Mazda has a history of looking at the world through a different lens – and creating vehicles and technologies consistent with that vision. It's a unique perspective that has spawned such bold undertakings as rotary engines, the Miata MX-5 and back-to-basics SkyActiv technologies.
The all-new, second-generation Mazda CX-9l launched today at the Los Angeles International Auto Show, is born with those genes. And, it's designed to adapt them specifically to the needs of North American families.
Yes, it's a mid-size CUV/SUV that fits into the same broad mold as most of its seven-passenger competitors in many respects. It may be a little prettier and it's probably better handling than most, in the Mazda tradition. (We've actually driven a pre-production prototype but aren't allowed to report our driving impressions just yet.)
But it's different in another significant way. Mazda consciously designed the new CX-9 to excel in the conditions where families use such vehicles most – even if doing so means sacrificing on some specifications that might otherwise appear better in an ad or a catalog.
In concept, Mazda says the new CX-9 represents "Smart Indulgence" – a balance of functional features and capabilities combined with a sense of sheer luxury and emotion.
For sure, it takes Mazda to new levels in those respects. Its styling, which continues the brand's Kodo, 'Soul of Motion' design idiom, begins with balanced proportions that combine a sleek upper body with strong horizontal lines and a solid lower base that suggests stability.
All those lines seem to extend form a prominent grille that suggests a sense of confidence. It's a handsome vehicle that defies the SUV-as-box cliche, with subtly contoured surfaces designed to reflect light in ways that emphasize it shapely form.
Inside, along with all the functional features expected in a family hauler, there's the luxury of Nappa leather and real, hand-crafted Japanese rosewood. Of course, it has all the usual amenities common in the class, both physical and electronic, including availability of a colour head-up display.
It's roomy, too, with space to fit my XLT frame comfortably in both front and second-row seats. (Gotta admit I didn't try the third row but they do look suitable for someone a bit smaller than me.)
Turbocharged 2.5-litre engine
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the CX-9 is its new turbocharged SkyActiv-G 2.5T engine – not just for us gearheads but for typical drivers who care nothing about the technical specs and details, just how it drives.
Those are the people this engine was designed to please. To establish its target performance criteria, Mazda essentially trailed three-row SUV drivers to establish a database of their typical driving patterns. What they learned is that the vast majority of their driving was done at relatively low engine speeds – very seldom exceeding 3,000 rpm.
It's at those low engine speeds that they need the strongest engine response – which is the opposite to where most engines provide it.
Without going into all the legerdemain Mazda's engineers performed to achieve the feat, the new SkyActiv-G 2.5T engine achieves its abundant torque peak of 310 lb-ft at just 2,000 rpm. Max power is 250 horsepower at 5,000 rpm on 93-octane gasoline and 227 horsepower on 87-octane – take your pick.
What all that tech talk means is that the CX-9 should provide right-now throttle response in almost all normal driving conditions and it will do so without forcing multiple downshifts.
A byproduct of that improved real-world performance, helped by a mass reduction of up to 130 kg in AWD form, is better fuel-economy – about 20% better than for the 3.7-litre V-6 it replaces in official testing and perhaps even more in real everyday driving.
Quieter and safer
Another target objective for Mazda's CX-9 engineers was reduced NVH (Noise/Vibration/Harshness) to give it best-in-class quietness.
Taking weight out of the rest of the vehicle, while still improving on safety and rigidity goals, allowed them to add about 23 kg of sound-deadening mats, and to increase window thickness to 4.8mm.
At 100 km/h, Mazda says, interior noise levels have been reduced by 12% from the previous model and road noise levels are down by 2.0 dB.
On the safety front, Mazda's existing i-ActivSense system includes active safety features such as Radar Cruise Control and Blind Spot Monitoring. The CX-9’s i-ActivSense suite1 adds features such as Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane-Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Control, Smart Brake Support, Distance Recognition Support System and Forward Obstruction Warning.
Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD system gets an upgrade, too, adding inputs from a host of other sensors already in the vehicle up to 200 times a second to predict what traction conditions the driver may face and direct torque to the rear wheels as necessary.
It can even route power to limit understeer during spirited driving, sending as much as 50% of the CX-9’s power to the rear wheels through the standard six-speed SkyActiv-Drive automatic transmission.
At its core, the new fourth generations CX-9 is a family vehicle, with three rows of seats, space for seven passengers and corresponding storage space. It also promises dynamic performance, quietness, fuel economy and a sense of style and luxury that may be unmatched in its class.
We'll tell you more about all that when we can report our driving impressions on November 24.