Mazda’s new 2016 CX-9 is the largest of their three SUV offerings, and in fact, the largest Mazda vehicle they have ever made. The larger dimensions are put to good use, as there is ample room for driver and passenger in the front, very good leg and headroom for second row passengers, and even decent, if not spacious, room for average size adults in the third row.
We had a chance to spend a week with the top of the line Signature AWD model. Mazda threw everything it had into this one, and it came with a very un-Mazda like price tag of $45,215 including freight.
The 3.7 liter V-6 is gone, in favor of a new turbocharged 2.5 liter inline four. The engine offers 227 hp on regular gas, or if you put premium fuel into the tank, that number jumps to 250 hp. But Mazda says that the increase in power comes above the 4500 rpm range, where most folks will seldom get to before the 6-speed transmission shifts to a higher gear. The torque number is respectable at 310 ft. lbs. and it comes on at a very usable 2,000 rpm, and is the same with either gas choice. Save your money, folks, because the regular gas will be more than sufficient to power this 4,300 pound vehicle in all traffic conditions, whether leaving a stoplight, passing on a two lane road, or merging into highway traffic.
The gas mileage is rated at 21 City and 27 highway. Those numbers are a bit optimistic, especially the City number. We only experienced 18 in suburban driving, and about 25 on the Highway. Competitors like the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, or Honda Pilot list lower mpg figures, but the Mazda’s real world numbers bring it back to the rest of the field.
The 6-speed transmission operates smoothly, and can be shifted manually with the gear shift lever – no paddles. Push the Sport mode, and you’ll get higher into the rev range before shifting, but the mode only is for the engine, and doesn’t affect suspension, steering, or any other system on the car.
The All-Wheel-Drive system is pretty vanilla, and is also available on the lower trim levels. It monitors wheel spin and directs power to where it’s needed for optimum grip. The suspension is also pretty straightforward, with strut-and-multilink design. It offers a smooth comfortable ride on the highway, and on awful pot holed streets, with the 20” wheels and tires on this Signature model. There was a bit more body lean in turns, and more brake dive than I anticipated. It’s not bad, but the CX-9 didn’t feel quite as athletic as I have come to expect from anything with a Mazda nameplate.
The electric steering provides good feedback and predictable steering response, and therefore Mazda didn’t feel the need to have switchable modes for it.
Styling is seldom a strong point for SUV’s. They all seem to have a basic silhouette which is more function over form inspired. But the CX-9 has an attractive shark-nose front end that leans forward and the grill is surrounded by chrome which blends into the headlights that wrap into the fenders. In fact there is a fair amount of brightwork on the Signature model, including the lower fascia, lower doors, roof rails, and a horizontal strip connecting the tail lights in the rear. All this gives the CX-9 an upscale and somewhat unique appearance.
The interior is also much improved over the previous model. It looks and feels more sedan-like. The wide, layered horizontal dash sits low, and is very eye appealing when finished in the Auburn colored leather seats and dash panels, which sets off the black upper and lower dash trim. Also, some woodgrain accents surrounding the center console and doors blend nicely, and the brushed aluminum trim pieces are not overdone. Soft touch materials are where they belong, and all the materials feel and look like they belong in a $45,000 vehicle. And the cabin is also very quiet on the road.
Three round gauges are set in front of the driver, which is a bit different than the usual two gauge package, with an LED info screen in between, which is common on most new vehicles nowadays. In this case the third round gauge houses that info screen, and it’s nicer looking while offering the same types of information to toggle through.
We found the perforated leather heated seats, with contrasting stitching, to be well shaped and bolstered, if a bit stiff on the seat bottom. They are also electrically operated and have a dual memory positions. There is no center stack per se, as the Nav screen sits atop the dash and lower down you can find the easy to operate HVAC control nobs. The other functions are accessed with a round dial on the console, and unfortunately, that can be fussy, as all control dials seem to be. Oddly, while this vehicle is loaded with the latest technology, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is absent.
Second row seats are comfortable and offer spacious leg and headroom. They slide fore and aft, and when slid forward, offer a decent path to the third row seats. And if second row passengers move their seats forward, there is decent comfort for the third row occupants to sit fairly comfortably. The armrest console in the second row will hold cell phones and tablets, and have USB ports.
With the third row seats folded flat, there is 38.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity, and 71 with the second row folded flat. There is also some storage under the floor of the cargo area. We wish the CX-9 came with a panoramic moon roof. The small one fitted seems to be sized for the Mazda 3 rather than this large vehicle.
As we said before, the Signature model comes with a very long list of standard items. In fact the only option on this car was a $300 upcharge for the Machine Grey paint color. So in addition to items mentioned earlier, the Signature comes with rain-sensing wipers, heated outside mirrors, power liftgate, tilt/telescope steering wheels with audio and cruise controls, auto-dimming rear view mirror, 8-way power seat w/lumbar, (4-way passenger seat) 2nd row window sun shades, adaptive front lighting system, fog lights, radar cruise control, keyless entry w/push button start, 3-zone climate control, 12-speaker Bose sound system, trailer stability assist, blind spot monitors, rear cross traffic alert, rear back-up sensors, lane departure warning, with lane keep assist, smart brake support, and so much more.
You can get into a CX-9 Sport model starting at $31,520, a Touring at $35,970, a Grand Touring at $40,170, and the Signature at $44,015. Adding AWD to any of these models adds about $1,800. The Signature only comes in all wheel drive. Some option packages are available on the Sport, but you really have to step up to the Touring model before you have more options to select.
Overall, the new Mazda CX-9 is an excellent vehicle, in a market crowded with excellent vehicles. I think shopping around can let you find similar vehicles from Korea and the US that stack up as well and will have a bit more content, or lower price tags. But you won’t go wrong with the Mazda.
Ken “Hawkeye” Glassman has been a motor journalist for over 30 years, reviewing automobile, as well as motorcycle ride reviews and accessory reviews.
His car articles have appeared in Robb Report Magazine, Autoguide.com, Car-Revs-Daily.com and other media. His work has also appeared in Road Bike Magazine, Motorcycle Tour and Cruiser, SpeedTV.com, MotorcycleUSA.com and others.
As motorcycle columnist for The Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, the paper became the only major circulation newspaper in the country to have a separate weekly section devoted to motorcycles. Later he wrote a weekly column for Cyclefocus Magazine.