Mazda’s latest pitch for premium status.
Most long-established readers of this noble site will know that I am a bit of a Mazda fanboy. A few years ago, I wrote a series of long-term tests regarding my Mazda3 Fastback, and more recently I did a retrospective on the 1983 Mazda 626. I have admired the company’s innovation over the years, its independent spirit and, most recently, its ‘Kodo’ design language. Oh, and I still think that Soul Red Crystal is the still most beautiful paint colour on any mass-production car.
The current Mazda3 is somewhat divisive, mainly due to the arguably over-generously proportioned rear pillar on the 5-door hatch. However, the sophisticated surfacing, restrained detailing and beautifully assembled and finished interior really do rival or even exceed the design standards of premium marques such as BMW, Audi, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. I don’t recall Mazda claiming full-blown ‘premium’ aspirations for the current 3, but much about the car is giving a vigorous nod in that direction.
Enter the CX-60, revealed on the 7th March. A number of this car’s facets shout its premium intent. It seems Mazda has given up politely knocking on the door to the sanctified inner-circle of premium-ness. Instead, this time it has brought one of those battering rams so beloved of police crime thrillers such as Line of Duty, The Killing, or The Bridge.
The CX-60 is the first European-market Mazda to be built on the marque’s new larger vehicle platform. The specifications are cause for salivation, albeit with a slightly old-school menu in mind. It is fundamentally an RWD platform, with 48V mild-hybrid, in-line, 6-cylinder SPCCI petrol and – shock / horror – diesel engines to follow. Initial deliveries will, however, be powered by a 2.5-litre four-pot PHEV which can produce a combined 323bhp and 369lb ft of torque, making this Mazda’s most powerful road car to date. Moreover, this is all Mazda’s own work, not just borrowed from its strategic partner, Toyota. It seems like a stubbornly expensive and independently minded approach.
PHEVs seem very popular electrification solutions at present: people like the long range and easy of refuelling the ICE element, combined with the ability to glide silently and without exhaust emissions around urban areas. Personally, I find the concept a bit clumsy, compromised and likely to have a relatively short shelf-life in some markets, but I get the practicalities. The CX-60 has a claimed range of 39 miles on batteries alone, which is reported as being competitive with the likes of BMW’s equivalent X3 or Volvo’s XC60. However, there is no word of a full BEV version, or the ability of the new platform to accommodate one.
The suspension is similarly, suitably sophisticated. First, weight distribution is optimised. Second, the front features double wishbones, while the rear is a multi-link setup. Third, the whole is equipped with what Mazda calls a Kinematic Posture Control function. This is a software application taking information from existing sensors to apply gentle braking to appropriate wheels when cornering to stimulate a little stiffness from the suspension and so resist roll. Mazda first introduced it in 2022 versions of the MX-5 and it’s probably one of those things you never notice but still makes a subtle difference to the occupants’ comfort.
All very nice so far. Further good news comes from photos showing a very inviting interior (at least to these eyes). The basic layout is again a little conservative or even old-fashioned. Yes, there are screens for the main instruments and infotainment, but physical HVAC controls remain and there is a rotary controller to drive the menus on the central screen positioned on a grand looking centre console. Materials look lovely: I particularly like the use of cloth on the dashboard, trimmed by what’s said to be traditional-to-Japan style stitching. Mazda has been strong on interior ambience for a while now (I liked the use of cork in the MX-30) and this looks to be right up there with the best that Volvo has to offer.
A little later on, there will be a larger version of the CX-60 called the CX-80, which will provide a seven-seat option for those who need to carry more passengers.
So, what’s not to like? Well, the exterior design is, frankly, a disappointment. Having been previously critical of the new Alfa Romeo Tonale, it’s only fair to state that Mazda has in my view scored a rare miss with its new and all-important, premium-sector busting SUV. I find it hard to describe, apart from saying that it looks like a Mazda badge-engineered BMW X3.
It carries too much visual weight. From the side, that lithe and flowing, yet taut and sheer panel surfacing that you get on the Mazda3 does not seem to come through. Most of the images I have seen show the car in a pearlescent white; it might work better in the makes-everything-seem-better Soul Red Crystal colour. Also, there’s not much evidence of ‘Kodo’ about the way the CX-60 looks.
The front elevation also looks heavy: it is cliff-like vertical, lacks relief and is unusually fussy in the detailing for a recent Mazda, all of which have been pleasingly reductive. The headlamps are too small relative to the enormous expanse of spangly grille.
At the rear, the lamps are overly elongated and quite un-Mazda-like in their form; change the badge to a blue and white propeller and 99% of people would believe it to be the X3. It also commits the faux-exhaust sin to which every Audi is currently committed and there’s one of those chromed wing-vent tropes aft of each front wheel-arch.
The good news for Mazda is that I am completely backward, curmudgeonly and ignorant in terms of appreciating what sells to actual buyers these days. The fact that it looks like an X3 could be a hallmark of commercial success: let’s face it, for better or worse, the X3 is a global sales phenomenon. Nevertheless, I hope this is merely a blip in Mazda’s design progression, a company that has previously demonstrated an ability to bring a refinement and elegance to mainstream design which this SUV sorely lacks.
My hopes rest with a potential replacement for the Mazda6 saloon based on the same sophisticated large car platform as the CX-60, one that draws upon the startlingly beautiful design of the RX-Vision from 2017. Reporting on this putative model has died down over the last twelve to eighteen months. I fear that falling demand for the low-riding, three-box saloon format might have sounded the death-knell for this car. I hope I am wrong because I have been preparing to sell one of my less-vital internal organs to purchase one, if the promise of that concept were to be realised in production form.
The final signal of premium intent from Mazda via the CX-60 is its pricing. The (very well equipped) entry-level Exclusive-Line PHEV starts at £43,950 in the UK, with the Homura and top-specification Takumi models starting at £46,700 and £48,050 respectively. These are high prices for a Mazda, possibly the highest they have ever charged, even including the ill-fated Xedos models. Does the Mazda brand name and badge have enough kudos to make people look twice at its offerings at this rarified level? Prices are pitched slightly below the equivalent Germans and the likes of Lexus, but I do note that DS will try to charge you £55k for a less powerful, top of the range, DS7 E-Tense, which is just beyond surreal.
So, I wish Mazda success with its shift into the ‘premiuniverse’ via this expensively engineered, newly platformed, BMW clone of an SUV. However, I am wishing even harder that the CX-60/80 will bankroll the development of the RX-Vision concept into the next production Mazda6. That would be my kind of premium.