Skip to main content

Mazda May Have Swung And Missed On Its First Plug-In Hybrids

I want to be completely upfront, I have not yet driven any of Mazda’s new plug-in hybrid (PHEV) SUVs. I have a lot of respect for Mazda as a brand; their designs, reliability, and engaging driving dynamics have consistently been top notch. European and US media outlets are sounding some sour notes on the range and driving experience of at least one of Mazda’s new PHEVs though. It has me wondering: might Mazda have swung and missed on its first attempts at making its own PHEVs?

I must also point out the reviews I am referring to are for the Mazda CX-60 PHEV, a vehicle we won’t actually see here in the US but which shares its powertrain (a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder gas engine and its electric motor and batteries) with the larger, 3-row CX-90 PHEV that will go on sale in the US later this year (in red, in the photo above). Obviously that would affect some of the performance and efficiency statistics for the larger CX-90, compared to the CX-60, but it is safe to say it means worse efficiency all around due to the larger size and increased weight of the CX-90.

Let’s start with the harshest criticisms first. The Irish Times doesn’t really pull any punches in its review of the CX-60’s efficiency, ride quality and handling. Their review states that the CX-60 is rated for 64km (about 40 miles) of all electric range, however they noted it was a struggle for them to get past 45 km (28 miles) of real world range. Note this is on the WLTP testing protocol, which is not what US market vehicles use to mark fuel efficiency or range figures (so in the US the range would be a bit lower, likely about 37 miles). Also note, range in any vehicle, electric or otherwise, comes down to how one drives it, what the driving conditions are, and any other extenuating circumstances (weight in the car, tire pressure, etc.). As they say, your mileage may vary, but assuming they weren’t driving the CX-60 hard, in frigid temperatures, then a 30% or so lower real world EC driving range seems like it could be a big miss. If one is considering any of Mazda’s PHEVs I would say, as an experienced PHEV and EV driver, either wait to see what other auto journalists get or find other real world results if you can;t drive it yourself, first. The only reason one should actually see 30% less than the rated range is if you are driving it hard, using lots of heat/the temperatures are well below freezing (because batteries lose efficiency when its cold), or otherwise pulling lots of extra weight/have increased your aerodynamic drag significantly, or some combination of these. Even in the middle of freezing winter conditions, with chunky snow tires mounted and driving mainly on the freeway/at a higher rate of speed, my Kia Sorento PHEV can deliver very close to its rated electric only range. I do drive it gently though, so remember that. Also remember that the CX-60 is smaller and lighter than the CX-90, so that suggests even worse results for its potential real world electric range. Add to this disappointing EV range concern the Irishs TImes observed fuel economy of about 28 mpg (8.5-liters per 100km) on longer trips, and the CX-60 as well as the US bound CX-90 may be setting customers up for disappointment in these regards. Again, comparing my Kia Sorento PHEV’s fuel economy to these figures for the Mazda CX-60, the Kia outshines the Mazda by at least 7 mpg or so and does so while being larger and heavier.

The Irish Times bashed Mazda CX-60 a little more, saying the “worst aspect is the ride quality” and further describing its overall refinement as “poor”. While that is harsh, it may also be somewhat subjective. To add a little more detail, the Irish Times was particularly disappointed with the roar from the tires on the freeway (something that could be mitigated with different tires perhaps) and the noise from the electric motor at slower speeds, describing it as “wheezing and groaning… an irritating low-fi servo noise.” That said, they also praised the Mazda’s engine power, build quality and reliability, so it isn’t like the Irish Times hated the CX-60, they just found it sorely lacking.

Another famous European automotive site, Top Gear also called the CX-60 out for having issues with the execution of its plug-in powertrain saying it needed “some smoothing out” and critiquing its handling as “not quite on par with premium rivals like the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC and Audi Q5” which Mazda is clearly aiming for considering the price point and attention to luxury oriented features. What about American automotive journalists’ take on the European market CX-60? Car and Driver also drove it and called the CX-60’s PHEV powerplant “the least exciting” option in the lineup. Ouch! C&D further called out the transition between electric and gas power as “less elegant” and “with notable pause as the four-cylinder fires up”. They also said it sounded “increasingly coarse” when the gas engine was worked hard. C&D interestingly praised the Mazda for its ride quality though, where the Irish found it lacking, noting that they found the “compliance and athleticism” satisfying.

So, with fairly consistent criticism coming in re: the efficiency, noise, and general performance of the powertrain, I would hope that Mazda might try some last minute tweaks to engine management or battery control software to possibly get some improved performance from their powertrain for the forthcoming CX-90. C&D also provided their initial impressions of the CX-90 (not having driven it either, see above) and estimate it will get around 30 miles of range on a charge and mid-upper 20’s mpg on gas. Consider me apprehensive. I am sure the Mazda will be high quality in its fit and finish, comfortable and spacious, and reliable as well. But it seems like it may disappoint those who value efficiency and other aspects of the driving experience, most. Alternatives from Kia or Volvo may be better suited to those who value efficiency/lower emissions or more refinement in handling.

Please leave your questions or comments below.

Images courtesy of Mazda.

Justin Hart has owned and driven electric vehicles for over 15 years, including a first generation Nissan LEAF, second generation Chevy Volt, Tesla Model 3, an electric bicycle and most recently a Kia Sorento PHEV. He is also an avid SUP rider, poet, photographer and wine lover. He enjoys taking long EV and PHEV road trips to beautiful and serene places with the people he loves. Follow Justin on Twitter for daily KIA EV news coverage.


Noah4x4 (not verified)    March 18, 2023 - 2:35AM

Why not actually drive one before being critical ? It is true that early production cars had some 'bugs' and early reviews justifiably reported so, but my recently acquired Homura is awesome, and much more enjoyable to drive than my previous Mercedes E350 AMG Line Premium Plus, whilst £12,000 cheaper than an equivalent BMW, Audi or Mercedes PHEV SUV. It looks and feels "premium", no mock leather and little black plastic (unlike my E350D) and is quicker too.

Justin Hart    March 19, 2023 - 3:37AM

In reply to by Noah4x4 (not verified)

The CX-90 isn’t out yet (so can’t drive it) and the CX-60 isn’t available in the US where I live. I do want to drive them, and will attempt to do so when possible (the CX-90 most likely… not sure when I will get to Europe next). It is perfectly acceptable to critique based on other published information (and to point out reasons why other’s critiques and observations may be affected or tainted by certain conditions or behaviors, as I did). I suspect that I would feel similarly though (Mazda’s interiors and overall designs are impressive and high quality) and could perhaps achieve better fuel efficiency results, depending on factors like weather, route, etc. being similar. These are all things I tried to point out in the article.

Ba (not verified)    March 18, 2023 - 11:45PM

According to Mazda's specs dated Feb 7, 2023 that they sent to dealers, CX-90 PHEV will travel 37 km (23 miles) running solely on electric motor on a full charge. Not great but may be OK for short distance running errands. I got a copy of the specs from the dealer where I have ordered my CX-90 PHEV on a leap of faith. LOL

Justin Hart    March 19, 2023 - 3:45AM

In reply to by Ba (not verified)

Wow, that’s even worse than I thought (in terms of all electric range). It could be fine for some drivers, for certain, but I am advocate for “strong” PHEVs (they need to be able to cover the average daily drive of the regions and users they are sold to/in. In Europe, I think people tend to have shorter average daily drives than in the US, so the first Mazda PHEVs may be better suited to that market. But in the US where people’s average daily drives are longer (35-45 miles seems to be the common figure I have seen over the years in countless studies and publications), Mazda’s PHEVs sound like they may be “weak”. The Kia Sorento PHEV is rated for 32 miles on a charge for comparison, and that is attained with a smaller battery (13.8 kWh on the Kia vs 17.8 in the Mazda). So either Mazda is doing something wrong, or more likely they are not allowing drivers to tap more than about 12 kWH of their battery (i.e. that’s extremely conservative as no more than 2-2.5 kWh would need to be held in reserve). I expect if one drives the Mazda gently though, you could get better range (just like I am able to get 41+ miles on a charge in my Sorento PHEV when temps are above 60 F). Still, if 23 miles or so is all you need, then the Mazda might be perfect.

Tom Maran (not verified)    May 12, 2023 - 7:15AM

Yikes just read this article. I ordered my CX90 last month. Should take delivery in June. Mpg is not published yet but there has been assumptions made that it would get 32 miles on a full charge and 28 hwy. If what your saying is true may want to switch back to a RAV Prime to buy???

Justin Hart    May 16, 2023 - 3:22AM

In reply to by Tom Maran (not verified)

That all depends on your, your needs and preferences. The CX-90 is going to be more larger, more capable of hauling people and stuff, and is almost certainly going to be more feature rich/luxury oriented than the Rav 4 Prime. I would assume that if you drive it gently (accelerate like you’re not in a hurry and coast as often as you can, keep it to within a couple miles of the speed limit) you will likely be able to beat the EV range and get better MPGs while doing so, maybe 10-20% on a regular basis (or more). This is certainly the case for me and my Kia Sorento PHEV… I regularly get 37-41 miles per charge and my lifetime average fuel economy when running in hybrid mode is almost 37 MPG. But I drive it in a leisurely fashion and I plug it in every chance I get (went almost 1,500 miles on my last tank of gas and could have stretched it a few hundred more if I hadn’t wanted to be repaired for a possible improved weekend away). I say: ask yourself what matters to you in your next PHEV. Is it efficiency? Space/capability? Luxury/feature content? If it is efficiency, then yes, you might want to look at the Rav 4 Prime or another PHEV SUV that gets better efficiency than the Mazda (Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi). Best of luck to you!