First Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-9

Next-gen crossover highlights Kodo design influence.

by on May.24, 2016

The CX-9 looks smart and offers ample horsepower and features technologies needed to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.

Mazda always has had a reputation for building great quick, nimble, sporty cars.

But perceptions about the other vehicles in product have been less precise, which is a challenge in a world where small sporty cars are being left in the garage in favor of utility vehicles that seem more suited to today’s harried lifestyles.

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However, Mazda now has an answer and with the CX-9, it has developed a utility vehicle that looks smart and offers ample horsepower. It also delivers the kind of solid dynamics that enhances a motorist’s driving experience and features technology, such as a forward collision braking system to compete with the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot.

Over the years, Mazda, unlike some of its Japanese rivals, has demonstrated a deft touch with exterior styling and the CX-9 clearly benefits from the tradition. Often the basic shape of a utility vehicle is dictated by its functionality and emphasis on ample interior space.

The sleek lines of the three-row crossover and surfaces along the CX-9's silhouette serve to reinforce the dynamic nature of the exterior design.

But with the CX-9, Mazda’s designers in California have endowed the CX-9 with proportions, thanks to carefully shortened overhangs at the front and rear and close attention to exterior details, that give it a distinct appearance regardless of its function or whether it is in motion or standing still at the curb waiting for passengers.

The sleek lines of the Kodo-inspired styling of the three-row crossover and surfaces along the CX-9′s silhouette serve to reinforce the dynamic nature of the exterior design, which also works to make the vehicle look more compact.

(Mazda expects new CX-9 to maintain brand’s sales momentum. For more, Click Here.)

Mazda also made the interior comfortable with soft-materials on key touch points, easy to reach controls, easy to read gauges and comfortable and adjustable seats. The mix of textures and material used throughout that make it feel luxurious and create the kind of environment that’s easy to take on a long drive. It’s also quiet, which eliminates some of the stress of driving. While the third-row seats are accessible, but, in my opinion, only to small children – or perhaps small adults in a pinch.

The new CX-9 features the Mazda Connect infotainment system and up to an eight-inch touch screen display, depending upon trim level.

The CX-9 also benefits from Mazda’s attention to driving dynamics. It weighs 198 pounds less than its predecessor and is solid and responsive out on the road and with a responsive steering, a stiffer frame and a suspension system that gives CX-9 a distinctly car-like feel both in turns and curves and on hilly, narrow roads with varied pavement and on the highway during passing maneuvers.

Even with its shortened overhangs the CX-9 is a relatively long vehicle at 199 inches, but it is easy to maneuver into and out of tight spaces.

The powertrain in the CX-9 is built around new turbocharged “SkyActiv” 2.5T engine, which generates 310 lb-ft of torque from just 2,000 rpm and 250 horsepower on 93-octane gasoline or 227 hp on 87-octane. Mazda reports fuel-economy ratings 22 miles per gallon in city driving or 28 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined in front-wheel-drive configuration. Those figures drop a bit to 21 city, 27 highway and 23 combined for the all-wheel-drive version of the CX-9.

That engine is matched with Mazda’s six-speed, SkyActiv automatic transmission and is available with an all-wheel-drive system that is always on can sense road conditions and while anticipating potential changes in traction shift torque between the front and rear wheels.

(Click Here to check out the Mazda Koeru Concept.)

Mazda is offering the four different version of CX-9, including the Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and new Signature Series.

The powertrain is built around a new turbocharged "SkyActiv" 2.5T engine, which can generate as much as 310 lb-ft of torque and 250 horsepower.

The LED headlights and taillights, fabric seating surfaces, an electronic parking brake, 18-inch wheels, rear backup camera, trailer stability assist, the Mazda Connect infotainment with Commander control and a seven-inch color display are standard on the CX-9 with its $31,520 manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, which does not include the $900 destination charge. Optionally available in the Sport Package, which adds a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and heated door mirrors.

CX-9 Touring adds an auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic warning, leather seating surfaces, keyless entry, power lift gate and an eight-inch touch screen display. In addition, the Premium Package includes automatic headlights, LED fog lights, navigation, Bose audio system, rain-sensing wipers, rear backup sensors, Smart City Brake Support and a sunroof.

Further heightening the CX-9 lineup is the Grand Touring model with Adaptive Front-lighting System, 20-inch wheels, aluminum interior trim, and an active driving display that projects instrument and navigation information onto the windshield, high-beam control, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, radar cruise control and memory settings on the driver’s seat.

The top of the line Signature, $44,015 price includes the predictive all-wheel system, Napa leather as well as touches such as rosewood from Japanese guitar-maker Fujigen, LED signature accent grille lighting and LED accent lighting around the automatic shifter.

(Mazda again named most fuel-efficient brand. Click Here for the story.)

The fight for marketshare in the broad utility segment is intensifying, but overall I found the CX-9 to be an immensely likeable vehicle. For its size, it is easy and comfortable to drive, while the new safety equipment found on the vehicle offer the driver additional protection while commuting or during a long drive. Pricewise it is certainly not cheap, but neither is the content.

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