Let’s get this out of the way up front: The new Mazda CX-9 doesn’t have much in the way of horsepower. On purpose. Allow us to explain.
As it has for past models like the MX-5 Miata and the 6 sedan, Mazda decided to focus on real-world drivability rather than an impressive spec sheet. This meant the company conducted research into how its customers actually use three-row SUVs, including taking a CX-9 mule and tucking in behind such vehicles in order to study their drivers’ throttle usage and driving patterns. What Mazda discovered was that these folks typically don’t spin their tachometers past 3000 rpm or so, and so an onus was put on immediate torque production rather than high horsepower for the CX-9’s new engine.
That engine, a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, is the only available powerplant, and it represents Mazda’s first application of turbocharging to its Skyactiv engine family. It produces 310 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm and works through a six-speed automatic transmission. To mitigate turbo lag and provide strong response even from low rpm, Mazda fitted what it’s calling its “Dynamic Pressure Turbo,” which is fed air via two paths. At low speeds, a valve closes the larger one and sends the air to the turbine through a narrower path that amplifies the pressure, allowing the turbo to spool more quickly. Above approximately 1700 rpm, the engine is producing enough pressure to spin the turbine, and so the valve opens.
As for horsepower, the 2.5 makes 250 when drinking 93-octane premium fuel and just 227 on regular; torque output remains unchanged regardless of fuel type, however, which likely means a negligible difference in real-world feel and drivability. Naturally, fuel economy also was a priority, and Mazda says it worked to ensure the practical numbers are at least equal to those produced in the often-optimistic EPA test cycles. While the company has yet to release those figures, you can expect something like 20 mpg city/ 28 highway with all-wheel drive and 21/29 with front-wheel drive. Helping the efficiency cause are curb weights that Mazda claims are down by nearly 200 pounds in front-drive models and almost 300 pounds in all-wheel-drive versions.
The CX-9 again will be offered in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring versions, and a new, more luxurious Signature trim level will be added at the top of the range. Mazda says some 60 percent of the current CX-9s it sells are Grand Touring spec, so there should be plenty of people willing to go Signature. It also makes sense in the face of what the CX-9’s competitors offer; Ford, for example, just added a zooty Platinum trim to the Explorer lineup, and a new Elite trim level now sits at the top of the Honda Pilot lineup.
The Signature will be available with real rosewood trim (supplied, Mazda says, by a Japanese guitar maker), French-stitched detailing, and nappa leather, and the attention paid to the interior is indeed striking. All models get actual aluminum trim on the doors and dash, and the cabin’s clean design imparts a rich, premium feel. Interior noise levels—long a Mazda bugaboo—are said to be significantly slashed, thanks in part to the use of acoustic-laminated glass for the front side windows and 53 pounds of sound-deadening material in the floor. (For comparison’s sake, the CX-5 has just five pounds of the stuff in its floor.) Mazda says the CX-9 now will be among the quietest vehicles in its class.
Compared with the previous CX-9, the new one is 1.2 inches shorter in length but has a 2.2-inch-longer wheelbase, which Mazda put to use in increased interior room. Access to the third row has been made easier, Mazda says, such that a kid can now operate a single lever to move the second row out of the way. The passenger side of the 60/40-split second row has also been designed to allow for a child seat to stay attached while still enabling access to the third row. Mazda also fitted two USB ports in the back for charging devices, and there are two more ports up front.
On the technology front, the CX-9 has an available projector-style head-up display (info is projected on the windshield, as opposed to the pane that flips up from the instrument-cluster hood the company has used in other vehicles) and the now-familiar, knob-based Mazda Connect infotainment system. Mazda’s i-Activsense driver-assistance features are available, and they include a new blind-spot-monitoring system that can detect vehicles closing in from more than 160 feet away, adaptive cruise control, a lane-keeping assist program intended not to keep the CX-9 between lane lines but to “ease it into turns,” lane-departure warning, auto high beams, and collision-mitigating braking and sensing.
We’ll admit that we’re impressed, and we look forward to sliding behind the wheel of this new model—we loved the way the old CX-9 drove, and we’re promised a similarly communicative driving experience for this one. The only question is whether enough people shopping in this segment will ignore the spec sheet to meet Mazda’s goal of moving approximately 40,000 CX-9s per year.