2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature – Road Test Review – By Ben Lewis



 

Is the Mazda CX-9 a Miata for 7?

It’s an interesting thing. Used to be, you had needs, you bought a vehicle that fit those needs.

Things changed when SUV’s got popular. Suddenly, if you needed a minivan, but didn’t want to be seen in a minivan, you could get something cooler.

No more settling.

Well, that opened the floodgates. Pickup truck that’s decked out like a luxury sedan? You can get them with more cow on the inside than you can tow on the outside. EV’s that will stomp all over supercars? Here’s your Tesla. Convertible Crossovers? How about this year’s darling, the Range Rover Evoque?

So if I want the driving fun of a sports car, but need three rows of seats, you’ll indulge me, right?

Well, Mazda knows about sports cars, after all.

And since every other vehicle they’ve made recently has been a great drive, we had high hopes for the all-new CX-9.

The looks have been upgraded in a subtle way, giving the CX-9 more of a chiseled look, but it’s tasteful and conservative. While the large grille that’s part of the Mazda design language can look oversize on some of its siblings, on the larger CX-9, it’s just right. LED headlight and taillight design is in the squintier look that’s all the rage, but the overall combination is tasteful, handsome and modern.

Our tester was dressed in Mazda’s new signature color, Machine Gray, which is kind of an industrial sounding name for something that looks so luxurious. The color runs rich and deep, and it just oozes quality.

It adds up to a gorgeous package that looks expensive and subtle. Did our sports car dreams get dashed into a luxo-barge?

Well, step right inside…And if you can, look past all the gorgeous materials, (more on that later) and have a seat. Now this, feels like a sport sedan. A smidge tall, perhaps, but definitely made for drivers, with a nice set of round gauges in front of you, including one that’s a TFT screen for handy trip related info. In the center of the dashboard, a nice big touchscreen (now 8-inches!) that’s a loooong reach, but you can access what you need through a BMW-style controller aft of the shifter, including ta da! An actual volume knob. (Cue angel’s voices)

There are more clues that Mazda cares about the driver, like an improved Heads-Up display that helps keep your head up and looking outward. Wider than previous models, and now projecting directly on the windshield. Most importantly it now features an 8.5-foot focal distance (3.3-foot farther than before), that makes for a very natural “look down, look up” that doesn't find your eyes constantly trying to focus back and forth. A little detail, but it shows the care.

So after reducing distractions on the inside, on our Signature model, they add stuff that will certainly get your attention. Harrumph. How dare they tempt us with rich Nappa leather in a gorgeous deep auburn color. Mazda says it’s the finest leather upholstery ever used in a Mazda, and we believe it. Simply seductive.

 

Oh, and they couldn’t stop there, no. How about genuine Rosewood hand-selected for the center console and other areas? With a subtle matte finish, a joy to behold. Even real aluminum accents, sculpted to mimic the craftsmanship in Japan’s famous handmade knives.

So many times, you hear this “craftsmanship” story thrown around it feels like hogwash, but in the CX-9 it really does impress. This is a seriously beautiful place to spend time.

It’s also pretty functional too. The CX-9 serves up more second and third row legroom than MDX or Highlander. That said, the third row is best for kids, or adults that you don’t like much. Showing real world smarts, the second row can tilt for third row access with a child seat attached. (Just don’t do this with a kid in the seat) Cargo room is plenty big, at 14/38/71 cubic feet, depending if all 3 rows are up, just 2, or maxed out.

So comfy…so convenient….Hey! Snap out of it! We’re here to drive.

Right. You know the CX-9 is different as soon as you start it up. Unlike most competitors that tout V-6 engines, the Mazda is powered by a 250 horse, 2.5-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder. While that may sound pretty racy, it’s really a smart way to get smaller 4-cylinder fuel economy – a best in class EPA 25 mpg Combined – while providing strong performance.

Strong here means abundant low-end torque. The CX punches off the line with authority, and the turbo four has a nice little subdued growl to it. Mazda knows how to build four-cylinder engines. Once you’re up to speed, it kicks back to fuel sipping mode, and is quiet and composed. You can thank an additional 53 lbs. of sound deadening mats for that.

Miata for 7?

 

It’s in there! Put the put the 6-speed auto in Sport Mode and the big ute, gets with the program, the shifts are sharp and quick, and that turbo four feels superbly responsive under your toe.

That 4-cylinder up front means less weight, and when your pushing it, the CX-9 feels much smaller than it actually is, happily diving into corners, with power steering that’s feelsome and direct. The big 20-inch wheels and tires gives you a big hunk of grip, and the AWD drive system is a willing partner in your driving fun. Bottom line - you can hustle this big guy around with ease.

You’d expect this kind of roadholding in big-ticket European iron, but Mazda manages to give you that same goodness at a much more affordable price.

When you’re not terrorizing the twisties – and believe us, when Audi drivers see something this big in their mirrors keeping up, it does get their attention – you’ll probably be doing family transporting, and here, you’re looked after as well.

Our top of the line Signature had all the safety gear you expect – blind spot warning, lane departure warning, lane departure assist, rear cross traffic alert (a real help in a large vehicle) and adaptive cruise control that includes collision warning and automatic braking. Other neat stuff includes adaptive headlights that pivot up to 15 degrees in the direction of your turn to help light your way.

Another bright point is pricing. The base CX-9 Sport starts at just $31,520. ($33,320 with AWD) And very nicely equipped at that. Go up the ladder to Touring and Grand Touring ($35,970 and $40,170) and add luxuries as you go.

Our top of the line Signature starts at $44,015, and along with just about anything you can think of, also includes All Wheel Drive at that price. The gorgeous Auburn Nappa leather is also standard, and the only option –that beautiful Machine Gray Metallic, is a piddling $300 more. Total - $44,315.

In this neighborhood, a loaded Pathfinder or Highlander carry a similar sticker, while loading up an Acura MDX gets you over $56,000. Looking for that kind of European drive the Mazda gives? BMW’s X5 xDrive35i starts at $57,800 and builds from there. Gulp..

As folks who love to drive, but also need a family hauler, the CX-9 really hits the sweet spot. Its gorgeous looks will impress your friends. The comfort and materials will soothe your passengers, and when time permits, the ride and handling will put a smile on that Miata-loving mug of yours.

You wanted everything?

Here it is.  Mazda CX-9.

Enjoy.

We sure did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.