We told you all about the new 2016 Mazda CX-9 last week, and now we get to tell you how it drives. Sort of. Prior to the vehicle’s unveil, we were cut loose in the camouflaged prototypes you see here along a congested, surface-street-heavy route in Los Angeles intended to mimic the sorts of situations owners would most frequently experience. Our particular portion of the route was something like 11 miles long, however, so you’ll get no major dynamic impressions from us today. Still, there were conclusions to draw.
Conclusions about the structure, steering, and ride quality, for example. The new CX-9 felt solid, and we didn’t hear any rattles or squeaks despite the SUV’s prototype status and placeholder interior trim, which was hidden behind vinyl curtains. The steering is as accurate, as well-weighted, and as possessed of linear build-up as anything you’ll drive from Mazda. These were qualities we loved about the steering in the previous-generation model and ones which we’re glad to see present here. The steering imparts a sense of confidence in placing the CX-9, which, despite being as many as 300-ish pounds lighter than before, nevertheless still is a big vehicle.
The suspension tune was merely “close” and not production-ready, but the ride was firm and not harsh, and the CX-9 exhibited far less body roll than you experience in most vehicles of this type. We did detect a little bit of nervousness to the wheel travel while traversing pockmarked asphalt, but that might be remedied by either the production-spec tune or smaller wheels and tires (the vehicles we drove all had 20-inch wheels; the other option measures 18 inches). In any event, it didn’t affect occupant comfort or the CX-9’s feeling of stability. The brakes are strong and offer nice, progressive pedal feel and travel.
The new CX-9 adopts a turbocharged version of the company’s 2.5-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder in place of the outgoing model’s V-6. Mazda says it downsized the engine and went turbocharged for two reasons. First, the turbo engine could be tuned to meet the driving needs of the vast majority of customers, delivering plenty of torque for more shove in slower slogs like the one we experienced. As a result, the CX-9 makes just 227 horsepower on 87-octane regular gasoline and 250 on 93 octane but a maximum of 310 lb-ft of torque no matter which fuel is chosen. In normal driving, the throttle was responsive but never jumpy, and the CX-9 moved smartly away from a stop. Darting into openings in traffic was similarly easy at sub-freeway speeds, but with a torque curve that’s more mountain than mesa, it can feel slightly winded when above 5000 rpm or so.
The new engine makes its maximum 310 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm against the old V-6’s 270 lb-ft at 4250 rpm. Both premium- and regular-fuel horsepower peaks are at 5000 rpm. Mazda showed us a very useful output-curve illustration, but we’re not allowed to share it. The upshot is this: From idle to 4000 rpm, the torque and horsepower curves on either fuel are identical. Beyond 4000 rpm, the output curves diverge slightly, but Mazda asserts and we concur that most drivers won’t spend time in that part of the rev range—and that they won’t notice much of a difference if they do.
The second reason for the forced-induction four was that engineering and producing this engine was magnitudes cheaper than adapting the old six to the newer Skyactiv specs. Mazda says it would have needed to redo that engine’s variable-valve-timing hardware; update it to direct injection; install new heads, pistons, and connecting rods; and rework the exhaust manifold. To create the four, all that was needed—to put it in simple terms—was to add the “Dynamic Pressure Turbo” and intercooler. And with fewer cylinders, the four naturally has lower pumping losses and mechanical friction, leading to improved efficiency. Efficiency also is helped by the use of a cooled exhaust-gas recirculation system plumbed in before the turbo; cooling the exhaust gases this way reduces the need to use wasteful fuel enrichment to do so within the cylinders.
For now, that’s it. We’ll need to slide behind the wheel of the final product to get more complete impressions, but our early experience indicates that the next-gen CX-9 is as promising from behind the wheel as on the auto-show floor. Head here to learn even more about the 2016 CX-9 and here if you’d like to see it without the swirly vinyl wrap.