Mazda CX-9

Resistance proves futile as Mazda goes turbo

DAMION SMY

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

WHEN Mazda released the CX-9 in December 2007, it surely didn’t think the ‘9’ would be the number of years it would be on sale.

Yet, the flagship seven-seat SUV is now the oldest in its class and its replacement can’t come soon enough.

So Mazda unleashed journalists at a pre-production prototype drive in Los Angeles for an early taste of the new CX-9 – clearly hoping it will repeat the success of its current SUV range when the big seven-seater lobs here in July.

The CX-9 is the last passenger car in Mazda’s range to get the benefit from its ‘SkyActiv’ engineering approach. That means it rides on the same platform as the CX-5, which also has DNA ties to the 6 and 3.

With a focus on weight-saving, the new CX-9 is about 130kg lighter, despite there being more interior space and a similarsized boot. A 55mm increase in wheelbase creates more rear-seat room, with loads of head and leg room in the second row. The third row – while lacking air vents – is large enough for children (and adults on occasional trips).

The CX-9 also features a new 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four, replacing the old Ford-derived 3.7-litre V6. The generous torque of the new unit – 420Nm at 2000rpm – couldn’t be achieved as efficiently with an atmo V6 while still attaining the efficiency its engineers were aiming for.

The turbo four’s torque surpasses the old V6’s 367Nm at 4250rpm, though its 169kW trails the larger engine’s 204kW.

Mazda hasn’t disclosed fuel economy, but reckons a 20 percent improvement on the current car’s figure has been achieved – which, with 11.0L/100km for the existing front-drive base car, means a potential 8.8L/100km.

On the road, the prototype CX-9 proved smooth and strong in its power delivery. The six-speed automatic behaved well on our short test drive, and the brakes were robust. The steering had good weighting and feel, but could be a little sharper in its responses.

The ride on 20-inch alloys was mostly comfortable, but crashprone over potholes. However, the handling was predictable, with great roadholding and poise.

One definite step up is in terms of cabin refinement. It was noticeably quieter inside and almost bordering on premium.

Mazda Australia is yet to confirm spec levels and pricing, but the range is likely to reflect the current three-model Classic, Luxury and Grand Touring offerings. Pricing isn’t expected to deviate from the current car’s $43K entry when it lands here mid-year.

But the CX-9 already has the polish of its stablemates, and that’s ominous for its competitors. he

PLUS & MINUS

No third-row air vents; boot packaging; no diesel engine option Improved efficiency, yet superior driveability; safety gear; refinement

Spooling appeal

Mazda says it will sell 50,000 CX-9s annually, which isn’t a lot when it has an engine developed especially for it.

Surely the 2.5-litre turbo will make an appearance in other models, as it fits in the 3, 6 and CX-5. It also develops its 420Nm at a low 2000rpm, but that peak trails off earlier than the old V6, which plateaued at 4250rpm.

Engineers found that in the real world, CX-9 drivers rarely breach 4000rpm, and only occasionally tap 3000rpm.