Mazda MX-30 2021 long-term review
Mazda doesn’t do things by halves – except EV range. We put its first one to the test
*Why we ran it: *Does Mazda’s unusual debut EV make daily driving a joy, or will its limitations frustrate over time?
-Month 5 - Month 4 - Month 3 - Month 2 - Month 1 - Specs-
-Life with an MX-30: Month 5-
*Can the electric crossover charm enough customers into overlooking its modest range? Here’s our final verdict - 29 September 2021*
Let’s get it out of the way in the first sentence: no, an official range of 124 miles is not enough to position Mazda’s first EV as a zero-emission runaround with mass appeal.
I won’t leave it to that blunt conclusion to comprehensively summarise our past few months with the MX-30, but as that was our primary concern when the car arrived, and has been the subject of much discussion since, it makes sense to address it quickly and onclusively. The MX-30’s 35.5kWh battery is among the smallest fitted to any mainstream EV, let alone its SUV-shaped contemporaries, and as such it can’t help but feel like a bit of a step backwards in our great push to normalise the electric car, and to prove that they can be used every day.
Of course, there is the argument that, for some, just over 100 miles of usage (as we determined to be our car’s real-world offering) will prove ample, but we must acknowledge that drivers with such requirements will live predominantly in urban areas, where public charge points remain in short supply and domestic solutions are, for many, unattainable.
Compounding these infrastructural shortcomings is the MX-30’s frustratingly limited charging capacity. You might expect such a small power unit to be usefully capable of rapid replenishment, but a maximum top-up speed of 50kW means serious thought must go into planning even journeys of middling distance.
Fortunately, I was able to charge at the weekends using Ubitricity’s street-side chargers, which went some way to alleviating my range anxiety on errand runs and supermarket trips, but still never would I unthinkingly stray from the bounds of the M25 without a keen eye on the battery gauge.
All of which prompts the question: what was the MX-30 designed to do? It looks bigger than the similarly urban-oriented Honda E and Mini Electric but is just as averse to longer jaunts and, actually, is not a great deal more practical. I hardly noticed its restricted capacity for the first few months of stewardship because coronavirus restrictions meant only my partner and I were ever in the car together, but as the rules relaxed and car sharing became possible again, I found its compact proportions increasingly annoying. The ‘suicide’ rear doors may hark back to the cult- classic RX-8 coupé, but they’re no more usable in a crowded car park now, many years later, and even children found the rear seats to be less than roomy.
All of these criticisms I must temper by admitting that the MX-30 did just about cope with a four-passenger, 100-mile airport run recently, but I had to take the Ryanair approach and discourage my friends from bringing extra hand luggage and only made it home with around 10 miles of charge remaining. It would have been less stressful, albeit far more expensive, to just book an Uber.
That just about does it for criticisms, and though they have huge implications for the overall feasibility of owning an MX-30, they can be overlooked by a substantial pool of buyers who have limited requirements of their car, and it would not do to disregard this EV’s standout strengths, of which there is no shortage.
As the electric SUV’s dominance in the mainstream market continues, Mazda has performed no small feat in presenting an attractive and desirable proposition with bags of kerb appeal. Show me another new compact SUV that invites admiration at charging points and praise from neighbours.
It helped that our car was specified in the pricey Brilliant Black over Soul Red two-tone livery, but the steeply raked roofline, chunky B-pillars and sharp bonnet overhang inject a touch of muscle into the silhouette and help to mark the MX-30 out, particularly given its accessible pricing.
That’s probably the driving factor in the MX-30’s appeal, actually: a starting price of just £26,045 lines it up almost perfectly against the MG ZS EV, and I know which I’d rather see in my driveway, even if the Chinese- built car musters a slightly longer range and has a much larger boot.
It’s not as if the Mazda feels particularly cheap, either (unlike the ZS, it must be said): the cabin’s design offers a commendable balance of uniqueness and utility, the infotainment is a dream to use and the fit and finish is on a par with much more costly alternatives. The seats verged on the firm side, but the appropriately tuned suspension allowed for a well-resolved primary ride and a surprisingly cushioned and quiet treatment of potholes, speed bumps and kerbs.
There came a point – not long after it arrived, to be honest – when I began treating the MX-30 as the ‘second car’ it will no doubt be viewed as by customers. With longer journeys effectively ruled out, it became my day-to-day city runabout, a role in which it performed admirably and with minimal compromise. Station shuttling, school running, supermarket sweeping: these are the duties best performed by the MX-30, and if that really is all you need your car to do, it should be very high up your list.
Will the MX-30 become as regular a sight on Britain’s roads as the BMW i3 with which it shares those visually appealing (but decidedly impractical) backwards-opening rear doors? The German EV had a similarly limited range at launch, after all. But it also felt truly unique within its class, and wore a premium badge. Brand snobbery aside, the Mazda, while distinctive, just doesn’t stand out in quite the same way.
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*Handles like a Mazda *Accessible dynamic verve is not to be ignored in a 1600kg SUV with affordable aspirations.
*Form and function *Refreshingly unique cabin design makes the MX-30 feel a lot pricier, but not at the cost of ergonomics.
*Ever the realist *Charge indicator was faultlessly reliable and realistic, helping to abate range anxiety.
*Bit of a squeeze *Cramped cabin confuses the MX-30’s positioning: is it a family crossover or a supermini?
*Lacks punch *Tiny EV motor can’t get the MX-30 off the line particularly quickly, meaning rivals feel nippier.
*Final mileage: 1550*
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*How closely related is our EV to its famous MX-5 namesake? - 8 September 2021*
Ford has done it with the Mustang, MG has done it with the ZS and soon Opel will do it with the Manta. What is it about hallowed sporting model names that makes them such attractive options for newfangled and entirely unrelated SUVs, often of the electric variety?
Perhaps understandably, such overtly nostalgia-bating marketing ploys have attracted their fair share of criticism from enthusiasts (we once fantasised about the Ford Capri coming back as a jacked-up EV and had to go into hiding for weeks), but Mazda seems to have got away with slotting its new electric crossover into the MX lineage.
Surely the weighty, upright and underpowered MX-30 can’t have demonstrable or tangible links to the flagbearer of that model family, the MX-5? I’ve previously suggested that the relationship is detectable, but only a back-to-back stint in each would determine whether that was any more than a case of me being drawn in by the marketing hype.
Seeing them side by side for the first time, I felt that maybe I had been a bit naive; the MX-5 is the archetypal two-seat sports car, and the MX-30 is… well, actually, in a bit of a grey area when it comes to categorisation. But folding myself into the former’s low-slung bucket seat didn’t feel too far removed from the latter, which places its driver lower than its rivals (it feels far more like a hatchback than an SUV from behind the wheel), and the overall control layout and ergonomics are remarkably similar.
The MX-30 one-ups its sporty sibling with a materially richer and visually more interesting interior and a more advanced infotainment system, however, and there’s the obvious usability edge provided by its rear seats and bigger boot. I’m not choosing a victor, remember, but merely considering the links.
You might expect the EV’s instant torque to enable comparable off-the-line performance but, alas, the MX-30’s almost tediously slow 9.7sec 0-62mph time is brutally shaded by the smaller MX-5’s 6.5sec. Further ‘sporting’ points are lost for the obvious fact that you barely have any part to play in the accelerative process, while in the MX-5 you make your way merrily through a very tactile six-speed manual gearbox.
The two have slightly more in common when the road gets bendy, however. Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that the MX-5, long upheld as one of the most accessible, capable and engaging sports cars on the planet, handles like a 1.6-tonne, four-seat EV.
But of the urban-oriented EVs currently on sale, the MX-30 is surely among the more engaging. Low-speed tomfoolery is easily achievable in the SUV, much as it is in the MX-5, and I genuinely do sometimes go for a drive in our long-termer just for the hell of it. So, like I say, there is a link there.
Historically, the MX tag (short for Mazda Experimental) has been reserved for those more “sporty and unconventional” models – perhaps those that Mazda knew wouldn’t be the most reliable revenue generators. Production predecessors include the MX-3 and MX-6 coupés, but really it’s the originator of the family, the radical 1981 MX-81 concept, that’s the MX-30’s spiritual forebear.
“Mazda has consistently proven its ability to defy convention, not simply settling for the norm or status quo but constantly striving to challenge and push the boundaries of design, styling and engineering,” the firm said as it presented the MX-30 beside the restored MX-81 earlier this year.
Essentially, then, abnormality is the factor that unites MX models, and in nearly all respects you could say that that’s exactly what sets the MX-5 and MX-30 apart from their competitors.
*Exclusive EV *Mazda probably isn’t loving the MX- 30’s rarity, but it doesn’t half stand out in a sea of Nissan Leafs, Tesla Model 3s and Volkswagen ID 3s.
*Locked up *The auto lock is overexcitable and the auto unlock works only if you pull the door handle twice.
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-Life with an MX-30: Month 4-
*Hardly a long-distance cruiser - 11 August 2021*
You would have to imagine that a chuckle rippled through the halls of Ujina when one jokester at Mazda decided the MX-30 needed a driver alertness warning. When the coffee cup icon and ‘take a break’ message popped onto the speedo, I had only driven about 60 miles and needed to charge anyway. Little danger of over-extending your concentration in something with legs this short.
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-Life with an MX-30: Month 3-
*Turning heads among precious metal - 28 July 2021*
Seeing the crowds gathered around our long-termer’s identical twin (VX21 KNJ) at the Festival of Speed reminded me just how unusual and attractive the MX-30 is. At one point, there were more punters checking out the Mazda’s boot space and rear leg room than there were gathered around the 1900bhp Pininfarina Battista nearby.
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*Dynamically speaking, our Mazda EV is showing itself to be more Mazda than EV - 21 July 2021*
It drew a confused look from my next-door neighbour when I started piling tools, petrol cans, oil and a 12V battery into the boot of the MX-30 but, although I’m excited to try the forthcoming rotary range-extender variant, I don’t have the skills to carry out a combustion conversion on our long-termer.
No, I was using the Mazda as a support vehicle in my attempts to rescue my Volkswagen Beetle from a five-year slumber and to see what it really has to offer dynamically over the rest of the electric SUV crop.
Heavy rain the night before had made my hometown’s crumbly country roads particularly inhospitable, and the periodic appearance of a brave rabbit, deer or cyclist gave the brake pedal and front tyres a workout.
The roads in question have poor sight lines, unpredictable cambers and a number of tight curves – not the sort of environment in which an electric runaround usually shines, but Mazda has worked wonders in bestowing on the MX-30 some of the dynamic finesse of its more overtly performance-focused offerings.
I was so surprised by how much I was enjoying myself that I started driving with an exuberance that I came to regret about nine minutes later, when I saw that I had brutally slashed my indicated remaining range, covered the car in a thick film of Kentish grime and filled my tool tray with three-year-old petrol.
Later in the day, when it briefly and miraculously fired into life, it genuinely looked like my 50-yearold VW antique would be a better bet for the return journey, given the relative lack of EV chargers in London’s outer fringes, but range anxiety comes a very distant third to fire and blowout anxiety on my list of concerns, so I ‘fired up’ the MX-30.
The drive home was taken at a slower pace to conserve range, but I was still impressed by this EV’s uncharacteristically cushioned ride over lumps and bumps and how quickly the comfy seats helped my back recover from a few hours spent hunched over a Haynes manual.
All in, my day felt like a metaphor for the near future of enthusiast motoring: fuel-burning toy for occasional use and tinkering, well-rounded EV for the daily. The strange thing is that, despite their radically different positioning, age and makeup, I’ve never gone more than 125 miles between fill-ups in either car.
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-Life with an MX-30: Month 2-
*Not even a reversing camera can pick up all shunts from behind - 30 June 2021*
As if in recognition of its inherent range and roominess shortcomings, the MX-30 makes welcome concessions to practicality in other areas. At least, it does in our high-spec test car.
There’s the reversing camera, for one: its sensible mounting point and high-resolution display make it much crisper and less prone to dirt than those of several rivals, and the parking sensors don’t get overly stressed out if you come within five yards of a singular blade of grass.
The infotainment, too, is an absolute joy to use, standing out by virtue of its simplicity, accessibility and slick functionality. I would like to praise the volume knob in particular, which just last week I realised can be moved from side to side to change songs or radio stations. Genius.
It really is a helpfully appointed cockpit – but the other day, while giving my younger brother a lift, I was made aware of one switch that shouldn’t be there at all. On the back of the driver’s seat is a small control panel that allows the rear- seat passenger to move it at will to increase leg room as desired.
It was funny the first time he tried it, mildly irritating the next and downright infuriating the third.
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*The simple touches - 28 June 2021*
Mazda hasn’t complicated the MX- 30’s digital dashboard. You get three analogue-style dials, which are easily interpreted at a glance. I love how useful extra info has been cleverly integrated, like the red line on the speedometer updating in real time to reflect the speed limit. The remaining range being in a small font stops it being your first thought, too.
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*Everything is better when it’s sunny – even our car’s range - 16 June 2021*
While everyone else slapped on the factor 30 and ordered jugs of Pimm’s, I was to be found gleefully unplugging our Mazda for its first real stab at an extra-urban jaunt.
Warm weather arrived like manna from heaven, boosting the MX-30’s range from an oft-displayed 115 miles to 128. Small fry, you might think, but in the world of the nervous urban EV owner, every single one counts.
Off to Kent, then, on a 100-mile round trip to see my parents – a journey that I approach with caution ever since our old Vauxhall Corsa-e long-termer and its optimistic range indicator got me stuck at Cobham services in the pouring rain. The air-con had to be on, no question, but otherwise I was taking no chances: cruise control set to a 62mph limit, brake regen dialled all the way up and no frivolous overtaking allowed. It turned out I needn’t have been so cautious. To my surprise, I arrived with 60% battery left, which no doubt would have got me home to London in the morning – although the best kind of electricity is free, so I sneakily plugged the Mazda into an outdoor socket for a slow charge overnight.
I might have got away with it, too, had we not been plunged into darkness later that evening when the patio heater overloaded the already strained circuit. Whoops.
No matter: 72% capacity proved ample for the return trip, despite some horrendous M25 bank-holiday traffic, and then it was just a case of finding an Ubitricity lamp-post for the night near home. Not quite free, but cheap enough to feel smug about.
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*We’re loving the premium feel of this EV – but not its short range or cramped rear - 2 June 2021*
The miles are slowly creeping up on the odometer of our funky little electric Mazda. Slowly, you will no doubt have inferred, because I’ve yet to brave a proper long-distance jaunt, knowing as I do that, even without a motorway section to tackle, I will be lucky to get more than 100 miles from a charge.
With some lengthier trips on the horizon now that lockdown is going out of fashion, the time for me to face my fears is fast approaching, so I had better finesse my hypermiling skills.
Several weeks have passed since we were first acquainted, but I still welcome any opportunity to get behind the wheel of the MX-30. It’s largely how convincingly premium the car continues to feel, despite its relatively low price tag, that ensures its ongoing appeal.
Comparatively sized rivals beat it for range and space, but few cabin environments – even those of much more premium cars – come close for visual flair. I’m particularly enjoying the hidden centre cubby with its flip-up cork lid, the ‘floating’ centre console with a handy storage tray underneath and the perfectly positioned dials for controlling the infotainment screen and volume.
I’ve been playing with Mazda’s configurator to see if there’s anything I regret not specifying, and while I like the look of the top-rung brown/ grey leather upholstery, our car’s lighter cloth is much more upbeat.
I can’t imagine forking out £338 for illuminated scuff plates, and paying £109 for a coloured key casing doesn’t overly entice me, either. The seating position is absolutely ideal, too: just about low-slung enough to imply a relationship with the dynamically adept MX-5 but still with unencumbered all-round visibility and within easy reach of all the controls. They aren’t, I will concede, the comfiest seats I’ve ever sampled, but given the MX-30’s short real-world range, I don’t spend too long in them anyway.
It’s the sheer inutility of the rear seats that taints the experience. Compounding the accessibility issues thrown up by the narrow door opening and compact footwells, there are small, non-opening rear windows back there that make the cabin darker, inhibit all-round visibility and cause passengers to feel slightly claustrophobic.
Couple that with a sloping roofline that restricts rear head room and it’s difficult to view the MX-30 as a proper family car. Perhaps it would make sense while your kids are small, but a sudden growth spurt could force you to swap into something bigger.
There is one other annoyance to mention while we’re on the topic of cabin quality. For all of the heating system’s accessibility and the aesthetic nature of its intuitive touchscreen control panel, I simply can’t make it function as intended.
Climb aboard on a hot day, whack the temperature all the way down and turn the fan on and you will be sweating within seconds. It actively blows hot air for the first 10 minutes of driving, irrespective of selected temperature, by which point I’ve usually arrived at my destination and am feeling mighty irritable.
That may be a small gripe, and it’s potentially one that can be attributed to electric powertrains not using the traditional belt-driven air-con pump that we’re used to, but it’s one that I’m sure will continue to nag me during the warmer months ahead.
*Seeing red *Several strangers have now approached me to compliment the MX-30’s Brilliant Black over Soul Red paint scheme.
*Subpar sound *The standard audio system fails to get the bass in your face, and the Bose stereo is exclusive to top-rung GT Sport Tech trim.
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-Life with an MX-30: Month 1-
*Car park conundrum - 26 May 2021*
You can draw several similarities between the MX-30 and BMW i3, but it’s the rear-hinged back doors that most remind me of Munich’s first EV. I can’t deny their stage presence, but that often plays second fiddle to irritation when I’m parked in a tight space and want to put something on the back seats, requiring me to jam myself between both doors.
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*Could be more sprightly - 12 May 2021*
I’m not enamoured by the MX-30’s lacklustre performance, being used to even the cheapest EVs offering whimsical pace. It feels slightly sportier with the regenerative braking turned off, but nippiness is a concept largely implied by the synthetic, spaceship-like whirring that accompanies acceleration – which I quietly rather like.
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*Welcoming the MX-30 to the fleet - 5 May 2021*
Whatever your opinion on the unstoppable rise of the SUV, there’s no disputing that such cars facilitate the acceleration of electrification.
First, they’re generally raised off the ground, which allows for a whopping great block of lithium ion to be strapped to their undersides. Second, SUVs generally prioritise practicality over driving thrills, so any adverse dynamic impact stemming from the heft of electric innards isn’t of huge concern to the majority of buyers. And third, with the engine, gearbox and propshafts out of the way, there’s room for a much more capacious cabin than perhaps we’ve become used to.
All of which serves to explain why most mainstream manufacturers have chosen SUVs to be their first electric cars (not forgetting, of course, their overwhelming popularity with the modern consumer). But then there’s Mazda, that automotive salmon usually found swimming against the current of convention.
Rotary engines, compression- ignition petrol motors, slick Kodo design language that helps even its most mainstream models stand out: there are many reasons it’s among the most petrolhead-friendly brands in the mainstream sphere.
So what of its first fully electric car, the MX-30? Well, it’s certainly a Mazda: the rear doors open backwards, the centre console is clad in cork and the engineers have made a concerted effort to preserve some of the brand’s trademark dynamic balance. But with nearly everyone doing the whole electric SUV thing nowadays, can those quirks really be enough to make it the pick of the crop, or could this be a rare example of Mazda choosing panache over practicality?
What you will really want to know, and what we’re quickly finding out, is whether its 35.5kWh battery pack – a common talking point – can provide enough range for daily use. It’s the same size as that used in the notoriously short-legged Honda E and only 40% larger than the battery used for the plug-in hybrid version of the new Mercedes-Benz C-Class.
This made me nervous; the official range is put at 130 miles (I’m seeing around 117 displayed after a full charge), but I live in a flat and do more miles than the average London dweller. Surely this can’t be a match made in heaven?
So far, I’ve made it work. Free overnight parking on my local streets means I can take the Mazda round the corner after dinner, plug it into a Ubitricity lamp-post and pick it up after my morning coffee (before the parking wardens come prowling). It’s not ideal – these streetside chargers operate at less than 5kW, so even a 25% to 50% top-up takes a good few hours – but remember, it’s not a big battery, so it’s usually full when I come back to it, and I won’t have paid much for the privilege (24p per kWh).
Admittedly, I have been doing a lot of tootling about in congested West London, which is the sort of environment in which the short- range MX-30 is destined to be most popular. But when subjected to my patented half-lap-of-the-M25 endurance test, the MX-30’s displayed miles consistently match actual distance travelled, and the range doesn’t plummet as fast as I thought it might at a 65mph cruise.
In blunt numerical terms, on my longest non-stop trip so far, I covered 62 miles – mostly motorway but with some country lanes and gridlocked London arteries thrown in – and got home with 37% battery remaining.
If the battery were any bigger (and thus heavier), I think the MX-30 would lose the dynamic edge it enjoys over its contemporaries. Compared with the numb and disengaged helm of many rivals, it feels more than keen and agile enough to enliven the errand run. In corners, it turns in crisply, holds itself pleasingly upright and lets you get back on the power quickly without the scrabbling and skipping that can blight the experience in similarly positioned cars.
So what else has become clear in the first 500 miles? Well, Mazda’s refreshingly logical approach to infotainment ergonomics continues to stand out among large-screened and touch-control-heavy contemporaries, and I’m particularly pleased that neither the central display nor the gauge cluster shows any more information than is necessary: range, radio station and speed. Why try harder?
The back seats are a slightly more contentious issue. The ‘suicide’ doors are a neat touch, but they’re so small as to prevent entry to all but the most compact of passengers. Not that anyone bigger would want to try; one of my neighbours jokingly called the MX-30 “the world’s first two-seat electric SUV” in reference to its tiny rear bench.
Our test car is finished in mid-rung Sport Lux trim, priced at £28,045 (after the government’s £2500 EV grant) and expected to be the top- seller in the range. It builds on the already-agreeable specification of the entry-level SE-L Lux car, gaining such niceties as electrically adjustable, heated seats, tinted rear windows and keyless entry.
I’ve certainly not wanted for any extras thus far; with the weather warming up, I’m happy to forego the heated steering wheel and wiper de-icer that comes with range-topping GT Sport Tech trim, which carries a £2000 premium.
Over the next few months, I’ll be evaluating whether the Mazda’s quirks can overcome our qualms, and seeing if it deserves to be considered as a feasible daily driver. First impressions suggest it’s surprisingly luxurious and pleasingly distinctive, but that range has the potential to be a real bugbear, and I’ll no doubt want to carry rear passengers at some point.
Those factors in themselves are a major point of difference from most electric commuter cars and SUVs: it will certainly be an interesting experience with lots of talking points.
Mazda believes the MX-30 offers plentiful range for the needs of most city-based EV drivers – if not what they think they need. I’m looking forward to finding out if Mazda is proven right and if the firm really can prove to buyers that less is more.
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-Mazda MX-30 Sport lux specification-
*Prices: List price new* £28,045 (after grant) *List price now* £28,045 (after grant) *Price as tested* £29,845 (after grant)
*Options:*Soul Red crystal metallic paint £1800
*Fuel consumption and range: Official range* 124 miles *Test average* 118 miles *Test best* 125 miles *Test worst* 97 miles *Battery capacity* 35.5kWh
*Tech highlights: 0-62mph* 9.7sec *Top speed* 87mph *Engine* Synchronous motor *Max power* 143bhp *Max torque* 199lb ft *Transmission* single-speed automatic *Boot capacity* 341 litres *Wheels* 7.0Jx18in *Tyres* 215/55 R18 *Kerb weight* 1645kg
*Service and running costs: Contract hire rate* £311.25 ppm *CO2* 0g/km *Service costs* None *Other costs* None *Fuel costs* £66.89 *Running costs inc fuel* £66.89 *Cost per mile* 4.8 pence *Faults* none
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