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First Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-9

“Soul of Motion” Describes More than Just the Styling

Gary Witzenburg
Jul 28, 2016
Photographers: Courtesy of Mazda
Mazda is transitioning from a mainstream brand known for sporty styling and agile dynamics to a premium Japanese maker adding eager performance and class-leading efficiency across its line. A few years ago, it was subcompact Mazda2, compact Mazda3 and midsize Mazda6 sedans, iconic MX-5 Miata two-seat sports cars, Mazda5 mini-minivans, and CX-9 three-row CUVs. All were likeable, and the first CX-9 won both Motor Trend and North American Truck of the Year, but there was little in common among them to build the brand.
Photo 2/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Silver Exterior Front View
Photo 3/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 In Chinatown
Now the Mazda2 and 5 are gone, the 3 and 6 are more refined, two well-received new CUVs (subcompact CX-3 and compact CX-5) have been added, the MX-5 Miata is all new, and this equally all-new three-row CX-9 CUV has arrived to top off the line. All six boast eye pleasing looks with Mazda’s “Soul of Motion” design ethos, fun-to-drive character, and willing, yet frugal, new powertrains under the Mazda SKYACTIV label.
Styling is subjective, but this artfully sculpted, athletically proportioned new crossover strikes us as movie-star handsome in a segment known for bland, blocky, or overly aggressive looks. The same holds true inside the cabin, where the levels of craftsmanship and materials (at least in high-end Grand Touring and Signature trims) rival those in luxury cars. Its winning strategy is "passion and emotion" that customers value and competitors can't easily match. The downside of its sleek exterior shape, however, is less third-row passenger and cargo room (about 71 versus 79-83 cubic feet) compared to its major competitors.
Photo 4/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Silver Exterior Side View With Bridge
Photo 5/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Rear View With Red Exterior
We found the 2.5L SKYACTIV-G turbo four (which replaces the previous CX-9's V-6) torquey and powerful when we needed it to be—in two-lane passing, for example. Mazda's engine wizards designed a unique variable-pulsation Dynamic Pressure Turbo and limited its peak power to a fairly modest 227 hp at 5,000 rpm with regular gas (250 with premium) in favor of a healthy 310 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm for quick, no-lag response even at low rpm in top gear without a downshift. It also has head-of-the-class EPA fuel economy is 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 25 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 21/27/23 with "predictive" i-ACTIV AWD.
In a day of driving on twisty two-lanes and busy freeways, we found the new CX-9's steering responsive; its handling noticeably more athletic than most competitors; its brakes strong and sure; and its upscale cabin conversation quiet. At about 4,300 pounds—roughly equal to Honda's new Pilot but 200-300 pounds lighter than Toyota's Highlander and Nissan's Pathfinder (as well as the previous CX-9)—it's no sports car in the corners, but in typical Mazda style, it acquits itself well even when driven more aggressively than most owners ever will.
Photo 6/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Passenger Side
Photo 7/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Seats
Photo 8/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Third Row Folded
Photo 9/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Second Third Row Seats Folded
Among its standard and available features are single-lever 60/40 second-row seats for easy third-row access, 12-speaker Bose premium audio tuned for concert-like sound, a MAZDA CONNECT infotainment system with both a touchscreen (unfortunately only usable when stopped) and a "commander control knob" surrounded by five shortcut buttons on the console, and the i-ACTIVSENSE suite of driver assists. Those include Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, which detects vehicles up to 164 feet away; Mazda Radar Cruise Control, which maintains safe following distances even in challenging conditions (and can be turned off to revert to conventional cruise); Lane Keep Assist, which helps you stay in your lane; Lane Departure Warning, which vibrates the steering wheel if you stray out of the lane; High Beam Control, which switched to lowbeams for head- or taillights ahead; Distance Recognition Support System, which displays distance to the vehicle ahead; Forward Obstruction Warning, which warns when evasive action may be needed; and Smart Brake Support, which automatically brakes to reduce the severity of an impending collision.
Photo 10/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Dash
Photo 11/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Shifter
Photo 12/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Usb Charging Ports
The ’16 CX-9 is offered in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and flagship Signature trims. Standard on the $32,000 Sport are LED head- and taillights, fabric seats, 18-inch wheels, backup camera, trailer stability assist, and MAZDA CONNECT with a 7-inch color display. A $950 Sport Package adds power driver seat, heated front seats, and heated mirrors. Touring ($36k) adds leather, Keyless Entry, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, power front seats and liftgate, and an 8-inch touchscreen. A $1,745 Premium Package adds a sunroof, automatic headlights, LED fog lights, navigation, premium BOSE audio, rain-sensing wipers, backup sensors, SiriusXM satellite radio, and Smart City Brake Support. Grand Touring ($40k) gets 20-inch wheels, roof rails, a memory driver seat, aluminum interior trim, an Active Driving head-up display, adaptive front lighting, and the i-ACTIVSENSE features, while Signature models ($44k) come with Nappa leather, rosewood trim, and LED accent lighting around the front grille and shift lever. i-ACTIV AWD is standard on the Signature trim and available on all others.
Based on its good looks, driving character, and premium features, this new CX-9 should shape up as a serious player in America's three-row CUV market.
Photo 13/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Grille
Photo 14/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Taillight
Photo 15/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 On The Road
Photo 16/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Red Exterior Driving Along Hillside
Photo 17/52   |   2016 Mazda Cx9 Red Exterior Side View
2016 Mazda CX-9
Vehicle type: Crossover Utility Vehicle
Base price: $31,520 ($900 destination)
Price as tested: $44,015 + $900
Engine: 2.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Horsepower: 250 @ 5,000 rpm on premium fuel (227 on regular)
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Curb weight: 4301 lbs
Towing capacity: 3,500 lbs
EPA mileage rating: 22/28/25 mpg (FWD); 21/27/23 (AWD)

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