11 August 2023

Mazda's finally made a plug-in hybrid. What's it like?

| James Coleman
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Mazda CX-60

Not sure about Mazda’s new look? You’re not alone. Photo: James Coleman.

The company itself might prefer “zoom zoom” and jinba ittai, or the “oneness of a horse and its rider”, reflecting how driving one of its products should feel like a natural extension of your being. But I’ve also heard Mazda described as “Alfa Romeos that work”.

And it’s not just PR twaddle.

Like the Italians, Mazda is not winning titles for power, or speed, or overall fanciness so much as it is winning hearts for how the cars drive. They’re deft. Direct. Involving. The turbocharged version of its best-selling CX-5 remains the best SUV I’ve ever driven for the money, for one.

So far, Mazda has also resisted the urge to run headlong after electrification, and I respect that. Slow and steady wins the race and all that.

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But now I’m beginning to suspect the real reason. They’re not very good at it.

The brand’s first pure EV was the MX-30, a strange, three-door compact SUV with two extra mini suicide doors that meant it was more practical than it would have been otherwise, but still not very practical at all. The range was also 224 km. That wouldn’t get you to Sydney.

Now, as Mazda looks to retire the CX-5 in the coming years and head upmarket, it’s done this. Its first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

Don’t get me wrong – the new CX-60 is a beautiful car.

Mazda’s been working up to this point for 10 years, a break into a world occupied by the likes of Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo. And while you might accidentally swallow your tongue at the thought of a Mazda costing in excess of $85K, it still undercuts its new rivals considerably. Canberra buyers have realised this too, and already snapped them up.

I’m not sure about the styling. Mazda has had a very good thing going since the 2012 Mazda 6. The CX-60 echoes the same flowing curves but the warm buttermilk on the eyes that was the design of its other, older siblings has soured slightly.

Mazda CX-60 interior

The striped black nappa leather comes standard in the Azami model. Photo: James Coleman.

Things pick up inside where it feels very tasteful, especially in Azami or SP spec with the quilted tan leather option.

There’s a Goldilocks blend of tech too. A toasty heated steering wheel, for instance, but subdued lane-keeping assistance. There are even real buttons. My only complaint was the front cross-traffic alert, which expected an imminent T-bone at every roundabout.

Steering is lighter than I’d like, but get it up to speed and it’s very direct. You are piloting a hefty thing about too, but it’s hard to tell from the way it effortlessly clings on around corners.

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There’s just that engine, or gearbox, or electric motor integration, or something. No matter what drive mode you’re in, every time you plant your foot, it’s like a panicked committee meeting has been called to determine the best action. There’s a lag and the odd jerk before you’re underway. Other PHEVs on the market manage to pull it off with more aplomb.

Then there are the noises. Remember that kid at school you wanted to slap because he was always pretending to be robot? Yes, well, he now lives underneath the CX-60. There’s a lot of whirring at different pitches, and whooshing and rumbling, and none of it is particularly nice.

Fortunately, there’s a deeply impressive 12-speaker Bose sound system to drown it out.

But the end result leaves you feeling left out. The jinba without the ittai. The rider has suffered a heart attack and died while on the horse.

There is, of course, a very big upside to this – a miserly fuel consumption figure of 2.1 litres per 100 km. A handy pure electric range of 76 km means you could go weeks without having to fire up the engine if you used the CX-60 PHEV for around-town errands too.

Or you could go for the cheaper models with the new turbocharged inline-six petrol or diesel engines, in which case, none of the above is true and Mazda is still very much an Alfa Romeo that works.

Mazda CX-60

Driveaway prices in the ACT range from $63,744 for the 3.3-litre turbo petrol inline-6 Evolve to $90,679 for the Azami PHEV. Photo: James Coleman.

2023 Mazda CX-60 Azami AWD PHEV

  • $88,660 driveaway (ACT)
  • 2.5-litre 4-cylinder, electric motor; 241 kW / 500 Nm
  • 8-speed automatic, all-wheel drive (AWD)
  • 76 km estimated electric range
  • 2.1 litres per 100 km estimated fuel usage
  • 5-star ANCAP safety rating

This car was provided for testing by Phillip Mazda. Region has no commercial arrangement with Phillip Mazda.

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