Mazda’s Rotary Is Back: We Test Drive The New MX-30 Rotary EV Plug-in Hybrid

At last, Mazda’s soul—the rotary engine—is back. But it’s not the comeback many fans had hoped for. Don’t expect a sports car. Instead, the all-new revived rotary has been launched in the MX-30 Rotary EV plug-in hybrid, just in time for the age of electrification. And this rotary doesn’t even power the wheels.

Mazda first introduced the fully electric MX-30 BEV (battery electric vehicle) in late 2020, while Japan welcomed a mild hybrid ‘M HYBRID’ version a few months later. Now, the third member of the threesome, the ‘MX-30 Rotary EV’ that uses the rotary engine as a generator only, has just been added to the lineup.

To be bluntly honest, however, the first two models—the battery electric version and mild hybrid model—seemed only half-baked. The mild hybrid was not that fuel-efficient and offered only average performance, while the BEV version only delivered around 160 km of range in the real world, a fact that was frowned upon both at home and abroad, especially as many rival SUVs were offering well over 250 km of range.

So it is no exaggeration to say that the newly added MX-30 Rotary EV ‘e-SKYACTIV’ plug-in hybrid version (from here, we will just refer to it as the Rotary EV) we test-drove last month is the answer to those performance and range issues. This Mazda has a range of around 435 miles, boasts perky performance and has excellent fuel economy. It is also safe to say that there is no fear of running out of juice after 160km.

The Rotary EV uses electric drive only, with the rotary engine taking on the role of generator to charge the batteries. It does not drive the wheels in any way. The 830 cc single-rotor rotary engine, developed exclusively for electrical power generation, is mounted in the motor compartment on the same axis as the motor and generator, combined with a 17.8 kWh lithium-ion battery and a 50 liter capacity fuel tank.

Sharing its platform with that of the CX-30, the MX-30 employs a coupe-style design with laid back D-pillar and roof spoiler making it the most aesthetically pleasing in its class.

Furthermore, while adopting the ‘KODO – Soul of Motion’ design language, this SUV incorporates ‘barn-style’ (some call them ‘suicide doors’ while Mazda refers to them as ‘free-style doors’) side doors, reminiscent of the doors fitted to the RX-8. These rear swinging doors are certainly cool, but to be honest they are somewhat awkward to use. The small rear opening makes getting in and out of the rear seat a challenge, and the small windows not only don’t open, but also don’t let much light in, which can be a bit claustrophobic for occupants.

Although the huge B-pillars and small rear window create large blind spots, the driver still has good 360-degree visibility thanks to the blind spot monitor fitted as standard. Inside, the interior feels incredibly refined and mature for a crossover. Physical buttons and switches are used extensively, as are large rotary dials for operating the infotainment system. The central 8.8-inch might be a little small for today’s SUVs but boasts good quality and sharp graphics.

The driving position is adjustable, with a thin-rimmed steering wheel that is easy to grip with paddles for adjusting the strength of the regenerative braking system.

For the most part, the rotary engine makes only a distant, mechanical sound that can be easily masked by the sound of the radio. The sound picks up volume with a slight droning tone however during rapid acceleration, but it is only above 65mph that the engine noise is noticeable.

There are three drive modes: EV, Normal and Charge. As the name suggests, EV mode puts the engine into hibernation and only wakes it up when the battery is close to empty or when extra energy is needed for rapid acceleration.

Charge mode maintains a set amount of battery for use later—for example, if you are heading to a low-emission area and want to drive in EV mode. In this mode, the rotary engine fires up if the battery charge falls below 43%.

The Rotary EV’s 17.8 kWh battery is half the size of the 35.5 kWh battery in the fully electric MX-30 version. As a result, Mazda claims the Rotary EV can travel only 64 miles before the battery is empty—a distance that Mazda insists is enough for the average person’s daily commute. In the real world though we think this EV mode range would fall to around 50 miles.

Like any EV, the Rotary EV’s electric motor’s power is instantaneous, smooth and linear at any speed range. It is slightly quicker than the EV version, accelerating from 0-60 mph in under 9 seconds, making it quick off the mark and giving it plenty of herbs to merge smoothly on highways.

Thanks to its soft but sporty ride and light steering feel, the MX-30 is a good car for city driving, especially in heavy traffic. The supple ride absorbs small undulations while softening the edges of larger bumps.

Charging the Rotary EV’s battery from 20 and 80% takes about an hour and a half with a household wallbox, but the same charge can be completed in 25 minutes using a 50kW or higher fast charger. But we feel that most drivers will leave the charging duties up to their rotary engine to save time.

OUR THOUGHTS

This Rotary EV of the MX-30 that Mazda should have built in the first place. Thanks to the electric motor and rotary engine combination, it’s fun to drive and has a range of more than 435 miles, which is enough to satisfy most motorists. With only 100 miles of range the earlier BEV version would not even make it onto the vast majority of people’s potential car-buying list. At present, this Rotary EV model is on sale in Europe and Japan, but there’s no word on its sale in the U.S. yet. Its price of 4.49 million yen (@$31,000) is on par or cheaper than rivals including the $43,000 Kia Soul EV. If you’ve never experienced a rotary-powered car before, you should definitely give this one a try. Who knows how long it will be around…

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