Mazda is altering its zoom-zoom image to make it more environmentally friendly. But instead of banking on hybrids and plug-ins, Mazda is focusing on other technology – dubbed SkyActiv – to increase fuel efficiency without sacrificing performance in its vehicles. SkyActiv includes re-engineered engines, transmissions, bodies and chassis designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions without forgoing performance.
It was first introduced in North America on the 2012 Mazda3 and then in the 2013 CX-5, the first production model to fully adopt all the SkyActiv technology. The SkyActiv engine is 10 per cent lighter with less internal friction than the MZR 2.0-litre gas engine it replaces. As a result, it delivers 15 per cent more torque, 15 per cent better fuel economy and 15 per cent less CO2 emissions.
SkyActiv is trickling slowly into other vehicles across Mazda’s lineup. The next vehicle to receive the full suite of technologies will be the all-new 2014 Mazda6, which goes on sale early next year. Personally, I’d love to see the technology in CUVs like the Mazda CX-9.
For now, the CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-litre V-6 that delivers 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the engine is a six-speed automatic transmission, which is smooth and precise. Front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive configurations are available. I prefer the security of all-wheel-drive on rain-slicked and snow-covered roads.
The CX-9 has pleasant road manners with plenty of pull for merging on to a highway with faster-moving vehicles. Its firm suspension and accurate steering make it feel stable and secure on the road. You’ll hear little road or engine noise – it’s well-insulated in the cabin.
And despite its large size and weight, 2,068 kg for the 4WD, this CUV is agile and nimble. It’s respectable on gas, too. The 4WD gets 12.8 litres/100 km in the city and 9.0 on the highway. The FWD is rated at 12.7 city/8.4 highway using regular fuel. Parking can be tricky, though. Its big, long body can be cumbersome to manoeuvre in crowded shopping malls and grocery stores.
The base price of the front-wheel-drive GS trim is reasonable, starting at $36,395. It comes with three rows of seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, power door locks, windows, and mirrors, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, heated front seats and rain-sensing front wipers.
My tester, an all-wheel-drive GT, costs a lot more at $45,595. Add the navigation package for $2,675 and it’s $48,270. Granted, it does add larger, 20-inch alloy wheels, Xenon HID headlights, fog lights, a glass moon roof, turn signal indicators on the exterior side door mirrors and an innovative blind spot monitoring system, which uses radar sensors to detect and warn you of vehicles in the blind spot.
A keyless entry and start system also lets you lock and unlock all the doors or tailgate by pressing a button on the driver’s door handle – just keep the key fob buried in the bottom of your purse or pocket and it’ll do the trick. You can also start the engine without a key – just turn the ignition like normal. It’s a bit redundant, though – a push-button start makes more sense.
From the outside, the Mazda CX-9 is athletic and sporty with some nice touches such as a long front overhang with Mazda’s smiley face taking centre stage at the front end. Inside, it excels. The interior is functional – it’s nicely designed and well-appointed with excellent fit and finish. Plush, soft leather covers the seats; from the driver’s seat you get an excellent view of the road ahead. However, thick rear pillars obstruct your view on the driver’s side.
The driver’s seat on my tester is eight-way power adjustable while the front passenger seat is four-way power adjustable. The 60/40-split second row seats are equally supportive – they also slide forward and back for extra legroom in the second or third rows.
The third row is small and tight, especially for adults; only kids will be comfy riding in the last row. But it’s easy to access. And if you don’t need to use the seats they’re easy to lower by simply tugging a strap. The trunk space is limited when all three rows are in use. But when the third row is folded there’s 487 litres of space. A power tailgate also makes it a cinch to load and unload groceries.
There are many handy compartments to store cell phones, sun glasses, magazines and change. Cup holders in the front and rear are useful. And, after a workout, you can store big bottles of water in the front and rear doors.
The CX-9 is a smart package with enough space for seven along with the driving characteristics of Mazda’s zoom-zoom trademark. Hopefully, it’ll retain those features if SkyActiv gets added to this ride down the line.
2012 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD
Type: Four-door, seven-passenger full-size crossover
Base Price: $45,595; as tested, $48,270
Engine: 3.7-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 273 hp/270 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 12.8 city/9.0 highway ; regular gas
Alternatives: Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Volkswagen Touareg, Toyota Highlander, Ford Flex, Dodge Journey, Subaru Tribeca, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz