Mazda CX-60 3.3 e-Skyactiv D AWD

mazda cx 60 2023 review 001 tracking front

All-new straight-six diesel SUV arrives in the UK. Guard of honour for the maverick?

Never change, Mazda. This is the firm that appropriated the British roadster, saving it from extinction, and that championed the rotary engine so dedicatedly that when it plumbed one into a Group C racer, victory at Le Mans followed. Quite incredible. 

Yet 2023 might just bring the most iconoclastic move in its long history. While everyone else is rapidly downsizing and fitting transverse, hybrid powertrains, if not electric ones, Mazda has just come up with a new 3.3-litre turbodiesel straight six that natively drives the rear axle in the form of the Mazda CX-60 3.3 e-SkyActiv D AWD. Have we teleported back to 2003? 

This is a contender for the most unexpected development of recent years, although as we found when we met the Mazda CX-60 3.3 e-Skyactiv D in February (in RWD guise, not the more potent 4WD form here), there are solid reasons for its existence beyond Mazda’s pathological need to do things its own way. 

The first is that Europe isn’t the only place where Mazda sells cars, and other markets are on different regulatory trajectories. The second is more interesting: according to Mazda, in everyday driving, a highcapacity diesel will do everything a 2.0-litre four does but at lower load and temperatures. 

Atypical combustion tech helps thermal efficiency surpass 40%, which is how a 406lb ft, 1950kg 4×4 can get 54.3mpg and emit 139g/km of CO2. Alfa Romeo’s 2.2-litre four-pot diesel Stelvio puts out 59lb ft less yet emits 20g/km more and is 15% or so inferior on efficiency. 

It’s a similar story if you compare the CX-60 with BMW’s 2.0-litre four-pot X3. So the rationale does seem sound. 

As for the reality, the picture is mixed. Cold-start this engine and for a moment the soundscape isn’t 2023 or even 2003 but 1983, at a bus stop. Matters improve markedly with temperature, and when you’re riding all that mid-range torque on a good A-road, the engine shows more of its likeable, rich character. 

But it can still feel anachronistically clackety – a far cry from BMW’s silky alternative – and only modest isolation from road roar at cruising speeds doesn’t help its cause. For a car nudging £50,000 once you’ve gone for the middling trim with an optional pack or two, rolling refinement is lacking, and the diverse and tactile materials of the interior can never assuage that. More impressive is the chassis balance and the easygoing ebb and flow of the steering weight, which are better than the class average and recognisably Mazda. 

When it comes to guiding a mid-size SUV down a decent country road, few do it better than the CX-60, whose gearbox (with two wet clutches rather than a torque converter) is also well calibrated and helps rather than hinders progress. 

For all its coarseness at low temperatures, the engine is also reasonably fun to wring out, spinning freely up to around 4500rpm and with surprising effervescence. The petrol version in development could be sweet indeed. All of which makes the brittleness of the low-speed ride a considerable disappointment. 

The CX-60, on its coil springs and passive dampers, simply isn’t serene enough on town roads to concern the likes of BMW and Audi, whose pricing it only marginally undercuts.

There’s a cheapness to proceedings. The back axle also lacks the control and precision that you get from the Germans, which perhaps sounds a bit irrelevant for this kind of car but, because the CX-60 will otherwise oblige when you really want to hustle it, is worth noting.

With such an ambitious, unusual powertrain, you wouldn’t expect the car’s ride and handling balance to undermine it, but this is the case. Equally, if you like the idea of a handsome, spacious, uncommon SUV that’s quietly rewarding on the right road and will easily get 50mpg, the CX-60 is still worth exploring

Source: Autocar

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