Mazda's all-new, seven seat crossover SUV, the CX-9, has made its local debut, undergoing an engineering evaluation drive in Victoria earlier this month.

Mazda Motor Corporation sent a prototype right-hand-drive engineering mule and a team of engineers to evaluate the V6-powered CX-9 under Australian conditions.

The all-wheel-drive CX-9 was driven on a mix of city and country roads, including tram tracks and gravel.

Australia will be the first market to receive the RHD CX-9. It goes on sale from January 2008.

To be offered in two grades, the Australian CX-9s, which have been extensively modified for right-hand-drive use, are expected to be priced between $55,000 and $60,000.

Modifications include "flipping" the centre seat 60/40 split and middle row seatbelt mounting point, ensuring that the CX-9's insightful interior works just as well in Australia as it does in North America.

The evaluation drive, which focused on areas such as powertrain, suspension and steering calibration and NVH, also included the left-hand-drive North American specification CX-9 displayed at this year's Melbourne motor show.

Mazda Australia's marketing manager, Martin Benders said: "The CX-9 is shaping up to be a strong entrant in the seven seat market, with our market research and the recent evaluation drive confirming that CX-9 has what it takes cabin space for seven adults, style and class leading dynamics - to make an impact in this family-friendly market segment.

"Having the opportunity to drive a prototype CX-9 with the crossover SUV's engineers in advance of the launch further underlines Mazda's commitment to the Australian market."

Mazda is the top selling import brand in Australia with sales up 19.8 per cent to 25,835 vehicles (7.8 per cent market share) at the end of April.

While final specifications have yet to be confirmed, the 186 kilowatt CX-9 will be generously equipped with a choice of 18 or 20-inch alloy wheels, dual zone climate control air conditioning, cruise control, power windows and mirrors, six airbags and active safety features such as Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Roll Stability Control (RSC).

For CX-9 to wear the Mazda Winged-M symbol, it had to be more than just another crossover SUV. It had to be a true Mazda, embodying the company's signature "Soul of a Sports Car". And so engineers determined CX-9 had to have an independent suspension on all four corners.

In front, the perimeter frame mounted to the unibody through six rubber isolators supports the powertrain, the engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion power steering, and a low friction strut-type suspension system using coil springs. The multilink rear suspension consists of one trailing arm and two lateral locating members per side. To minimise cargo-compartment intrusion and permit a wider load space, the rear coil spring is positioned between the lower lateral member and the unibody. A damper is located as close as possible to each rear wheel to provide excellent motion control with minimal friction. Anti-roll bars at each end maximise agility and control during assertive driving.