But not only is it the long-awaited (or long-overdue, depending on your perspective) replacement for the decade-old CX-9, it’s also the final member of the Mazda family to receive the brand’s now-familiar Kodo design language.
It’s noteworthy for another reason too. Under its snout beats a four-cylinder turbocharged petrol four, the first turbo petrol engine in Mazda’s SkyActiv engine range, and the sole powertrain offering for the 2016 CX-9.
Unlike the current car, Mazda won’t be equipping the 2016 CX-9 with a large-displacement V6. Nor will it be fitting it with a turbodiesel option either.
The turbo petrol four is all you can get. Want a diesel? Too bad, blame the anti-diesel prejudice of US car buyers - the core market for the Japanese-built CX-9. Stricter emissions laws in the US market also had a significant part to play.
But while the last turbocharged petrol Mazda SUV, the CX-7, earned itself a reputation for extreme thirst, Mazda is confident the CX-9’s new engine - dubbed SkyActiv-G 2.5T - will provide diesel-like grunt along with a 20-percent improvement in fuel economy.
The crucial numbers are 169kW of power at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque at 2000rpm, with a torque curve that looks more like that of a diesel than one belonging to a petrol engine.
And that’s very deliberate, according to Mazda engineer Dave Coleman:
“By focusing on the real world we’ve come up with a very different solution.
“We’re not that focused on the numbers you’re going to see in the catalog, peak power values, that kind of thing.
“We’re more focused on real-world driving and what the customer is going to experience in the car.”
Research by Mazda found most SUV drivers rarely exceeded 4000rpm in everyday driving, meaning the full power potential of the current CX-9’s 3.7 litre V6 was rarely tapped into.
By engineering the SkyActiv-G 2.5T to favour low and mid-range torque and minimise turbo lag, Mazda says this new engine is more efficient at low revs than a typical turbo petrol four, and claims a 20 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared to the current CX-9.
How? Beyond a close-coupled turbocharger and short exhaust tracts that minimise energy loss in the exhaust gas flow, the SkyActiv-G 2.5T uses a 4-3-1 exhaust manifold to improve exhaust efficiency, direct injection and a relatively high 10.5:1 compression ratio.
There’s also a cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) system that cycles small amounts of combustion chamber gases back into the inlet tract via an air-to-water cooler, helping reduce engine heat in high-load situations where most other engines would simply richen the fuel mixture.
According to Mazda, that alone accounts for a significant portion of the SkyActiv-G 2.5T’s low thirst. Diesel? Who needs it?
If Mazda is right, we can expect the 2016 CX-9 to drink around 8.8 l/100km on the combined cycle when it hits our market sometime around the middle of next year. Local testing will validate (or invalidate) the claim, but Mazda is confident its petrol-only CX-9 strategy is the right way to go.
A six-speed automatic is the standard transmission on offer for the CX-9 range (and indeed the only one), and Australian-spec CX-9s will be available in either FWD or AWD flavour.
AWD models will benefit from Mazda’s new i-Activ AWD technology, which draws on many vehicle sensors like the outside air temp sensor, rain sensor, steering wheel sensors and ABS computer to deliver a more predictive - rather than a simpler reactive - AWD system.
The improvements aren’t just mechanical either.
Mazda has expended a great deal of effort to lift cabin quality to a higher standard, with high-grade models incorporating materials like Nappa leather, Rosewood veneer trim and real aluminium (no silver plastic here).
Though the overall length has shrunk by 30mm, Mazda says the new CX-9’s 55mm longer wheelbase opens up more rear passenger legroom and improves access to the third row.
Overhangs are shorter too, by 59mm at the front and 25mm at the rear. Despite this, a powered tailgate is still offered and boot space is said to be identical to the current model: 267L behind the third row, and 928L with the third row stowed.
The CX-9 is also the first Mazda to feature a colour head-up display, which employs the same fold-away projector glass system as the Mazda3. Radar cruise control, lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking have also made it onto the CX-9’s spec sheet.
A seven- or eight-inch colour display sits proud of the dash and is controlled by Mazda’s iDrive-like MZD-Connect infotainment interface, and the instrument panel also includes a 4.6-inch colour ancillary display on higher model grades.
A high-end 12-speaker Bose audio system will also be available, and rear seat passengers will be able to access two USB charging points and dedicated rear ventilation controls (though third row vents are conspicuously absent).
While the CX-9 is slated to go on sale in the USA around the end of the first quarter of 2016, Australian deliveries aren’t expected to commence until the middle of the year.
And while precise specifications have yet to be locked in, Mazda Australia representatives expect that the current three-grade line-up will continue, spread across both FWD and AWD variants.
Pricing has yet to be announced, but with the new CX-9 set to bring more equipment than the current model a price rise is not out of the question. We’ll know more closer to the local launch in mid-2016.
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