Mazda heads for the top of the class with its affordable seven-seater
MAZDA’S family SUV has gone to finishing school. The nextgeneration CX-9, due in Australian showrooms in June, is new from the ground up and has extra polish.
The arrival of the overhauled seven-seater completes Mazda’s visual makeover — all passenger cars now have the company’s bold grille and squinty headlights.
Mazda gave the media a preview drive of the CX-9 in advance of the Los Angeles motor show last week.
Rather than driving it on a racetrack or an autobahn, for once the test route took in the daily grind, to better reflect realworld use.
The two-hour test put us in the thick of peak-hour freeway traffic and the stop-start snarl of the suburbs. It’s the same test route engineers embarked on before they started development of the new model.
Mazda studied the typical speeds that family wagons logged on the daily commute and school run.
They drove their test vehicles, equipped with diagnostics to capture the data, in school pick-up and drop-off traffic, and in the grind of the workplace commute.
What the boffins discovered surprised them, although it probably would not surprise anyone who endures this task daily.
Family SUVs don’t need a high revving engine, as the engines barely rev above 3000rpm and the accelerator pedal is rarely pushed to the floor (except for, say, merging on to a freeway or overtaking).
SUVs also need a gentler throttle response. In other words when you push the accelerator pedal, you don’t want the gearbox to suddenly shift down a few gears and the engine to flare up, only to hit the brakes moments later.
So Mazda did two things: it developed a 2.5-litre fourcylinder turbo engine that delivered most of its torque at low revs, rather than chase power. It also dulled the initial throttle response so the CX-9 is more stress-free in stop-start driving. That’s why the CX-9’s output, 169kW according to the brochure, may fail to impress, especially in a full-size, sevenseat family SUV.
Torque, on the other hand, shines — the 420Nm of grunt from low revs will do the heavy lifting when moving from rest.
The latter figure is what you’d expect from a diesel engine and, no, there isn’t a diesel CX-9. Instead, Mazda has created a responsive petrol engine with diesel-like urge and economy, running on regular unleaded. It’s genius.
Fuel consumption figures have yet to be published but Mazda promises a 20 per cent reduction compared with the V6 it replaces.
Buyers updating from the previous CX-9 will notice the improvements immediately. The steering isn’t as darty as the current model; there are more turns lock to lock so the steering has a much more linear and predictable feel.
The suspension is a touch softer over bumps and lumps but the CX-9 still feels secure in corners.
It only feels a bit cumbersome in tight and narrow turns but that criticism can be made of any vehicle of this size and mass.
Perhaps the biggest improvement is the cabin. The dashboard has a clean, elegant design, one of the best in the business after Mercedes-Benz.
Real timber and aluminium trim are used as cabin highlights on top-end models.
All the buttons are well laid out and easy to use but for a couple of exceptions: Mazda’s “dial and push” cabin control setup could be a little more intuitive; and the optional head-up display could be supplemented with a digital speed display near the instrument dials.
The seats are snug but the side bolsters don’t jab you when you get in or out. The third-row seats are easier to access because Mazda has lengthened the middle of the body slightly.
Unlike most SUVs in this class, the new CX-9 will have three child-seat anchor points in the second row and one each for the third-row pews.
Families in theory can fit five child seats at once (if the seats are narrow enough) or three child restraints (two in the second row and one in the third row) with room to spare.
Rather than a track or an autobahn, the test route took in the daily grind, to better reflect realworld use
Curtain airbag coverage extends to the third row, which still lacks aircon vents.
Mazda says cargo space is unchanged — the roof is lower but the cargo bay is wider.
On initial impressions, the CX-9 has the ingredients to top the class of affordable full-size seven-seat SUVs. Let’s just hope Mazda doesn’t get greedy with the price. Families have mouths to feed!