[Disclosure: This blog post is a paid partnership with Green4 Motor Company, a Mazda and Suzuki dealership with branches in Coventry, Leamington Spa and Stourbridge]
Before you worry, Eat with Ellen has not turned into a car blog. But when you’re finding new spots for lunches and dinners (and there is one in here), you tend to need a vehicle to get around in. So for my latest bit of tomfoolery, I’m taking you (retrospectively of course) on a day trip with me to Cheltenham to test out a brand new electric car as well as grab a lunch while we’re at it.
Electric cars are a bit intriguing aren’t they? I’m 100% behind the switch to electric if it’s better for the environment, but when I looked into getting one a year or so ago I’ll admit I backed out. It was all a bit new, required a bit of a bigger bank balance than I had at the time, and I was dogged by the fear that I’d end up phoning someone from the hard shoulder of a motorway having run out of battery.
Fast forward to 2021 and Green4 Motor Company, a local Mazda dealership with branches in Coventry, Leamington and Stourbridge, asked if I wanted to borrow the new Mazda MX-30 – an all-electric SUV – and take it for a day trip. Never one to duck a challenge, I thought it would be a great chance to actually try one of these things for size and see whether it was as difficult as I had feared, or actually a viable replacement for my trusty little car.
To give it a proper test, I planned a ‘girls’ day out’ with my mum and one of the pooches down to Cheltenham – the town I was born in – for a nice drive through the Cotswolds, a lovely lunch and a wander, then a meander back in time for tea. After all, that would test ease of use (and whether mum and I could survive all the new-fangled tech without ending up at each other’s throats), comfort – including roominess in the back for the dog – and general driveability when it comes to getting yourself around the country, in and out of a busy town centre, and all that jazz.
Driving the Mazda MX-30
At first glance, the Mazda MX-30 looks like any other SUV. Generous in size without being too imposing, there’s plenty of room for the whole family – including the dog – and an addition of a panoramic sunroof that makes it feel nice and light and airy. The boot’s pretty generous and I easily fitted all my paraphernalia for an al fresco lunch in the freezing cold first week of May, as well as all of Brandy’s stuff, diva dog that she is.
A nice touch is the way the doors open, which I’m reliably informed are known by the cool kids as Mazda’s ‘suicide doors’. Yes, I didn’t just make that up. In essence, while the front doors open as you’d expect, the back ones open backwards.
It might sound like a gimmick but it actually makes it easy to get your dog in and out while squeezed into a car parking space – or apparently also a child which I imagine is very useful. Unless, of course, you’d prefer to leave them in the back while you go and have a nice peaceful lunch. (That’s a joke kids, don’t freak out).
Inside it’s sleek and modern as well as feeling pretty good quality-wise. It comes with all the gadgetry you’d expect from a car of today. There’s all the mod cons like built in sat nav, hands-free, Apple Carplay and a swanky centre console complete with USB chargers and even a three pin plug socket.
The piece de resistance for me was a head-up display that I noticed in the windscreen a few minutes down the road which really does make you feel like you’re in a car of the future. (Okay, I realise some cars may have had these for a while, but for this girl it was a great novelty).
To drive, the Mazda MX-30 was actually a bit of a surprise. For some reason I expected it to be a bit sluggish, but it felt pretty pokey. I’m no car expert but I want to know when I put my foot down that the car actually goes and this one certainly does. It’s smooth, easy, comfortable, and pretty much everything you’d want from a car. Well, unless you want a sports car, in which case you probably aren’t going to get this anyway, are you?
Charging the Mazda MX-30
And so to the elephant in the room. Charging. I’ll wager it’s the thing that puts most people off driving an electric car. How often will you have to do it? How easy is it to find a charge point? Is it an almighty inconvenience and you’ll wish you could just go to a petrol station?
I’ll be straight with you. An electric vehicle (or EV as they call it in the business) does take a bit of getting used to. With these things, it’s all about range – how far your battery will get you on a single charge before you have to plug it in and charge it again.
At 124 miles, the Mazda’s range is definitely not the best out there, with others well above 200 miles, and some long-range versions from Tesla topping 400 miles. That means even a simple day trip to Cheltenham from Coventry requires some pre-planning.
Of course, there are apps and Google to help find yourself a charge point – but you’ve still got to hope it’s the right kind, that you’re signed up with the right app (note to self – make sure you have these apps before you set off or you might find yourself in a freezing cold car park trying to download an app with no mobile signal). You’ve also got to navigate the difference between rapid chargers, fast chargers, and standard charge points, which is all a bit of a minefield on your first trip out.
That said, after a slightly abortive start, we managed to find a very easy charge point in a shopping centre car park in the centre of Cheltenham and after that it was just a case of logging on to the app, plugging in and leaving the MX-30 charging while we went off to have some fun. Fast forward three hours later and we returned to find it 80% or so charged and ready for the drive home.
Like anything, I think you’d get used to the logistics of planning charging and making sure you’re registered with all the right apps and plan where to stop in the same way you’d make sure you had enough fuel to get to where you want to go to. The lower range isn’t ideal, but I don’t think it’s insurmountable, and I hear tell that Mazda are due to bring out a range extender which will be helpful.
Day-tripping in Cheltenham
And so to the day trip itself. I won’t bore you with chapter and verse on what we did but rest assured it’s a wonderful place for a day trip. Whether you want to wander up and down the Promenade with its designer shops, meander through parks, gaze at regency buildings, or eat somewhere nice, it seems to have it all.
We even took a chance to stroll round Montpellier – the area I spent the first few years of my life in which is now somewhere I’d more than happily spend a few days, full of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, and plenty of stunning architecture and tree-lined avenues.
Lunch at No. 131 Cheltenham
For lunch I chose No. 131 – a hotel and restaurant on The Promenade that promised a great outdoor set-up for the COVID ‘roadmap’ era, as well as a great menu, offering everything from Asian-inspired dishes to pasta, steak and burgers. While the Georgian townhouse interior is lovely, they’ve done a pretty good job of embracing al fresco dining, with a serious marquee covering the whole terrace, complete with heaters, lighting, blankets, and snuggly seating.
To start, we resisted the temptation of bao buns and opted to share a tempura soft shell crab roll. A classic sushi roll topped with tempura fried soft shell crab. Light, fresh, and tasty, though I’ll admit to some jealousy when I watched some Cornish rock oysters go flying past to another table, along with a Korean beef tartare. One for a return trip perhaps…
For main I went for miso glazed salmon, mainly because of the promise of the chilli-fried pak choi and edamame that it came with. A vibrant plate of green, the veg was crispy and slightly sweet, with the warmth of chilli and a hint of sesame, plus some pickled cucumber to add even more freshness. The salmon was well-cooked and overall it was a great, light dish.
Mum had the winning choice though, with Josper-grilled chicken teriyaki served with charred corn, baby leeks and wild rice. The chicken was moist and tender, with the char from the grill adding flavour rather than drying it out, and the charred baby corn were a sweet, crunchy delight that I could happily have munched on all afternoon. Simple, but brilliantly executed.
While the extensive cocktail list and lovely range of wines and fizz were tempting, we steered clear of the alcohol and I finished with a coffee and a mouthful of mum’s English Rhubarb & Blackberry Crumble. The menu reliably informed us it was a plant-based option, so we were even more intrigued.
I’ll admit to not really being able to tell too much of a difference between this and a classic crumble, though I think if you were looking for it you’d notice the absence of that joyful butteriness you get in traditional crumble. The rhubarb was generous, the ice-cream good and she walked away a happy lady.
Staff were attentive, accommodating and friendly – including to the dog – and it was a lovely afternoon. The sheer size of the terrace area meant things seemed to slow down a bit as the afternoon went on, but that’s understandable given the extra work required in trying to keep everyone warm and comfortable in less-than-ideal weather conditions as well as serving them food and drink. Regardless, I’d head back here for a long lunch or cosy dinner at the drop of a hat.
Verdict on the Mazda MX-30
After lunch and another mooch we headed home, wending our way through the picturesque Cotswold towns of Moreton-in-Marsh and Bourton-on-the-Water. It was an easy, comfortable drive home, and enough time to discuss the final verdict on the Mazda MX-30 and our first electric car experience.
It was overall a big thumbs up. The MX-30 is comfortable, good-looking, easy to use, and nice to drive. It’s fairly self-explanatory, has plenty of storage space, room for all the family and yet doesn’t feel cumbersome or clunky. Little touches like the head-up display, the funky doors and all the tech make it feel like a cut above an average car and it’s just all nice and, well, easy.
The one drawback is the range, I won’t lie. But it really does depend on what you are planning to use it for. If it’s your regular car for tootling around, that really isn’t an issue. After all, 124 miles isn’t a mean distance. And for longer journeys, you just might have to plan ahead. Having tested out the concept of plugging in while you go off to do something else, I’ve realised it really isn’t the hardest thing in the world. So yes, electric is the future. And it could well be a Mazda….
[This post is part of a paid partnership with Green4 Motor Company]