto to get up to speed when passing or merging onto the freeway.

The Interior

The Mazda MX-30 is well equipped and is offered in two trims: base and base with Premium Package, which kicks the price up to $36,480. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard as are LED headlamps and daytime running lights, heated and folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, a rear roof spoiler and keyless entry. When upgraded with the Premium Package, the MX-30 gets larger 18-inch wheels with a brighter finish, Bose 12-speaker premium audio and a cargo area light.

The cockpit is a pleasant place to be. The seats—a mix of cloth and leatherette—are comfortable and nicely hug the contours of the body. Mazda incorporated cork elements (such as cupholder covers) in the floating center console to pay homage to the company’s start as a cork maker. Use of the natural material also signals sustainability, complementing the MX-30’s zero-emission powertrain. The console design allows space for an underneath cubby—two USB ports are tucked underneath so the space is perfectly fitted for a phone.

An 8.8-inch screen juts from the dash and is controlled only through a rotary knob on the console, next to the gear selector. Four quick access buttons jump directly to the map, home screen, music or return to the previous screen. Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Climate is controlled on a dedicated screen, but with a few physical buttons that will change fan speed, turn on automatic climate, activate the heated wheel (only on Premium) and start the rear defroster. The system takes a minute to study but is fairly intuitive.

Access to the second row is via a hidden set of suicide (“freestyle”) rear doors that open with a latch exposed only after the front doors are swung open. Back-seat riders can operate the front seat (slide and tilt) with a power button, but if there’s no one in the cockpit to assist with the door, pushing it open from the back is difficult and renders the rear passenger stuck. With only 30 inches of legroom, wiggle room is scant. (The CX-30 with the same 173-inch length has 36 inches of rear legroom.) The outboard seats have LATCH car-seat anchors.

The rear seatback splits 60/40 for flexible loading, and stowage in the back is 21 cubic-feet. That’s uncompetitive in the conventional compact crossover segment—most offer over 30 (the Nissan Rogue has the most with 39.3 cubic-feet), but the MX-30’s 173-inch length (same as the gas-powered CX-30) nearly qualifies it as a subcompact. Rivals in the smallest crossover category offer about this much cargo space (the Kia Soul is the largest with 23.2 cubic-feet). Kia’s Niro EV has 18.5 cubic-feet of stowage and Hyundai’s Kona Electric has 19.2.

Safety Tech

Mazda’s newest active driver-assistance safety features are reserved for MX-30s outfitted with the Premium Package. But standard equipment is generous and includes automatic high beams, hill hold assist, lane departure warning with lane keeping assistance, rear parking sensors and adaptive cruise control with stop and go capability. Adaptive cruise is operated with narrow toggle buttons on the right of the wheel that might require taking eyes off the road (or practicing when stopped) for the first dozen tries because of their slight sizing.

The Premium Package adds a driver monitor, front cross-traffic alerts and blind spot assist, which will nudge the wheel away if a car in the blind spot gets too close. The side assist tech is useful because the MX-30 has major blind spots. The rear-door design forces a chunky B-pillar, leaving little space for a window, thus creating an even chunkier C-pillar.

The MX-30 is a compelling product at first blush, with its sleek exterior design, premium amenities and under $40,000 price tag. But the brand might find that, for now, luxury comes second to range in EVs since the charging infrastructure is still nascent. In that respect 100 miles will cause buyers to pass and look at other more reliable EVs will similar pricing, even if they’re not as upscale. Or they will opt to lease, eschewing the $7,500 tax credit to hold out for Mazda to launch a better commuting solution in the next three years.