TOKYO — At first glance, Mazda’s first mass- market electric vehicle, the MX-30, looks like neither an EV nor any of Mazda’s other models.
The compact crossover unveiled at last month’s Tokyo Motor Show gets a long hood and slung-back cabin befitting something with cylinders up front rather than a petite electric motor. And in place of Mazda’s usual elegantly sculpted Kodo design language are uninspiring slab-like sides. But that’s exactly what global design chief Ikuo Maeda wanted.
The vehicle’s sporty posture and long hood are a repudiation of the industry’s conventional wisdom that EVs must break new ground with oversized cabins and stubby proportions. Instead, Mazda’s future EVs will adhere to the sporty zoom-zoom DNA of its internal-combustion design language — at least in terms of proportions.
“We are going against the trend,” Maeda told Automotive News. “It is a kind of antithesis to the usual trend. We didn’t want to make a totally different type of design just because it’s an EV. We wanted to keep proportions close to the existing lineup.”
But that’s where similarities with Mazda’s current design language end.
Gone are the voluptuous curves of current Mazda models that reflect light across the sheet metal, visible on the Mazda3 sedan and Mazda CX-30 crossover. The MX-30 instead gets a barrel-like body with smooth, featureless door panels and rounded edges. Its grille is narrowed to just a slit, offering its only outward acknowledgment that there is an EV drivetrain inside instead of a gasoline engine.
It is a departure from the design language that has been winning Mazda accolades. But Maeda says it is more of an experiment than a new direction. With the MX-30, designers dabbled with what Maeda calls the “beauty of subtraction.
“It’s about stripping away unnecessary elements,” Maeda said. “As a trial with the MX-30, we also subtracted the movement of light. It’s like zen. We wanted to strip away everything and see what the minimum is.”
The vehicle lacks a center pillar between the front and rear doors, which swing opposite of each other. The rear doors are only half doors, similar to those in the discontinued RX-8 sports car. Mazda calls them “freestyle doors.”
“The concept of this vehicle is openness,” Maeda said. “If you open the freestyle doors, it really opens up the space. That’s what we wanted to achieve.”
Mazda also tries some new flourishes inside the cabin, including cork inlays for trim detailing. It is a nod to Mazda’s roots as a cork maker — the company was founded in 1920 as Toyo Cork Kogyo.
Under the hood, the front-wheel-drive MX-30 has a new Skyactiv powertrain that Mazda is calling e-Skyactiv. It runs on a 35.5-kWh lithium ion prismatic battery. Mazda says the motor delivers 105 kilowatts of power with maximum torque of 195 pound-feet.
The layout also could accommodate a range-extender engine, Maeda noted. Mazda hasn’t announced plans for such a drivetrain. But engineers have hinted at the possibility of using a small rotary engine to generate electricity that would power an electric motor.
Such a setup would deliver longer driving ranges for markets such as North America.
In the meantime, the EV is being positioned as a compliance car for an automaker that has been slow to electrify. Deliveries will begin in Europe next year. Media reports said the car might launch in the U.S. in 2021, but that report is unconfirmed.