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By Alisdair Suttie

Mazda is one of the less likely entrants to the electric car fold. This is a company that has made much of its commitment to the internal combustion engine and refining it to be cleaner, more economical and powerful all at the same time. So why build an electric car now?

‘Simple’, says the project leader for the Mazda2 EV Mitsuri Fujinaka. ‘All car companies will need an electric car in their line-up to help them meet zero emissions regulations that are coming. It is necessary, but it also offers Mazda the opportunity to explore another area before we’re forced into it.’

What Mazda has come up with is a pleasingly and elegantly simple solution. It has taken its already lightweight Mazda2 supermini, stripped it of all the components related to an internal combustion engine – fuel tank and system, engine, transmission – and replaced them with a battery pack and electric motor.

Zoom-Zoom and Hush-Hush

Although Mazda is keeping exact figures close to its chest for the time being, it’s reasonable to say the electric motor has around 70kW of clout to offer very similar power and performance to the existing 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine in the Mazda2.

We cannot confirm any performance figures, but our highly attuned seat of the pants tells us the EV is nippy off the mark and doesn’t let up until well past the UK motorway speed limit.

During our time behind the wheel on an exclusive world debut drive of the EV, it whooshed its way to 75mph on Mazda’s test track in Hiroshima, Japan. The boon of an electric motor’s instant torque from almost zero revs helps greatly here and the estimated 70kW motor also offers an approximate 148lb.ft of shove.

With almost no noise from the electric motor other than a faint turbine whirr, the EV is very refined and hushed. Wind and road noise are more noticeable than in a petrol or diesel model, but only because there is no engine noise to cover them.

Fujinaka says the aim was to give the EV the same performance as the 1.5-litre petrol model of Mazda2, which means 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds. Again, our scientific seat of the pants suggests the EV is slightly brisker than this and it also offers strong acceleration from urban to motorway limits.

The seamless transmission of the EV further adds to the impression of smooth delivery and also makes this Mazda very easy to drive in a variety of different conditions.

Getting low down and heavy

At lower speeds, the work Mazda has put in to give the throttle pedal greater accuracy and fine-tuned modulation makes the EV very easy to manoeuvre when parking. Where some electric cars’ throttle can be more like an on-off switch at parking speeds, the Mazda’s is very progressive and slick.

This same throttle sensitivity also helps the EV feel every bit as agile and enjoyable as a petrol-powered Mazda2. During our short drive, it was great fun in corners and felt as sprightly and keen as any other Mazda2 we’ve driven, even with the firmer springs and shock absorbers fitted to cope with the added weight of the EV.

Achieving this handling balance has required much thought and work on the part of Mazda’s engineers as the electric motor and lithium-ion battery pack add 100kg to the weight of the EV compared to a standard petrol model.

As much of this weight is carried low in the chassis where the batteries are stored along the transmission tunnel and between the rear wheels where the petrol tank would once have sat, the weight is barely noticed by the driver.

The electric motor is where the petrol engine used to be under the bonnet and drives the front wheels as per a standard Mazda2. Mazda’s engineers have also hinted they are looking at using electric motors to construct all-wheel drive systems, but this is something we’re not likely to see until Mazda launches its first fully fledged electric cars in 2018.

‘Realistic range ‘

The Mazda2 EV will not go into series production, but 100 will be built for use in Japan by government agencies and selected businesses. This trial is being carried out to gather date on the use of electric vehicles and how they fit in to owners’ lives.

Sadly, this means the Mazda2 EV will not make it the UK’s shores, which is a real shame as this is one that rare breed of electric cars that appeals as a keen driver’s car every bit as much as it does as a vehicle to lessen its environmental impact.

It also appeals because Mazda says it has a more realistic range on a single charge of the battery than most other electric vehicles. With a full charge of the lithium-ion battery pack, Mazda says a range of 125 miles is readily achievable, which compares very favourably to the 91 miles a Nissan Leaf can manage before it needs a life line to the National Grid.
As with most electric vehicles, the Mazda2 EV can be quick charged in half an hour to 80% of its capacity, while a full charge needs around eight hours.
The plug-in charger point is positioned where the fuel filler would be on a standard Mazda2, so there are no ungainly extra flaps or gaps in the bodywork. This means the EV can easily pass for a standard Mazda2 on the outside even to the most educated eye.
Inside, it will take a keen pair of peepers to spot the fuel gauge has been replaced with a battery charge indicator. Otherwise, the EV’s cabin is identical to the normal 2’s and offers the same decent space and comfort, as well as the Mazda2’s strong build quality.
In adapting the Mazda2 into an electric vehicle, Mazda’s engineers have not only shown they are capable of achieving this goal, but they are able to do it while retaining the character and appeal of a Mazda. This is no mean feat and it bodes very well for Mazda’s full production EVs in 2018.
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