2023 Mazda CX-60 | PH Review
Mazda's first PHEV is also its most powerful production car ever. But certainly not its best
By Nic Cackett / Wednesday, 15 February 2023 / Loading comments
I’m going to begin by stating, for the record, that I generally like Mazdas. Mazda is a quirky company that very much does its own thing, and while some of its decisions seem to go against the grain – and against its own interests, even – the rebel in me likes this aversion to convention. Unsurprisingly then, the last Mazda I had a go in got a good write-up. That was the Mazda 6 Tourer, which I found comfortable, roomy, and a nice place to be. It’s an estate, though, and as much as we at PH love a good wagon, SUVs are where it’s at these days, so I was keen to have a go of the company’s latest offering in that department, the Mazda CX-60.
To position it for you, the CX-60 is its top-of-the-range SUV, sitting above the CX-5 and, being a little bigger overall, claims to be roomier, too. And it continues to go against the grain. Soon it’ll be offered with a new generation straight-six engines, a 3.0-litre e-Skyactiv X petrol and 3.3-litre Skyactiv-D diesel, both with rear-wheel drive. Right now though it’s available as a 2.5-litre four-cylinder PHEV with all-wheel drive, though. This is Mazda’s first plug-in, so there’s something novel about it, and, on paper, it makes an impression. The petrol engine and the 175hp electric motor combine to make 327hp and 369lb ft, which makes this the most powerful production car in Mazda’s history. Despite the CX-60 weighing in at 2,146kg (including driver), it’ll hit 0-62mph in 5.8 seconds.
Part of that bulk is 175 kilograms of battery, of course, but with a capacity of 17.8kWh that offers a combined WLTP range of 39 miles. As ever, that’s a welcome bonus if you’re a company car driver, because alongside 33g/km CO2, the BIK tax is pegged at 12 per cent. For private buyers there’s great news as well. Prices for the CX-60 start at £45,420, and even the mid-range, sportier Homura trim I’ve been driving only bumps that up to £48,115. Sure, that’s X3 and Q5 money, but only the base models. If you want an X3 30e PHEV that’s £54,000, and it won’t come stacked to the gunwales with kit like the CX-60.
For example, all CX-60s come with a head-up display, keyless entry, a powered tailgate, heated front seats and blind spot monitoring. The Homura shores that up with extras like 20-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, heated outer rear seats and a 12-speaker Bose stereo. That’s proper high-end luxury stuff. Oh, and I forgot to mention that it has electric front seats and a powered steering column as well, but you don’t have to press the buttons to adjust these yourself. The CX-60 has a party piece. Simply tell it your height and it’ll adjust the seat and steering wheel for you. And when it’s done, you can program the seating position along with other preferences, like the head-up display, sound system and climate control settings, and using facial recognition it’ll adjust them all back to how you like them if someone else has been using the car. Again, all without pressing a button.
On top of that the driving position is ace, with perfectly placed armrests and a supportive driver’s seat, and there’s plenty of space in the front. Rear space isn’t great, mind. When I tried getting in behind my seating position knee room was very tight, and getting out of the narrow door aperture was a struggle, too. The boot space is decent, though. It has 570 litres available, which is miles better than an X3 plug-in. That’s because the X3 loses luggage space for the batteries, whereas here they’re packaged properly so you even get a modicum of underfloor storage for the cables.
The CX-60’s cabin is also a fantastic place to be on the quality front, which makes you wonder how they do it for the price. Well, I do know how, because there are cheaper plastics in there compared with what you’ll find in an X3 – but Mazda is brilliant at hiding them away. So what you see and feel 95 per cent of the time is leather and other soft finishes or lavish trims – the top-end Takumi trim has white maple wood veneers that look genuinely impressive and a far cry from other non-premium SUVs.
The other great thing about Mazda is its people seem to have some common sense. They understand the stupidity of coating an interior with touch-sensitive buttons or shoving everything on a touchscreen. All the CX-60’s buttons are physical ones, and the 12.3-inch infotainment screen is operated via an iDrive-style rotary controller. If you work for VW and you’re reading this, get yourself along to a Mazda showroom and try it. Then drive home in your company car and tell me the Mazda way isn’t better. It just is. The rotary controller makes scrolling through the menus a piece of cake while you’re moving, although I will caveat that slightly. When it comes to using Apple CarPlay, it would be easier to have the option of using it via a touchscreen, which is what BMW offers, simply because that’s how Apple designed it to work.
The other thing I’ll mention, purely as an aside, is the number of people who came up to me saying what a handsome car I had. One person thought it was a BMW from the back, and another said it “looks very classy.” I would tend to agree, although I don’t think it’s Mazda’s best design; there’s something a bit slab-sided about it, but judging from my week besieged with compliments, clearly I’m in the minority.
Those are the good bits. Now it’s time to tell you about the bad. To start with, the drivetrain feels like it’s from a prototype that’s a year away from production. The changes from the eight-speed auto thump – not all the time, but often enough to know it’s a problem – and there are engine vibrations coming up through the column. I also noticed some drone from the back axle at certain speeds. The engine itself sounds okay for a four-pot; it’s loud when you gun it but has a reasonable degree of mechanical smoothness. On part throttle – around town or on the motorway – there’s also a bit of background murmur.
But that’s nothing compared to the numerous whines and whirrs you get when you’re running in EV mode. That’s when it’s meant to be silent, but instead of peace and tranquillity there’s induction noise from the motor and a bit of gearbox whine for good measure. That’s the other thing. Because the motor transmits torque through the gearbox, you feel the gear changes, which seems at odds with basic concept of EV travel. That’s the advantage of, say, Volvo’s method, which is attaching the motors to the back axle and leaving the old-hat ICE bit to power the front wheels separately.
Furthermore, the EV performance seems a bit weak. It’s fine for travelling around town or even sailing gently up to motorway speeds, but up steep hills it was flat. At one point, when the car was telling me I had five miles in the battery, the performance was so poor it was like driving in limp mode. On the plus side, the combined performance is strong. The motor gives you a good initial hit and that’s followed up by strong surge from the petrol engine that’s easily good enough to make overtaking opportunities out of relatively small gaps. Bear in mind when you rag it with no battery assistance the economy is takes a hit: the worst figure I saw was 27mpg, while driven sensibly it sat in the mid-thirties.
Then there’s the EV range. An official 39 miles is good, and way better than the 30 miles an X3 30e will manage, but there are rivals out there that do better. A Toyota Rav4, for instance. It’s around the same money, offers similar performance, yet officially does 46 miles on a single charge. That means you pay 8 per cent BIK instead of the CX-60’s 12. And I’d like to tell you what the CX-60 managed in the real world, but I can’t. I did charge up the battery and prepare for a thorough test to see what it would do, but even though I was in EV-only mode, the engine cut back in with about 15 miles range left in reserve. Confused, I fiddled with the drive-mode selector and a message came up to tell me Mi-Drive wasn’t available. That scenario, of the engine cutting in even with battery range available, happened several times, so the best I can do is estimate that you might get around 30 miles if you’re gentle with it.
I’ll give the brakes a tick, because while there’s some woodenness to the pedal under hard braking, overall, the braking response is good for a hybrid with regen to deal with. I also thought the CX-60 handled okay, but it doesn’t qualify as sporty simply because it’s a Mazda. Far from it in fact. It has a fine amount of grip, reasonable balance, which you can adjust using the throttle, and not much body roll. But the vertical body movements can, at times, get quite unruly and that affects the comfort, too. Even at speed on a motorway, if you’re confronted with a series of bumps they set up quite a bucking motion from the back end, and that’s despite a stiff spring rate. Well, I assume it’s stiff, because the ride on 20-inch wheels over broken Tarmac is harsh. How harsh? Put it this way, I noticed bumps in the CX-60 that weren’t there in the Ford Mustang I had the week before.
The worst thing about the CX-60, though, is the steering. It’s fine when you’re into a corner, with a good amount of weighting, but the on-centre connection is dire. There’s so much going on with it that I struggled to work out what the issues were. The steering tune is ultimately at fault, because it has so little feedback over the first few degrees, but it also seemed too quick away from centre and allowed a degree of tramlining that knocked the car off course. It’s one of the most tiring cars I’ve ever driven on a motorway because you are constantly making corrections to keep it in the middle of the lane.
Even the tailgate was doing odd things. One morning, I came out to find it half open. I presume the sensor that stops it latching if there’s an obstruction can see ghosts because the same thing happened again and again, and when I noticed at the time, there was definitely nothing there. Or was there? I keep thinking I’d received a dud car – that they cannot all be this disappointing. I do hope that’s the case. It’s such a shame, because there’s so much to like about the CX-60, and there’s always the hope it might redeem itself with the new straight-six engines that are about to launch in the UK. But from the evidence of this drive, I couldn’t live with the PHEV, and that’s a shame. As far as Mazdas are concerned, that verdict goes against the grain. And not in a good way.
SPECIFICATION | Mazda CX-60 e-SKYACTIV PHEV AWD Homura
Engine: 2,488cc, four-cylinder
Transmission: eight-speed auto, all-wheel drive
Total power (hp): 327 (175 electric motor)
Total torque (lb ft): 369
Top speed: 124mph
Weight: 2,146kg (inc. driver)
MPG: 188.3 (WLTP)
CO2: 33g/km (WLTP)
EV Range: 39.15 miles (WLTP)
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