MAZDA STUDIED THE HABITS OF DRIVERS, WRITES LIZ DOBSON
Parents around Mazda North America’s Irvine headquarters in California would have noticed they were followed by a fleet of CX-5s a couple of years ago but it was in the name of research, not stalking.
When it came time to reinvent the new CX-9, the Mazda North America’s engineering team decided to see exactly how its target market drove a mid-sized SUV. The US is Mazda’s biggest market for the former people-mover, and 80 per cent of its sales are expected there.
So the team sat outside local schools and then followed families in SUVs to note their routines and driving habits.
It soon dawned on the engineers that the typical driver of medium SUVs in California wasn’t heading out of town every weekend or even spending much time on the highways and hitting speeds of up to 120km/h.
Instead the owners of mid-sized, city-bound SUVs needed low-end revs, not extensive power at high speed.
The Mazda engineers then concentrated on pairing the CX-9 with an engine that would suit stop-start driving styles. And the solution was an all-new SkyActiv 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine.
The new engine replaces Mazda’s 3.7l V6 petrol engine and has a 20 per cent increase in fuel efficiency but produces 420Nm of torque at 2000rpms, as much as a conventional 4-litre V8 claims Mazda.
It also was created to produce power in the lower range of gears for use in stop-start traffic and city driving.
Two days before its global reveal at the Los Angeles motor show, Mazda had a select group of international motoring writers drive four hand-built prototype CX-9s that had the new engine.
The CX-9s were heavily camouflaged with the usual swirling grey, white and black wrap and the interior panels were totally covered except for infortainment screen and gauges as Mazda didn’t want to give away too much. Based at the swanky SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, our three-hour drive took in Beverly Hills, freeway driving in rush hour (so definitely stop-start) before testing the power of the engine on the winding Mullholland Drive, then back into Hollywood for more stop-start driving.
Those hours of stalking Irvine parents have paid off for Mazda.
The engine works superbly in city-driving conditions, giving maximum torque from just 2000rpm. Unfortunately the congested freeway meant our top speed was 50km/h until we hit Mullholland.
There the low centre of gravity of the SUV proved the CX-9 had great handling and cornering.
The engineering team also worked on cabin noise by adding 24kg of sound deadening installed below the floor in three sections. That produced a quiet drive — though five kids in the second and third rows will negate any sound deadening materials.
The CX-9 is due in US showrooms early next year and arrives Downunder mid-year.
But what about Kiwi drivers? I suggested to a Mazda engineer at a SLS Hotel press conference that we are more likely to take our SUVs out of town for weekends away so need top-end torque.
Well, it seems the Mazda engineering team also stalked Sydney SUV drivers and, like the Irvine parents, the majority of their commute was in stop-start traffic.