A Step up in More Ways than One
The Europeans are in their sights.
Things we like
- Quality interior
- Excellent economy
- Sheer punch
- Decent electric range
Not so much
- Ride a little firm
- Pricing may take some getting used to
- Quite heavy
- Needs top Takumi trim to feel really special
It doesn’t look exceptional. Maybe that’s the point, but if you’d never clapped eyes on a Mazda CX-60 before but tried to imagine something that slots in above a CX-5, I’d wager that you’re imagining something like this car.
Although the design language may be familiar, there’s something in the basic proportioning that’s a little different. The bonnet is longer, the cab’s pushed subtly rearwards, and the flanks are slabbier.
But why is it even here? What’s the point of another SUV when Mazda Australia already offers six and has an option on another couple spun off this new platform from Mazda’s Large Product group?
The decision to offer the CX-60 comes via a subtle detail of how customers choose an SUV here in Australia. One of the very first decisions is whether they need two rows of seats or three and while those who need to seat more people are amply catered for by a CX-8 or CX-9, should you prefer two rows of seats, the most you can spend on a Mazda CX-5 is around $56,000.
Should your pockets be encumbered by any more cash than that, you need to start shopping elsewhere.
Naturally, seeing that amount of cash walking out of the door represents something of a problem for Mazda, especially when customers realise that to option a German rival to the specifications of the CX-60 can see the price tag easily tickle into six figures.
In order to plug that hole, Mazda needed something convincing in its execution, confident in its own skin and which offered any number of justifications for spending serious money on a Mazda.
Pricing and Features
How much? Right now we don’t actually know because Mazda Australia isn’t saying. “Too early in the process to be talking specifications, price or rivals,” says local CEO Vinesh Bhindi.
Given the CX-60 PHEV (plug-in hybrid) range opens at £44,000 in the UK, that could easily translate to an $85,000+ car landed Down Under. Mazda’s remaining tight-lipped about the entry-level engine, likely to be a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre, but that powerplant would almost certainly sell the CX-60’s talents short.
Don’t get too excited right now about the much-vaunted straight-six powerplants. They won’t be here until 2023 at the earliest, Mazda having to wrestle with supply chain issues. Kudos to Hiroshima for ploughing money into new internal combustion engine development when the rest of the car industry seems to be doing exactly the opposite. And the technical details do indeed sound mouthwatering.
The 3.0-litre straight-six petrol will feature the next iteration of Mazda’s SkyActiv-X compression ignition technology, while the 3.3-litre diesel that is likely to precede it features a fiendishly complex distribution-controlled partially premixed compression ignition system with dual-zone egg-shaped combustion chambers.
Both engines also feature 48V mild-hybrid tech and both longitudinally-mounted powerplants can be configured with either rear- or all-wheel drive.
As intriguing as these engines are, the CX-60 PHEV might be the most technically interesting of the lot. Mazda’s most powerful production car ever squeezes a system output of 241kW and 500Nm from a combination of a 129kW/217Nm electric motor powered by a 17.8kWh battery and a 141kW/261Nm 2.5-litre petrol engine.
Range solely in EV mode is 63km, which ought to be enough to cover most typical Australian commutes. Driven normally on the first 20km of our semi-urban test route, we saw a figure of 1.0L/100km in hybrid mode.
On twisting country roads and switched into Sport mode, consumption rose to 4.8L/100km, so an overall figure in the 3.5L/100km range would probably be possible. Not at all bad for such a sizeable vehicle.
Were this the extent of the CX-60’s innovations, it’s fair to say our interest would be piqued but this unprepossessing SUV is a serious over-reacher. Not just a new chassis and drivetrain, but also a new double-wishbone suspension design – every other Mazda SUV runs on front struts, with the MX-5 the only other Mazda product thus equipped.
The move to a longitudinal engine layout not only frees up the required space for a pair of A-arms up front, but it also means that there’s a serious amount of under-bonnet real estate, designed to house inline sixes.
Pop the bonnet on the CX-60 PHEV, hang the plastic engine cover from its hook on the underside of the hood and you’re faced with a four-cylinder engine that’s so far back in the bay that the car is effectively front-mid-engined.
The news doesn’t stop there either. Aft of the engine is a compact integrated starter generator and then a new eight-speed automatic transmission that’s been designed to use a wet multi-plate clutch instead of a torque converter, delivering benefits in terms of packaging, response and efficiency. Mazda claims a 22 per cent emissions reduction versus the old six-speed slusher.
Comfort and Space
The cars on the launch event in Portugal were pre-production models, usually an excuse that manufacturers trot out if they feel that the quality isn’t yet up to scratch, but these are genuine early-run vehicles. While the fit and finish are excellent, Mazda could point to some software updates it was unable to run on these vehicles and some odd transmission sounds that it promises are already rectified.
The first handshake with the vehicle is fun. Mazda has introduced a facial recognition system that personalises your settings. Get in, train the camera to recognise your face and it’ll then move the seat into what it thinks is the optimum position. Mine was hopeless.
Even though I have arms like a gibbon, the system moved the driver’s seat so far back that the steering wheel was out of reach. Adjust it manually and re-save the setting and after that you’re golden. It doesn’t solve the problem of being able to physically get into a car that’s been set up for a tiny person quite as adeptly as BMW’s personal keys, but it’s a nice touch to get in and the car welcomes you by name and applies your settings.
Like all modern Mazdas, the CX-60’s fascia is clean and uncluttered, with a high-mounted centre display that’s non-touch responsive, inputs instead coming from a central dial. It works well with Mazda’s proprietary menu structure, but should you use Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, the loss of features such as pinch and zoom functionality can rankle.
There’s a very subtle drive mode controller on the wide centre console that can switch between Normal, Sport, Wet and EV modes. A towing mode is also available, the rated limit being 2500kg for a braked trailer.
The cabin’s a very agreeable place to be. As part of Mazda’s push upmarket, it needs to be. Materials choices reflect the company’s focus on ‘crafted in Japan’, and are at least the equal of anything in the same price bracket.
Unfortunately, the range-topping Takumi trim with its elegant maple wood trim, light Nappa leather and chrome detailing wasn’t available to sample. We’ve also been assured that, for local consumption, a darker colourway than the rather impractical white leather will be on offer.
There’s ample room for one six-footer to sit behind another, although the transmission tunnel does create a slight bump for the middle occupant of the second row. Headroom is excellent front and rear. Even with the 1060mm by 995mm glass sunroof fitted, there’s a stack of space.
I’m 193cm and pretty long in the torso, which proves a challenge in some cars fitted with glass roofs but the CX-60’s seat can be set relatively low if necessary.
The CX-60 feels airier and more comfortable than a CX-5, the centre armrest extended and widened, while the ‘Commander Control’ dial that you use to operate the infotainment has been moved forward by 132mm to sit in a more natural position.
There’s also 44mm more front shoulder width and 50mm more in the rear than its junior sibling. The steering wheel offers 45mm of rake and 70mm of reach adjustment, and even the pedal box is more spacious thanks to ditching the torque converter for a more compact clutch pack.
The hatch offers 470 litres of space with the seats in place and another 100 litres of underfloor storage in some models. The PHEV model we tested had a puncture repair kit and compressor in the space below the boot floor. The available space extends to a hefty 1726 litres if you drop the 40:20:40 rear seats and load the CX-60 to the ceiling.
A couple of tie-downs allow you to restrain loads but there’s no cargo net or divider offered as standard. A hands-free tailgate with a sensor under the bumper has been developed and may well appear on the options list for Australian vehicles. A Bose 12-speaker stereo with SurroundStage processing was also fitted to test cars.
2022 Mazda CX-60: On the road
Mazda has deliberately avoided hugely customisable drive modes, instead claiming that most customers instead appreciate such complexity being stripped away.
Engineers cite the example of the MX-5, which has no customisable drive modes; the CX-60 rides on passive dampers and has no available adjustments to attributes such as engine sound, steering weighting and so on.
The Sport mode holds a gear a bit longer and turns the dial pack red, delivering the full 241kW serving for a 0-100km/h time of 5.8 seconds.
Riding on some fairly run-of-the-mill 235/50 R20 Bridgestone Alenza rubber, the first impression is of powertrain refinement at low demand, but a fair amount of bump and thump coming through the suspension.
The roads in Portugal are typically well surfaced out of town but often horrible in the built-up areas, and it seems the CX-60’s rebound damping in particular could be a little better finessed as the wheels drop into ruts and potholes. The ride was slightly better on the vehicles with 19-inch alloys which wore 225/55R19 Toyo Proxes R246 rubber, though Mazda claimed it had tuned the dampers accordingly for each wheel size.
Another trick borrowed from the MX-5 is Kinematic Posture Control, which nips the brakes at a rear inside wheel during hard cornering, dragging the axle down and reducing body roll. I have some reservations about what effect this may have on pad wear, especially if you routinely drive on twisty roads, but to be fair to Mazda, this isn’t the CX-60’s typical use case.
It’s a neat handler, with quiet and accurate steering and respectable body control. The battery pack is mounted low and centrally towards the vehicle’s yaw centre and the body’s longitudinal rigidity is extremely consistent.
I also got to drive the CX-60 on twisty wet roads and its limits of grip are well telegraphed and the stability control subtly calibrated.
While it does its best to shrug off its 1995kg kerb weight, you’re always aware that you need to manage the CX-60’s masses. It’s happiest pointing and squirting, using the prodigious torque to jet it out of corners.
There’s no scenario when it can direct 100 per cent of torque rearwards, but the electric motor can direct torque rearwards as well as to just the front axle, and it can even drive through a subset of the eight gears. There’s no permanent manual mode available but wheel-mounted paddles will hold a gear for about 15 seconds before the system defaults to Drive once again if there’s no further intervention.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the CX-60 PHEV. It’s often a bad idea to try to integrate too many new ideas at once, yet Mazda has loosed off an avalanche of simultaneous novelty.
Much will hinge on the subtlety of specification and pricing, and there is a possibility that much of the CX-60’s sense of specialness could slightly unravel with the fitment of an unspectacular entry-level engine.
Taken in isolation, the PHEV is a compelling technical achievement and Mazda is confident that its quality and depth of engineering will present a compelling value proposition.
That’s yet to be established but for the time being, don’t let the evolutionary styling fool you. This one’s a very different creature.