THE 2016 Mazda CX-9 has been revealed at the 2015 Los Angeles Motor Show.
With the Mazda CX-5 the best-selling SUV in Australia, and the diminutive Mazda CX-3 also leading its class, the new Mazda CX-9 serves to strengthen the Japanese car maker’s grip on Aussie buyers.
With a completely new platform and drivetrain, it’s the second-generation of the seven-seater that competes in the large SUV class, currently dominated by the Toyota Prado and the Toyota Kluger. There’s a slew of healthy competition from the likes of the Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder, Ford Everest and Kia Sorento, but the new CX-9 is the final Mazda in its entire line-up to adopt the fuel-saving SkyActiv technology.
That means a stretched version of the same platform that underpins the Mazda CX-5, but with a 55mm-longer wheelbase than the current CX-9. There’s also more rear legroom, with Mazda improving entry/egress of the third-row seating. The boot size is similar to the current car’s 928 litres, says Mazda, even with a lower rear roofline.
Despite the improved room and packaging, the CX-9 is 31mm shorter, now 5065mm, which allowed Mazda USA design director Julien Montousse to pull the cabin back a whopping 100mm and give it sleeker proportions and an athletic stance, with 20-inch wheels on flagship versions.
The production-ready LA show car is finished in a ‘Liquid Silver’ metal-flake colour, designed specifically to show off the CX-9s surfacing and body work, and display the quality stampings required to expose it so openly.
The Kodo design language sees the Mazda ‘signature wing’ front grille in a far less bluff front-end than its predecessor, and for the first time on a production model, it’s incorporated into the LED headlamps.
“The old CX-9’s nose was very submissive, now we’re very proud,” said Montousse. “Mazda has this kind of confidence of being on the road. We’re not hiding anything. We’ve got amazing performance, amazing styling – it says a lot that the grille is very proud. This is who we are. This is a Mazda.”
That grille effectively pushes through to the CX-9’s interior, which also has a horizontal emphasis and shows the progress compared with Mazda’s first ‘Kodo’ cabin, the 2012 Mazda 6.
Inside the new SUV is light years ahead of the existing CX-9. Not only is it more detailed, with real wood, aluminium and Nappa leather on the high-spec model on the LA show stand, but far more spacious up front.
The dash sees its three white-in-black classic instruments tunnel towards the centre speedometer, but there’s also head-up display that, for the first time in a Mazda, is full colour.
The big news is under the CX-9’s bonnet. A new 2.5-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder replaces the 3.7-litre V6 but delivers fuel savings of around 20 percent, according to Mazda engineers. While there are no official figures, such an improvement would give the new CX-9 a comparative consumption of 8.8L/100km for front-drive models, and 9.0L/100km for all-wheel drive versions, the latter using the same all-wheel system as the CX-5.
That’s because this is the first turbocharged SkyActiv engine. Completely new and sharing few parts with any other existing Mazda powerplant, the SkyActiv-G 25T produces 169kW on regular unleaded petrol, or 186kW on premium. That’s less than the previous model’s 204kW, yet the four-cylinder powerplant delivers 420Nm from 2000rpm, compared with the old V6’s 367Nm at a higher 4250rpm. It’s teamed with a six-speed automatic and has the same 2000kg towing capability.
Mazda says that creating a SkyActiv version of the larger V6 would have cost significantly more money and not have been as efficient as the new turbocharged four-cylinder.
“If you have a big four-cylinder and replace it with a small four-cylinder turbo, it doesn’t pay off,” said Mazda development engineer Dave Coleman. “But if we’re getting to a scale where we’re taking a really large V6, and we’re able to knock that down to a good-size four-cylinder, there’s a huge benefit of dropping those extra cylinders.”
To ensure it met Mazda’s aggressive efficiency targets, the four-cylinder engine features direct fuel-injection, as well a four-into-one exhaust system with exhaust gas recirculation cooling to manage temperatures and maximise fuel economy.
While Mazda’s other SkyActiv engines have compression ratios as high as 14.0:1, the new forced-induction engine has the lowest of the family’s, with 10.5:1, to ensure efficiency and turbo response. “We did a whole study of ‘What if we did a SkyActiv V6 using all of our SkyActiv technology?’, and the price you pay in terms of all of the extra friction using all those extra cylinders, is more than what you lose in lowering the compression,” Coleman explained.
Mazda will not offer the CX-9 as a diesel model, despite the CX-5 it’s based upon having a SkyActiv diesel, as does the entry-level Mazda CX-3.
As the first SkyActiv CX-9, the new model also sees significant weight savings, with 90kg and 130kg reductions for the front- and all-wheel-drive models respectively. That gives the CX-9 an estimated starting weight of 1849kg.
Safety tech includes radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and lane keep assist, but also extends to Forward Obstruction Warning.
Australian specification is yet to be confirmed, with the local head office mulling over a more richly equipped flagship model that may push the CX-9 beyond $70K. No decision has been made as whether we will get this variant as a potential fourth trim level, with the existing line-up of Classic, Luxury and Grand Touring likely to remain.
Mazda chose the LA motor show to reveal its new seven-seater as it says 80 percent of all CX-9 buyers will be in North America. “Of course, any country with wide open spaces, we find it a match for those, too,” chief engineer Masashi Otsuka said to journalists.
Mazda Australia expects the CX-9 to sell far more strongly than the current model, which is moving about 250 units per month after a peak of around 650 when it arrived in 2007. It hopes to achieve similar results more consistently with the new model.
Pricing for the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is not expected to fluctuate far from the existing model’s starting price of $43,770 when it arrives in Australia in July.