Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Japanese culture abounds in Mazda's hybrid SUV

Steve Rogers drives Mazda’s new flagship SUV

Meet the CX-60 a car steeped in Japanese culture and, at last, powered by a plug-in hybrid engine.

Mazda has hardly been in a rush to join the hybrid fold, in fact it has been at the back of the pack while the medal hopes race off into the distance. May be they have been cautious making sure they get it right, well we will soon find out because apart from CX-60 the floodgates will be opening with five plug-in, five hybrid and three EVs in the pipeline for 2025.

Before that CX-60 will get mild hybrid six-cylinder three-litre petrol and 3.3 litre diesel engines which shows Mazda’s continued commitment to the internal combustion engine, or ICE as we have come to know it.

And Mazda is still staying clear of the now conventional smaller engine boosted by turbo power. UK managing director Jeremy Thomson told me they are not giving up on ICE because bigger engines are more efficient and produce less vibration. But we will see the return of the famed rotary engine in the next tranche of hybrid engines.

So where does CX-60 fit in? Although it shares the same Kodo design DNA as CX-5 it is a bit bigger and easily caters for three adults in the back thanks to a wider body. It is four wheel drive only so you do not gain that much extra in boot space over its sibling.

If the banner headline is hybrid then the sub head will be top notch quality. Mazda has been knocking on the premium sector door for a while, quite a few models have already made the grade in my book, but CX-60 takes it a step further.

Step inside the car and see what is meant by Japanese culture. Traditional crafts have been used to bring surfaces to life. We are not just talking soft to touch materials, on the top Takumi model you will see exquisite traditional fabrics and needlework known as Musubu which creates hanging stitches across the dash panel, along with another Japanese craft where maple wood trim is hand-made and replicated for mass production.

As far as the cabin goes, quality is as good as you will find in any BMW, Jaguar, Lexus, Audi or Mercedes.

Pity that to get the best you have to pay top dollar, not that CX-60 is overpriced compared to its illustrious rivals, anything but, although it has to be said that the darker trim in the entry Exclusive Line is quite underwhelming by comparison.

Dashboard layout is crisp and clear, a new digital driver’s binnacle with coloured head-up display, clear buttons for heating controls and a 12.3in screen for all the sundries with Mazda’s tried and trusted centre console mounted rotary controller. As always, the system is beautifully clear and a doddle to use.

With 320bhp on tap and a credible 500Nm or torque this is the most powerful Mazda money can buy but does it have the same dynamic prowess as, say, an Audi Q5? Big SUVs are not always the  most exhilarating to drive although the German marques have raised the bar.

To be fair Mazda has always been strong on producing cars to satisfy enthusiastic drivers and although CX-60 is a heavyweight SUV it is an engaging drive and comfortable as well. Our route through Snowdonia presented a challenge, narrow roads, laced with twists, humpbacks and dubious surfaces yet, in sport mode, the big fella was the master of all.

Power delivery from the 2.5 litre petrol is rapid enough, occasionally marred by a clunky change from the 8-speed automatic. Steering wheel paddle shifters keep performance levels on song when pushing along.

As a plug-in CX-60 can, in favourable driving conditions, provide 39 miles of electric motoring which translates into 188mpg. Take that with a pinch of salt because once the battery is empty it is back to good old petrol power although that should be good for 50mpg plus.

There is a mountain of safety features and high quality tech including facial recognition that stores driver profiles for seating position etc, and gives a friendly ticking off if your eyes wander from the road ahead.

The range starts with Exclusive Line at £43,950, Homura, the expected best seller, at £46,700 and £48,050 for Takumi. Given its extensive spec right across the range this is a good price against the rest of the premium division.

The big question: Is CX-60 worth the step up from CX-5, a much underrated SUV in my book? On the basis that there is a little more space, much better economy and lower engine emissions, along with a very classy interior, the answer is yes. Hang on a bit longer and there will be an even bigger seven seat CX-80.

I am giving it nine out of 10, it would have been a full house but for the clunky transmission.

Fast facts

CX-60 AWD 8sp auto

Range £43,950-£48,050

2.5 litre plug-in hybrid; 320bhp

0-62mph 5.8secs; 124mph

33g/km. 1st tax £55

Insurance group 44

Boot: 570-1726 litres (to ceiling)

Towing capacity 2,500kg

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