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Mazda rethinks SUV strategy

Minagi concept: The Minagi provides hints of Mazda's CX-7 replacement, which is likely to be downsized.

Smaller CX-7 replacement and diesel CX-9 are on the cards

15 Feb 2011

MAZDA’S new-generation powertrain, chassis and body technology collectively known as Sky Activ might be one of its largest, expensive and most time-consuming undertakings in the company’s 80-year history, but it also has given rise to new opportunities in established vehicle classes.

Every model in Mazda’s artillery will undergo revolutionary changes to make the Japanese brand more competitive globally, from a new suspension system mooted for the diminutive Mazda2 to a rethink for the largest SUV.

Case in point is a complete rethink for the CX-7 replacement, which will move the five-seater crossover wagon away from the compact and medium SUV segments it has straddled since 2006 due to its larger Mazda6-based underpinnings.

Mazda will not yet confirm it publically, but one insider suggested the Minagi concept to be unveiled at next month’s Geneva motor show will form the basis for a smaller yet roomier successor for the company, to take on the popular Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 from next year.

Aimed at appealing to Japanese and European consumers rather than the American market-focussed CX-7, the resulting ‘CX-5’ will leverage the upcoming Sky Activ chassis’ greater packaging to help deliver a more compact yet roomier vehicle.

In other words, it will be based on the C-segment Mazda3 chassis rather than the Mazda6, putting the SUV on a much more even keel to the successful Volkswagen Tiguan and Kia Sportage.

22 center imageFrom top: Mazda Sky Activ G petrol engine, current model Mazda CX-7 and current model Mazda CX-9.

Not only does this address the relatively poor interior space utilisation of the existing CX-7, it allows for a lighter, nimbler, more fuel efficient and lower emissions vehicle, since the Sky Activ D diesel and G petrol engines and Sky Drive gearboxes are also part of the new tech packaging.

Whether Mazda elects to continue with the established and well-received CX-7 nomenclature or go for CX-5 (or even CX-6) is not yet known, although one Mazda source told GoAuto that an internal debate has been underway for some time since sticking with the same or going for a new name both have merit.

“There are pros and cons with both,” he said.

The CX-7 replacement is expected to be launched before the next-generation Mazda6, which is on track at this stage for a 2013 release.

Meanwhile, the CX-9 – an Australian, North American and Indonesian-market only seven-seater SUV released in 2007 and built in Hiroshima in Japan – is also set for renewal within the next three years.

Like the ‘CX-5’ a lighter, smaller body that nevertheless offers more usable interior space is thought to be under development.

Another Mazda source suggested that both five and seven-seater versions will be made available, with diesel power courtesy of the Sky Activ D engine making a debut in the series.

Also of interest is whether a V6 petrol will continue to be offered, since Mazda’s engineers are concentrating on four-cylinder and next-generation rotary powerplants. Presently the 3.7-litre MZI V6 under the existing full-sized SUV is sourced from Ford, and is believed to be the basis for the next-generation of engines slated for the Falcon.

In its place, a turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine based on the upcoming Sky Activ G is under serious consideration for the next CX-9.

This same engine is also earmarked for the next-generation Mazda3 MPS, we understand, since the Japanese company is determined to persist with a Golf GTI and Renault Megane RS 250 competitor.

“The MPS – like the MX-5 and RX-8 – is the soul of Mazda so it will stay,” Kiyoshi Fujiwara told GoAuto Media this week.

“If we develop a turbo petrol Sky G engine then it might be suitable for an MPS.” Speaking of Mazda3, the facelift due later this year will probably herald the debut of the Sky Activ engines in Australia, although Mazda Australia doggedly refuses to confirm that at this point.

As this will be part of the ultra-successful small car’s mid-life refresh, an all-new Mazda3 will not be unveiled for at least another two and a half years, as Mazda’s engineering departments are stretched to near breaking point developing the SUVs, Mazda6, next-generation Mazda2 and rear-drive sports cars before that.

The Mazda2, by the way, will probably continue to share links with the Ford Fiesta when it appears in 2013.

However, whether it sticks with the current car’s torsion beam rear suspension or adopts the simpler yet more effective ‘SS’ (self stabilising) design first seen in the original front-drive Mazda 323/Familia (and Ford Laser) of the 1980s remains to be seen.

“We are investigating this SS system but we have to make it more stable at higher speeds,” a Mazda engineer told GoAuto.

In its quest for greater efficiency and lower emissions, the next-gen Mazda2 is also likely to adopt the new-generation six-speed manual and Sky Activ Drive six-speed automatic gearboxes.

Finally, the future of the next-generation Mazda rotary sports car is tied with the development of the upcoming MX-5 due sometime next year an all-new rotary engine using Sky Activ technology is expected, with yet another round of significant weight reductions affecting both the RX-8 replacement (thought to resurrect the RX-7 name) as well as the classic roadster.

A sub-1000kg kerb weight is the target for the latter, bringing it closer to the 970kg NA original of 1989.

“The new sports cars are not very far away now,” Mr Fujiwara promised.

“But we are very busy right now and there is still plenty to do.”
Mazda new-modeltimeline:
Mazda3 Series IIfacelift with Sky ActivSecond half 2011
Mazda ND MX-5/ RX-72012
CX-7 replacement/ CX-52012
CX-9 replacement2014

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