The decision to release Mazda's latest model in a colour other than Soul Red should tell you something. So should their repeated use of the word “flagship” to describe its redesigned three-row crossover: if the Miata/MX-5 is the soul of the company, then this Machine Grey vehicle is its body.
If the Miata/MX-5 is the soul of the company, then this Machine Grey vehicle is its body.
The CX-5 and the Mazda3 are the sales volume machines; the CX-3 has youth appeal; the Mazda2... well, that's not available any more. The CX-9 though, that's more than just Mazda's family hauler. Sure it'll appeal to those who've outgrown their CX-5 or Mazda6, but it's also positioned to be something of a cut above, a vehicle you buy because it's nicer.
Certainly it looks the part, more than just an extended version of the CX-5. That massive grille extrudes from the front of the car, and the side silhouette is muscular. The display car comes with 20-inch alloys, so this is what the top-spec car will look like. 18-inch alloys are standard on the base car.
On the inside, Mazda has made an effort to use real materials in much the same way that Cadillac has. Genuine aluminum, genuine Nappa leather, and genuine rosewood inlay; this last is actually sourced in semi-partnership from a Japanese guitar company, and a guitarist was on stage to serenade the CX-9's rollout.
Under that long hood, the CX-9 gets Mazda's first Skyactiv-based turbocharged engine, and if you're a Mazda fan, it's about here where you should start getting excited. The 2.5L turbo-four makes 250 hp on premium fuel, 227 hp on regular, and 310 lb-ft regardless of fuel.
This last is perhaps the most impressive figure, and one that Mazda's worked extensively to achieve. It comes in at a very low 2,000 rpm, and is intended to provide excellent real-world acceleration and fuel economy results, without the need to kick down a gear for passing maneuvers.
Further positioning the vehicle upscale, Mazda's worked hard to control NVH, something its struggled with in the past. However, they did manage to pull things off with the CX-3, launched in LA last year, and the list of sound-deadening improvements is impressive. The CX-9 gets acoustic glass for both the front and side windows, as well as so much under-carpet sound-deadening material that it has to be installed in sections lest it injure an assembly worker’s back.
Along with claims of the fun-to-drive nature you expect from a Mazda, there are a suite of safety features on offer. Mazda calls their tech suite i-Activesense, and it includes radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and other features expected at this level.
The real success here will be if Mazda can actually get turbocharging to deliver solid real-world fuel economy. Efficiency combined with frankly stunning styling and an interior treatment that's equally pleasing to the eye should make the CX-9 a winner. Not that the fun-to-drive factor isn't important at this level, but ease of ownership and attractive styling are equally important. And there's something else, too.
This new 2.5L turbocharged engine should have made every fast Mazda fan in the building sit up and take notice. Mazda's a small company – something they'll tell you at every opportunity – and works hard to streamline their manufacturing processes. That means that most of their engines and components can be swapped around like LEGO, and that means that putting a 250-hp (if not tuned for more) 2.5L turbo into the Mazda3 to create a Mazdaspeed3 is simply a matter of time. Hopefully.