I’d like you to ignore the plug-in hybrid SUV bit of the CX-60 for a second and consider instead that this new and otherwise fairly uninteresting Mazda isn’t just any new model, but representative of a whole new era for the quirky Japanese brand. Granted, we’d prefer it if that was something a little less family and eco-focused, but such is the current new car market one can understand the need to launch it in the form of a desirable midsize SUV.
So what is the new CX-60 and why is it any different? Well apart from being Mazda’s first plug-in hybrid in Europe, it’s actually the first of a whole new generation of models that aren’t just merely being pushed up into the premium space on account of marketing speak, but designed from the get-go to be every bit the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi rival.
This much is obvious from the moment you look at the CX-60, as behind the stylish yet familiar Mazda design language sits a brand new architecture that’s rear-wheel-drive-based and designed specifically to fit new in-line six-cylinder combustion powertrains.
The new sixes aren’t quite ready yet – they’ll arrive from the end of 2022 – but when they are there they will be petrol and diesel versions, both chock-full of new energy-saving technologies including a 48V mild-hybrid system. The petrol will also include Mazda’s clever compression and spark Skyactiv-X ignition system, and is naturally aspirated. Yes, Mazda’s launching a naturally aspirated straight-six petrol engine. In 2023. Brilliant.
Until then, there’s this solitary plug-in hybrid powertrain that combines a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a single electric motor and 17.8kWh battery package. Mazda estimates a 39-mile all-electric range is possible with a full battery, and we found around 30 miles in a mix of motorway and town driving to be more accurate. Figures generated from the petrol engine are relatively low-strung at 188bhp and 192lb ft of torque, but the electric motor contributes a chunky 172bhp making the CX-60 PHEV the most powerful Mazda ever with combined figures of 322bhp and 369lb ft. This power will send the all-wheel-drive CX-60 to 62mph in 5.8sec, yet as with all plug-ins, these numbers aren’t as critical as how the powertrain feels on the road.
Long term tests
> Mazda’s next-gen RWD architecture examined
Despite Mazda’s relative inexperience in this department, the CX-60’s calibration is quite impressive. In hybrid mode you’ll drive mostly on the electric motor, but the petrol engine will kick in almost imperceptibly under certain load situations. The electric motor is more than powerful enough to keep in touch with everyday traffic, even at motorway speeds. Within the digital dial pack, the left-hand graphic will show you your power and charge displays, but also the petrol engine’s kick-in point, allowing you to hover just below that point if you’re specifically wanting to keep the IC engine switched off while accelerating. There is a dedicated EV mode too, but the most interesting option is Sport, which does change the car’s character into something more familiar to Mazda’s sportier products.
When selected, that little charge dial is replaced with a traditional rev counter, a visual cue that represents a total change of priorities within the powertrain, leading with the petrol engine that’s now supported with a sizeable kick from the electric motor. Actual performance is about on par with a decent six-pot diesel, but the real trick is how well it’s synced together. Mazda’s decision to fit a naturally aspirated engine is what reaps the benefits here, as there’s no need to wait for a turbo to spool up to gain access to power after meaningful throttle applications. If there is a flaw in the powertrain, it’s an occasional jolt as the petrol motor juts in under hard acceleration from a standstill. A big throttle input gives the system very little time to fire the engine and engage a gear, but it’s a trait not specific to the CX-60.
All of this plug-in tech is pointless if actual fuel economy falls off a cliff, and to this end the CX-60 will happily hover its MPG in the high 40s with a depleted battery. In hybrid mode, over a full day of driving in a mix of urban, high-speed country and motorway journeys, we saw a mid-50mpg figure as the batteries started off fully charged. If your daily mileage is below 30-odd miles and you have ready access to charging, your MPG rating will sky-rocket.
When you approach a corner, no two-ton (2056kg) SUV will ever drive like an MX-5, but things are better than you’d considering the expectation of the masses involved. There’s a solid heft to all the main controls, and almost something – whisper it – Porsche-like about the steering response and body control. Not a Porsche 911, of course, but Macan… The steering, particularly, has a similar granular accuracy and directness, while the damping is surprisingly tight and keeps the body locked down, even overly undulating aggressive tarmac.
As for the rest of the premium bit, the Mazda totally nails its brief aside from one or two caveats. The interior quality is right on par with the premium rivals, and if you splurge for the top-spec Takumi specification, you’re treated to some super-plush finishes with a distinctive Japanese feel. Tech is good in the sense that the digital interfaces are clean and easy to navigate. If you get off on huge touchscreens you might be disappointed, but the CX-60’s click-wheel interface is just so much more intuitive than most German systems.
Where the Mazda does trail its rivals is overall refinement. Tire roar is fairly pronounced, and when running at motorway speeds in EV mode there’s nowhere for it to hide without the white noise of a combustion engine to distract you. The brake pedal is also simply average in terms of feel, with a firm pedal that’s a little too dead at the top of the travel, even if it does a relatively good job of blending regen and friction braking.
It’s not often that we’re given the chance to experience the beginning of a new era from any car manufacturer, let alone one as audacious as Mazda’s by going against the grain in such a dramatic fashion. If this leads to rear-wheel-drive saloons with naturally aspirated six-cylinder engines and a distinct dynamic focus, it’s great news for people such as us who still think there’s a place for such things. For everyone else, let’s just hope they buy enough of these SUVs to vindicate Mazda’s boldness and fund the next MX-5.
Prices and rivals
The CX-60 might be pointing upwards in the market, but it does still have a price advantage against key premium rivals. The entry Executive-Line kicks off at £43,950, rising to £46,700 for the mid-spec Homura and topping out with the £48,050 Takumi. All are well equipped, with higher-spec models generally gaining aesthetic and trim upgrades. There are a few option packs available.
BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi all offer plug-in hybrid options in the X3, GLC and Q5 that start around £52,000 at a base level, rising to more like £60,000 when specified to an equivalent level to the higher-spec CX- 60s. If you’re not into the German stuff, Lexus and Volvo have their own plug-in models in the NX450+ and Volvo XC60 T6, too. Both are priced from around the same price points as the Germans, but then both also take a step away from offering any dynamic edge, instead majoring on comfort.
Spec-wise, they’re all oddly similar, too. Each has around 300bhp, will do somewhere around 30 miles on a charge before the petrol engine kicks in, and come with the same basic features – the Lexus even shares the same top-spec Takumi moniker. It’s no surprise to see Mazda hit this pressure point in the market first, and on all counts the CX-60 resolutely hits its brief.