A tale of two hybrids: Mazda's plug-in CX-60 takes on the BMW X3 Hybrid
It's 9am. Photographer Jonny Fleetwood and I are waiting with the succinctly-titled BMW X3 Hybrid xDrive 30e xLine and looking somewhat suspicious in a layby as we wait for Ollie ‘fast hands / fast talking’ Kew to turn up in our long-term Mazda CX-60 hybrid.
Not a man to mince his words is Kew. He climbs out, immediately crowns the BMW the winner and asks to go home. Obviously, that’s not how we test cars at TG. We spend the day tooling around getting to know in painstaking detail each car thoroughly and crafting these photos you see before you. And while Kew is only joking, he voices a point many would assume – that BMW versus Mazda means one obvious winner.
Mazda is pitching the CX-60 directly at the X3 and is hoping to steal some of the lucrative premium SUV market. It’s the Japanese company’s first plug-in hybrid. What I find fascinating is how two manufacturers can come up with essentially the same idea but with two very different end results. Much like the Red Bull and Mercedes F1 cars this season.
We should probably start with the price. The X3 as tested is a whopping £59,600. First blood to the cheaper £53,270 CX-60. The Mazda feels (and is) a lot bigger than the X3 so one could argue it’s better value for money. For my penny’s worth I think the Mazda looks more stylish too, but then again that’s not saying a lot with the way BMW design is going these days.
The X3 shouts “grr you must drive me hard and hurry up you’re late”, while the CX-60 seems to whisper “take your time".
And that’s reflected in the design of the interiors too. I really love the calm, softer Japanese feel versus the angry, hard-edged fussy design of the BMW. I also like that both have a smattering of physical buttons instead of a touchscreen obsession. The X3’s graphics look more sophisticated and futuristic with moody and bright neon blue colours, but I find it more complicated compared to the CX-60’s more classical and simple approach. In the BMW you have to delve through so many menu layers to get what you want, while the Mazda just does it in one. Overall, I’d take the look of the X3’s graphics but with the simplicity of the CX-60, please.
However, when it comes to driving, these two do not conform to type. Instead of being demanding and petrolheady to drive, the BMW has light steering, a slick synergy between the electric and petrol exchange, and is effortlessly composed on the road.
And the Mazda is the total opposite of its Zen-like feel when you get behind the wheel. It has heavy steering, a jerky indecisive hybrid/petrol engine transition (cue some embarrassing hopping when setting off) and suspension with more bounce than an adult on a space hopper. I can almost forgive the hybrid system not being as good as the BMW’s – after all the German carmaker has been doing it for a lot longer than Mazda – but it’s the dynamics that I can’t quite get my head around.
Put simply, the Mazda feels rawer than the BMW. I know, this is an odd descriptor to use when talking about heavy family SUVs. But the CX-60 just feels more mechanical. That’s fine in a sports car, but when I’m transporting my family, I would much prefer stability and lightness of touch. To be honest, I reckon if Mazda can get that right this would be a very credible rival to the BMW – notwithstanding the hybrid part, somewhere in the CX is a decent car.
When the whole 323bhp powertrain wakes up, the Mazda has an undeniable turn of speed for its weight (2,146kg). Under the bonnet there is so much space in front of the engine you could probably fit another battery. Of course, that space is fully utilised when the CX-60 is specified with the straight-six engine Mazda also offers. Stay tuned for more on that in the coming months.
We managed about 20 miles of e-range in the X3; the CX-60 fared better than that, achieving at least 25 miles. In my opinion, both companies really should be doing much more to increase the electric range of their hybrids if they’re to persuade a large number of customers in to them.
So was Ollie’s gut right? Sadly, for Mazda, it was. The CX-60 lacks that sense that it’s been developed with absolute attention to detail. Right now, the hybrid version is still on the learning curve.