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Driving to 2030

Split 2nd

Time traveling aboard a trio of futuristic EVs in the here and now

A LONG TIME ago in a galaxy, far, far away…

That’s how I would start if I were to write about a test drive of Luke Skywalker’s X-34 Landspeeder, or a test flight of an old yet stealthily fast Corellian freighter that’s co-piloted by a Wookie.

But I’m writing about vehicles of the future — not of those a long time ago. And the galaxy I’m referring to is our very own — not one far, far away. So, let’s start crystal ball-gazing. Better yet, come join me on a ride of some groundbreaking new cars coming up in this decade. Why gaze when you can drive, right?

I’ve driven in Mazda’s Mine Proving Grounds in Japan before. It was a rainy day in 2018, when Southeast Asian journalists clustered under transparent umbrellas as we waited our turn to take the wheel of the then-new Mazda3. This time, the Land of the Rising Sun lived up to its name as brilliant sunshine greeted us as we walked to the paddock — almost like it was smiling on us as most of us were traveling abroad for the first time after the pandemic. This time, we would be driving Mazda’s landmark model, the head-turning new MX-30.

The MX-30 looks like a crossover, but doesn’t have the “CX” prefix that denotes Mazda’s line of crossovers. Instead, it has the “MX” prefix that’s used in just one other Mazda car, the ageless and delightful MX-5. Hmm.

But what actually makes the MX-30 such an important model for Mazda is the fact that it’s the Hiroshima brand’s first-ever full-electric car — marking Mazda also as one of the very few car makers to jump straight to EVs from internal combustion (IC) engines without going through a hybrid phase.

The MX-30 does not try to go for a mind-boggling driving range or stupendous acceleration figures. As always, this Mazda strives for that hard-to-find balance between functional practicality, dynamic sportiness, and real-world zero-emissions driving.

As such, the MX-30 sports a lightweight 35.5kWh battery — just enough for roughly 160 kilometers of range. For the majority of people who drive 30 to 40 kilometers a day for their home-office-home commute, that’s enough juice to power the MX-30 through four to five days — almost a whole work week. Of course, it also has a 50kW rapid charger that lets you top up the battery from 20% to 80% power in 36 minutes — enough for that coffee break on that out-of-town jaunt.

But if that’s still not enough for you, Mazda is developing a range-extended MX-30 with an ultra-clean-burning Skyactiv-X gasoline-fed rotary engine. Nope, the rotary engine won’t be driving the wheels (it has no transmission or driveshaft that connects it to the wheels); it will just charge the battery or power the electric motor as you drive when the battery is depleted. With that rotary engine, perhaps they should have called it the RX-30, after all.

The Angeles Crest Highway never gets old. It’s like driving up to Baguio with all the pine trees and the zigzag roads, although the straight stretches are longer. Each drive is a memorable one — but this one is even more so. It’s a drive of Ford’s much-anticipated Mustang Mach-E. Curiously, my last drive up this beautiful serpentine highway was also in a Mustang — the then-all-new 2014 model.

Even curiouser is how the makers of two timeless sports cars — the Mazda MX-5/Miata and Ford Mustang — are positioning their next-generation electric vehicles to continue the legacies of their sporting stablemates by retaining their legendary “MX” and “Mustang” nomenclatures — even if they have morphed into crossovers or SUVs.

I am continually reminded of this EV’s identity with a plethora of Mustang design and performance cues. It starts with the galloping horse logo on the closed grille. The side view retains the fastback roofline of the Mustang while the rear, for me, bears the strongest resemblance to its muscle car roots, thanks to the wide flanks that give the rear fenders their muscular shape and the triple vertical taillight strips that bracket that iconic galloping horse in the middle.

Of course, the Mach-E wouldn’t be a Mustang if it didn’t have the performance worthy of the name. The flagship Mach-E GT Performance Edition harnesses 480 horses in its underhood corral and delivers 860Nm of tire-smoking torque for a zero-to-60mph run in 3.5 seconds — all while achieving a driving range of 430 kilometers.

If the Mach-E is the future of SUV-loving America’s iconic pony car, it will have a very bright future indeed.

I’m driving the Volvo C40 Recharge in its home country. The C40 is the first Volvo available only as a pure-electric car. It has no internal combustion variants and is just one of a formidable range of purely electric models that form part of Volvo’s commitment to the world that it announced way back in 2018 — that half of its models will be purely electric by 2025, to be followed by an exclusively all-electric lineup by 2030, and to be climate neutral across its full value chain by 2040 (as part of the 2015 Paris Agreement among 197 countries).

It’s a fairly long, nearly 400-kilometer drive to the Swedish capital of Stockholm from the Volvo headquarters, but the wizards from Scandinavia were confident that the C40’s 400-plus-kilometer driving range would make the journey without a recharge.

It seems that they’re cutting it close, but this sleek yet fun-to-drive (zero-100kph in 4.5 seconds) zero-emissions crossover, traversing light traffic and incredibly clean streets and highways (Sweden has a tiny 10.23 million population — less than that of Metro Manila), is the perfect vehicle to do it with. In any case, our C40 test units came equipped with Volvo’s 150kW DC fast charger, which can charge the battery from zero to 80% power in 40 minutes.

Three crossovers/SUVs. Three pure electric vehicles. Zero emissions. It’s truly an electrifying sea change that we will be seeing and experiencing this decade. The clear skies of a planet that has hopefully reversed its previously inexorable trend towards the destructive effects of global warming will be much more than just the icing on the cake. And is the happily ever after we all want — fairy tale or otherwise.