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First look: Mazda's stunning cross-over concept

Trade marks: The MX-Crossport concept is easily identified as a Mazda thanks to a distinctive front end that includes an evolution of the RX-8 sports car’s fenders and an MPS-style grille.

Mazda's MX-Crossport concept points to forthcoming 4WD wagon

16 Dec 2004

MAZDA moves to fill a gaping hole in its line-up when it unveils its first cross-over concept at the Detroit auto show next month.

While the official line is that any possible production future for the vehicle, which is designated MX-Cross-port as a concept, relies on public and media reaction and Mazda’s research findings, it already seems certain something based upon it will be built.

“We cannot afford the luxury of just wasting our time,” said Mazda’s design director Moray Callum when the MX-Crossport was previewed to select media, including GoAuto, in Japan last month.

The launch of a production Mazda cross-over can be expected by early 2007. By then the company has committed to reveal 16 significant new models, including three cross-over/SUV vehicles.

The good news is that while the production cross-over will be primarily aimed at the left-hand drive North American market where Mazda is struggling to grow sales, there seems no doubt that it will be built in right-hand drive and head Down Under as well.

A key player in ensuring that happens is Malcolm Gough, the former Mazda Australia managing director who took up a new posting at Mazda’s Hiroshima headquarters this year as general manager of the overseas sales division.

“We’ve got Malcolm Gough here, and you know what Malcolm is like,” said Mazda’s global R&D chief, Joe Bakaj at the MX-Crossport preview. “Malcolm is excited at the Crossport. I will leave it at that.” The crucial question as far as the executives at Mazda Australia are concerned is just how long they will have to wait for this vehicle, which will bolster the company’s line-up in the hyper-competitive SUV area from the current sole offering, the ageing Tribute.

With Mazda Australia already forecasting that the four VFACTS SUV segments will combine to consistently sell more than the large or small passenger car segments within three years, it is no surprise that local managing director Doug Dickson is licking his lips at the prospect of a production car based on MX-Crossport.

“It’s absolutely wonderful, we are delighted with it,” Mr Dickson said.

“It appears to be aimed at a different market to the Tribute, although it is a little bit difficult to tell from a concept.

Mazda is giving us a taste of its general feel about how to go about combining the ‘Zoom Zoom’ design ethos with cross-over and SUV styling

“We are told it has good interior space, it has high style and it is probably geared more toward the sporting and personal end of the market.

“We like its style and we believe it (a production version) will fit within the way Mazda Australia markets. We can certainly be positive about that.” The media got its first look at the MX-Crossport during the recent 2005 & Beyond preview exercise conducted by Mazda in Hiroshima in November.

But there was no opportunity to get closer than a metre from the car, or have a good inspection of the interior.

Nevertheless, the Crossport concept is easily identified as a Mazda thanks to a distinctive front end that includes an evolution of the RX-8 sports car’s fenders and an MPS-style grille.

“In production you could virtually replicate the theme of this vehicle,” said Mr Callum. “We’ve really tried to dial up the sportiness figure with this car and dial down the SUV.” It’s also fair to suggest Mazda is giving us a taste of its general feel about how to go about combining the ‘Zoom Zoom’ design ethos with cross-over and SUV styling. Tribute is due for a complete revision soon, while a third vehicle Mazda has hinted at could be larger and aimed at replacing the old Millenia/800M as the company’s most prestigious vehicle.

22 center image Not everything about MX-Crossport is production bound of course. The concept has four separate seats, a floor-length console and floating roof rails. But production cars would offer five and probably seven-seat set-ups, while the massive 20-inch wheel and tyre combination is pure show car excess.

Mazda was also totally silent on drivetrain or chassis plans, only revealing the MX-Crossport is 4630mm long, 1930mm wide and has a long 2795mm wheelbase.

However, as this car is being pitched as a direct competitor for the Nissan Murano in North America, a V6 engine makes sense. At the moment the only V6 Mazda has available to it is the Ford family 3.0-litre Duratec.

The underlying platform for the production car also appears to be a Ford family affair, with the plan being to mount it on an adaptation of the corporate C1 architecture.

C1 is already used by Mazda for the compact 3 model and the new 5, which is the small people-mover that replaced the Premacy. It also underpins the Ford Focus and Fusion and Volvo S and V40.

European reports say the platform is known as C1+ and will be used for future Volvo S60, V70 and S80, as well as the rumoured XC50 small SUV. Land Rover will use it for the Freelander.

Ford is developing two vehicles off C1+, five and seven-seat versions of a cross-over known internally as SAV, or Sport Activity Vehicle, as well as a radical replacement for the Galaxy people-mover.

Engines linked to the C1+ project include four and five-cylinder petrol units and a new generation turbo-diesel family.

Transmission choices are said to include five and six-speed manual, CVT and a new dual-clutch design. All-wheel drive will be optional.

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