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Monday, November 28, 2022

Mazda CX-60 PHEV 2022 review

Mazda has long done things differently, the manufacturer once known for its Zoom-Zoom marketing often choosing to zag when rivals zig. So although the brand’s first plug-in hybrid looks tardy by the standards of the wider industry, it carries plenty of innovation.

As well as being the second rechargeable Mazda, after the electric-only Mazda MX-30, the CX-60 PHEV is also the most powerful road car the brand has produced to date, with a combined system output of 323bhp from its combination of a longitudinally mounted 188bhp Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a 173bhp electric motor.

The first novelty is the combustion motor’s lack of a turbocharger, with the relatively large capacity giving efficiency improvements under gentle loads. The second is a clever new eight-speed automatic gearbox that uses an electronically controlled clutch pack instead of a torque converter. The PHEV gets all-wheel drive as standard, but the six-cylinder diesel and petrol versions that will follow will also be offered with rear-wheel drive.

The electrical side of the drivetrain is powered by a 17.8kWh 388V battery pack that sits between the axles and gives a claimed electric-only range of 39 miles under the WLTP protocol. That figure would have looked impressive a couple of years ago but is short of the Toyota RAV-4 PHEV’s 46 miles and the Volvo XC60 T6 PHEV’s 48 miles. The battery can be fully replenished from a 7kW charger in 2hr 20 min, or alternatively topped up by the engine on the move or ordered to hold a certain level of charge for later use. 

Mazda expects that the PHEV will make up an outright majority of CX-60 sales in the UK. For business users, it will be a much more tax-friendly proposition than the petrol or diesel versions. Prices will kick off at £43,895 for the most basic but still well-equipped Exclusive Line trim and rise to £46,300 for the Homura and £48,050 for the fully laden Takumi, which we tested.

As with many plug-in hybrids, gentle use suits the CX-60 PHEV well. It defaults to electric mode every time it is started, and although the motor drives through the transmission, giving the slightly odd sensation of gears shifting, it feels more than brawny and responsive enough for everyday speeds. Beyond a synthesised low-speed warning soundtrack, the cabin stays quiet at urban velocities, too, and comfort and refinement levels are high. 

But pushing harder introduces some uncertainty to the powertrain’s responses, with the transition from pure electric to blended power often being marked by hesitation. By the time a similarly potent EV has projected itself down the road, the Mazda is still gathering pace.

The combustion engine also feels like an experiential weak link, effective but with a coarse soundtrack that gets loud when it is pushed harder. In its Normal mode, the PHEV’s digital dashboard doesn’t feature a rev counter, but summoning a rendered version by selecting Sport shows that the four-cylinder gets increasingly reluctant at higher revs and won’t go past 6100rpm – 400rpm short of the marked red line.

Fully unleashed, it is certainly rapid, with Mazda’s quoted 5.8sec 0-60mph time making it one of the quickest cars the company has produced, but this is definitely not an addition to the long list of joyful four-pots from Mazda’s past.

The chassis impresses much more, tested here on British roads, even in a CX-60 wearing the biggest possible, 20in wheels. Traction is assured, and although the Mazda rarely shows evidence of its rear-biased torque delivery, it resists understeer well. The ride stays composed and comfortable, even on a test route than includes both some of Liverpool’s finest potholes and twisting, cresty Welsh A-roads tackled at speed. The Mazda doesn’t have adaptive dampers and its compliance proves it doesn’t need to.

While bigger lateral loadings do bring discernible body lean, and the steering lacks much in the way of granular feedback responses are respectably crisp and enthusiastic for something so tall and heavy. The limiting factor on athleticism in the car I drove is the limited adhesion of the unsporty Bridgestone Alenza tyres. The CX-60 feels well up to exploiting grippier rubber.

The cabin is well finished and the plushest Takumi specification brings upmarket materials inspired by contemporary Japanese design, such as wooden cappings and the option of nice-feeling cloth dashboard facing. It also has door trims made from real metal and seemingly modelled on the tailgate fins of a 1950s Cadillac. And that’s in a good way. Strangely, the 12.3in central display screen supports touch inputs when running Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but not for Mazda’s native navigation system. Which, frankly, isn’t up to much.

But while space up front is good, with a decent range of positional adjustment, room in the back is far tighter. Full-sized adults are going to feel squashed back there if front-seat occupants are making the most of their space. The rear backrest is also at a steep angle to carve more space from the boot, which is an acceptable 570 litres with the rear seats in place. The CX-60 sits on a modular architecture that is going to underpin a family of SUVs, including a bigger sibling with three rows of seating. That will be the practical one.

It’s always been easy to criticise plug-in hybrids for the compromises inherent in lugging around two different powertrains, and that hasn’t changed with the CX-60 PHEV. While there is lots to like about it, the standout features are mostly unrelated to the new powertrain – and my keenest anticipation after experiencing this one is finding out what the six-cylinder petrol and diesel versions will be like. 

Of course, plug-ins are usually chosen for reasons beyond mechanical charisma, and especially for the tax advantages earned by their low emissions. As such, the CX-60’s 33g/km CO2 rating is likely to be its most compelling statistic, and the one that will ensure it’s the most popular model in the range. But like other PHEVs, it feels like a timid step towards electrification, especially when compared with the growing number of compelling EVs in this space.

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