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The folks at Mazda have been talking about taking on the Germans for some time. Already hugely successful in this country, the company’s path to further growth has to be upward, into the more premium space, and now it’s launched the car it believes will put it there - the all-new CX-60, which it describes as “Mazda Premium”.
It’s an interesting case of “if you can’t beat them, join them”, because Mazda was already bludgeoning the German marques, but its all new large architecture, featuring longitudinally mounted engines - some of which will be straight-six cylinders, petrol and diesel - rear-wheel drive and a new suspension set-up, double wishbone front, multilink rear, seems to be copied from the Greatest Hits of Europe album.
We went to Portugal to try out the very first CX-60 to hit global markets, the CX-60 e-Skyactiv PHEV, and to see why Mazda is calling this the most important car (okay, it's a crossover SUV, so not a car) it has launched in over a decade.
It also just happens to be the most powerful Mazda production vehicle ever, which sounds pretty enticing.
Mazda is yet to confirm pricing for the CX-60 in Australia, and will only say that it will arrive before the end of the year. It seems almost certain that the first version we will see - rumoured to be priced around the $55,000 mark - will not be the PHEV that’s going on sale in Europe - that one will come a few months later, possibly early 2023.
Our launch version will almost certainly be powered by the same naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine currently found in the Mazda 3, 6, CX-5 and CX-8. That will make it lighter than the PHEV we drove in Europe - no big battery under the floor and no electric motor - but whether it will provide enough grunt to get the best out of the car remains to be seen. At $55k, it would still feel like a lot of car, though.
And it will come with the new interior, however, which is said to take Mazda to new heights of quality materials and sophistication.
The vehicles we drove were “pre-production”, so we didn’t see all of this goodness, but we did see photos of some very nice design elements they’ll be rolling out, including real maple wood panels, chrome detailing, and a kimono-inspired textile on the door panels, in what’s known as the Takumi variant.
It’s all bit redolent of the Lexus approach; talking up Japanese craftsmanship and attempting to make Mazda more premium.
One cool selling point that’s sure to be included is the new Driver Personalisation System, which has got to be both a world first, and also a mighty fine idea, because far too many people don’t seem to know how to set up a proper driving position. This Mazda does it for you.
The very first time you drive your CX-60 it measures your eyeline with a camera (and asks you to input your height so it knows how long your legs are) and then adjusts the seat height, how far you are from the wheel, the mirrors, the steering wheel position and the height of the head-up display, all at once.
This information is then stored and every time you get in the car it will use face-recognition tech, just like your iPhone, to work out who’s driving and restore your settings. Aside from the seating set-up, it also stores 250 “personalisation values”, everything from your preferred aircon temperature to your favourite radio station.
I tried it and, while it got the mirrors and the head-up display bang on, I had to lower the seat just a tiny bit to feel perfectly set up. Impressive.
The price point will be important, particularly once the new engines arrive, but it’s too soon to even speculate on where that will end up, in terms of the whole range.
I’m not suggesting that Mazda set out to copy anyone - the company is far too proud of its design chops to do that - but there’s quite a bit about this car, from the rear light clusters to the side profile and the overall proportions, that reminds me of a Jaguar F-Pace, and I think that’s quite high praise indeed.
Mazda says the CX-60 is the culmination of more than a decade worth of work aimed at taking Mazda to “design quality levels that we never achieved in recent history”. While that decade saw it produce some very impressive, and award-winning, concept cars and a very fetching Mazda 3, some of those efforts were more creased and crimped than a 1980s pop singer’s hair.
The CX-60 is different; bold, clean and impressive. Mazda says the goal was to create “motion and emotion with the fewest possible elements”.
The cabin has been pushed back with that long nose in front of it, and a short front overhang, balanced by a longer one at the rear, as part of an effort to play up its rear-drive credentials. And, in classic designer speak, to make it look like it’s moving while sitting still.
What I would say is that it’s hard to make something this big look attractive, but they’ve nailed it.
As mentioned above, the interior didn’t feel quite as special as Mazda suggested it would but we weren’t seeing the final product, allegedly.
From the driver’s seat, which is comfortable rather than full Euro plush, there’s certainly a sensation of space, with 1504mm of shoulder room (44mm more than a CX-5) and plenty in the rear as well (1,441 mm, or 50mm more than the CX-5). Four adults would be very comfortable here for long trips.
The wide instrument panel accentuates the width of the car, visually, while you also get a large and excellent Head-up Display. The CX-60 is 4745mm long, 1890mm wide, 1680mm high, and has a 2870mm wheelbase. The boot has a 570-litre capacity, increasing to 1148 litres with the rear seats folded flat and 1726 litres if loaded to the ceiling.
The e-Skyactiv PHEV is Mazda’s first crack at a plug-in hybrid system and uses a 2.5-litre, four-cylinder direct-injection petrol engine, a 100kW electric motor and a 17.8kWh lithium-ion battery good for “more than 60km” of EV-only driving range.
The combined outputs are 241kW and 500Nm of torque. That’s so much more than a Mazda RX-8 (184kW and 215Nm) it really is laughable.
All that power is delivered through an also entirely new eight-speed automatic gearbox, which has a multi-plate wet clutch instead of a torque converter and is all about improving fuel economy. It also kind of, almost switches off when you're in EV mode. Or half off, the Mazda engineers seemed to be reluctant to explain exactly how it works, saying only that is uses "some" of those eight-speeds in EV mode, but not all of them.
The CX-60 can sprint from 0 to 100km/h in 5.8 seconds and has a top speed of 200km/h.
We can report that in Europe, where such things are done, it can reach and cruise very quietly at 140km/h with great ease.
In terms of efficiency, the PHEV version of the CX-60 boldly claims a fuel-economy figure of just 1.5 litres per 100km. Like all such hybrids, of course, the amount that you are driving it in EV-only mode is going to effect that figure.
Over around 150km of driving on the launch - some of it quite enthusiastic - we saw a figure starting in the mid 5s and then dropping into the 4s when I stuck with EV mode for a while.
By journey’s end, however, I had emptied the battery’s charge and I ended up with an overall figure of 5.4 litres per 100km, which is still pretty good for a car this size, and probably more realistic than the claimed number.
The one concern is that the CX-60 only has a 50-litre fuel tank, which would suggest overall range might be an issue. We'll have to wait for a longer test to be sure. Obviously if it got 1.5 litres per 100km that would deliver plenty.
The CX-60 is yet to be crash tested but is targeting a Euro NCAP 5-star safety rating.
It gets a suite of i-Activsense driver-supporting safety technologies including Turn Across Traffic Assist, SBS-R pedestrian detection, Emergency Lane Keeping, i-Adaptive Cruise Control (i-ACC), and BSM Vehicle Exit Warning.
It also comes with a new trick called See-Through View, described as a “next-generation 360° view monitor”. Basically the front and rear of the car become slightly opaque on the screen and you can see through them to make close parking moves easier. It's like God-view, but even more Godly.
You can expect Mazda to offer its usual five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty on the CX-60, but obviously this will be confirmed closer to it going on sale.
We need to start with the disclaimer here that the cars we were driving were “pre-production models”. Normally what this means is that the trim might not be quite finished, or perfect, and that there might be a few rattles or squeaks here and there, but there was none of that.
In this case, the Mazda engineers were keen to point out that some of the stranger noises and driving quirks we noticed might well be fixed by the time the car reaches production. Essentially, they seemed to be suggesting the PHEV technology was still being finalised, or perhaps perfected, which seems… unusual.
What does feel finished and fun is the way the car drives in Sport mode, when the engine is always on and you’re getting the maximum benefit of all that power and torque, all the time (even when I’d notionally run the battery flat, it was maintaining some state of charge, to maintain performance, it just meant you couldn’t drive it in EV-only mode any more).
Throttle response in Sport is far more lively than in the lower modes and if you push through the detente point and properly mash the throttle it really does get up and go.
On the freeway, at cruising speed, it was also supremely quiet and smooth, but when an overtaking opportunity came, I felt it leap from 80 to 140km/h (be calm, in Europe such speeds will not cause you to be shot) in no time at all - its nose sniffing at the sky. I would totally believe the 5.8 second claim for 0 to 100km/h.
Our drive route was not as long as we would have hoped, but we did find some corners to throw the CX-60 at and, while it is all-wheel drive, you could feel it pushing as much grunt as possible to the rear and providing that tail-happy handling that enthusiasts love.
The steering was fair, but slightly too light for mine, but the way this Mazda banishes body roll and allows you to attack bends, particularly for a car this size, is impressive.
The suspension, which seems well resolved and, dare I say it, premium, is part of that but another factor is Mazda’s Kinematic Posture Control, first seen on the recently launched update to MX-5.
This clever software applies a small amount of brake force to the inside rear wheel when cornering, to keep the car flat and stable, and provide more feedback to the driver.
Personally, then, I would just drive this car in Sport and enjoy it immensely, but the PHEV badge would feel something of a waste.
The CX-60 can be driven in EV mode, and while it is quieter, it does make a surprising amount of noises, including a kind of moaning breath intake, an “oh, do I have to?” kind of sound.
It’s also lacking in the kind of instant shove and torque punch you expect from EV driving, indeed there’s a bit of lag between throttle application and anything happening.
Really hit the accelerator and you’ll hear and feel, quite noticeably, the engine kicking in. This is also the case in Normal mode, where it switches been electric and engine power, but not in an exactly seamless way.
Again, there’s a bit noise going on, the starter motor in particular is quite loud as it kicks the engine into action and the overall impression is that you can actually hear the car thinking about how best to provide power in any situation, and then feel a slight delay as it does so.
The eight-speed gearbox, smooth and slick in Sport mode, also switches in and out of action here, and perhaps that’s part of the strange sensations you feel.
Again, Mazda engineers suggested that all this should be cleared up and quieted down by the time the production car arrives in Australia.
We shall have to wait and see but personally I find myself more excited about the idea of driving the 3.0-litre straight-six petrol engined versions when they get here.
Mazda’s first effort at pushing into the premium space looks and feels like a success, with some great features, excellent design and plenty of space and road presence.
Driven in its sportiest mode, it’s also carrying a clearly impressive power plant. I’ll have to reserve my verdict on the PHEV system, and how heavy the vehicle feels (it’s just over two tonnes) when you try to drive it in EV mode only.
But if you’re in the market for a big, family PHEV, it’s certainly one to consider.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with travel, accommodation and meals provided.
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