The new-generation of Mazda’s range-topping SUV arrives nine years after the previous CX-9 premiered. This iteration is totally new, from the SkyActiv architecture to the new premium design inside and out, to the force-fed four-cylinder under the bonnet.
Once again, the Mazda CX-9 will tackle the likes of the Toyota Kluger, Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, though looking at what the company has packaged in, it will also make a few prestige European brands sit up and take notice.
It is, as Mazda calls it, the “grandest expression” of its Kodo design theme to date, with its clean and uncluttered lines, prominent on-brand curves and dominant family trademark grille flanked by slim and sporting (standard LED) headlights.
The deep and lustrous hero grey paint is new, and is “designed to make CX-9 look as though it were carved from a single ingot of steel”.
But it’s not the looks that are the headline — it’s the engine, a potent turbocharged version of the 2.5-litre petrol four used in the Mazda 3, Mazda 6 and CX-5. It’s called the SkyActiv-G 2.5T, and its outputs are 186kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm of torque from 2000rpm.
This compares to the outgoing car’s thirsty 3.7-litre V6 that makes 204kW/367Nm. As you’d expect, downsizing the engine yields a claimed improvement to fuel consumption of about 20 per cent, likely eclipsing petrol rivals such as the Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder.
The turbo varies exhaust pulsation depending on engine speed and so reduces lag. It routes engine exhaust to the turbocharger’s turbine through smaller ports at low rpm, meaning it works similarly to when you place your thumb on a garden hose, creating stronger pressure through a smaller outlet. This allows the turbocharger to spool faster.
The engine is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Entry cars are front-drive, while AWD versions use the company’s on-demand i-Activ AWD system with 22 different sensors that determine when to send torque to the rear wheels. Up to half of the engine’s total torque can go rearward if needed.
The US is by far the CX-9’s major market, which seems to explain Mazda’s decision not to use its 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine under the bonnet too — a decision that could potentially dent Australian sales.
Under that sharper new body is the largest iteration of Mazda’s modular and more rigid SkyActiv platform, which is in part responsible for the 90kg of kerb weight Mazda has managed to shave off here in the front-drive version and 130kg in AWD guise.
At 5065mm long, this iteration of the CX-9 is actually 30mm shorter than the outgoing model, but the wheelbase is now 55mm longer, increasing both rear legroom an entry/egress. Naturally, this means shorter overhangs, creating the sportier proportions.
Inside the cabin, there are numerous luxury car touches including Nappa leather seats, Japanese rosewood trimming, a sweeping aluminium strip adorning the dash and polished finishes designed to “evoke Japanese craftsmanship”, inspired by its famed hand-made knives.
Everything about this car shouts “proudly Japanese”.
Reflecting this premium bent, there’s also about 24kg of sound-deadening in the floor, while Mazda has also thickened the windows and added active noise-cancellation technology that cuts road noise by around 2dB. Serenity now?
The general layout is familiar Mazda, given it uses the company’s modular layout. Ergo, it comes with a passenger car-like horizontal dash, and a floating 7.0- or 8.0-inch screen with its toggle-controlled MZD Connect system hooked up to a new 12-speaker BOSE system.
There’s also a rather coupe-like steering wheel/gauge ensemble that includes a new 4.6-inch TFT screen with vehicle information, and a full-colour head-up display mounted above that shows speed, navigation and other functions.
Reflecting the car’s family focus, safety equipment including radar-guided cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, low-speed autonomous brakes and lane-departure warning feature.
Mazda says it made the front seat backs thinner (though apparently more comfortable) to increase legroom in the middle rows. This is also the first Mazda to sport damped urethane in the seat backs to make them easier on your knees.
The middle seat row has two ISOFIX points, and a 60:40 split-folding mechanism so you can leave one child seat in place while allowing access to the third row. Middle-seat passengers also have USB points embedded in the arm rests.
Access to the cargo area is via an electric tailgate with a motor that’s 1.1kg lighter than before, while Mazda says there are two storage bins beneath the floor to keep things hidden away.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 goes on sale in the US early next year, with an Australian launch a little after the middle of 2016.
Tell us below what you think of the new Mazda CX-9… Hit or miss?