Mazda Motor Corp. knows its customers have a need for speed. And it knows that its Skyactiv lineup, devoid of any engine that surpasses 200 hp, is not always enough to satisfy that need.
To fix that problem, Mazda has engineered a potent turbocharged version of its 2.5-liter Skyactiv engine to power the redesigned CX-9 crossover that goes on sale in early 2016, according to two sources familiar with Mazda's product plan.
By itself, the CX-9 wouldn't normally justify the investment in a separate turbo. And given Mazda's limited funds, the company isn't at liberty to develop a high-performance specialty car to spread the cost.
So instead, Mazda's business plan for the engine is built around adding a speedier version of one of its core models -- such as the Mazda6 or CX-5 -- and underscoring its sporty heritage that way.
Mazda's solution is emblematic of the challenges for small, independent automakers: They can't afford to invest in as many engines as enormous rivals such as Nissan and Hyundai, but they still have brand images to cultivate and a need to keep up with the bigger, wealthier Joneses.
Honda and Toyota, two longtime holdouts from turbocharging, are making a shift. Starting this fall, Honda plans to offer a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine in its Civic compact car. Toyota will soon replace the optional V-6 in its Camry midsize sedan, America's best-selling car, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter engine.
"Downsized turbocharged engines offer the power that the customer wants along with the efficiencies of fuel economy and the benefits that go along with the lightweighting," Frank Paluch, president of Honda R&D Americas, told Automotive News this summer in explaining the shift.
For Mazda, engine development may be less of a challenge in the future, now that the company has arranged a technical "marriage" with Toyota. But that agreement wasn't in place when the CX-9 went into development.
Extra power is key for the family-hauling CX-9, which weighs more than two tons.
The seven-seat crossover is powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, a holdover from Mazda's former relationship with Ford. Mazda was determined to use one of its own engines for the next-generation CX-9, but its most powerful U.S.-spec engine, the 2.5-liter, produces 184 hp -- nearly 100 hp less than the V-6.
Mazda hopes its new engine will also help the company with its growth goal.
This spring, Mazda CEO Masa-michi Kogai promised four new models and one variant as part of a second stage of its reform plan that runs through March 2019. The variant is believed to be based on the Mazda6 midsize sedan or the CX-5 compact crossover, and is expected to use the turbocharged engine.