New Car Review

2016 Mazda CX-9: First Drive Review

RELATED READING
See all Mazda CX-9 articles
RESEARCH BY MAKE
Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs
Acura cars, trucks and SUVs Alfa Romeo cars, trucks and SUVs AMC cars, trucks and SUVs Aston Martin cars, trucks and SUVs Audi cars, trucks and SUVs Bentley cars, trucks and SUVs BMW cars, trucks and SUVs Bugatti cars, trucks and SUVs Buick cars, trucks and SUVs Cadillac cars, trucks and SUVs Chevrolet cars, trucks and SUVs Chrysler cars, trucks and SUVs Daewoo cars, trucks and SUVs Datsun cars, trucks and SUVs DeLorean cars, trucks and SUVs Dodge cars, trucks and SUVs Eagle cars, trucks and SUVs Ferrari cars, trucks and SUVs FIAT cars, trucks and SUVs Fisker cars, trucks and SUVs Ford cars, trucks and SUVs Freightliner cars, trucks and SUVs Genesis cars, trucks and SUVs Geo cars, trucks and SUVs GMC cars, trucks and SUVs Honda cars, trucks and SUVs HUMMER cars, trucks and SUVs Hyundai cars, trucks and SUVs INFINITI cars, trucks and SUVs Isuzu cars, trucks and SUVs Jaguar cars, trucks and SUVs Jeep cars, trucks and SUVs Kia cars, trucks and SUVs Lamborghini cars, trucks and SUVs Land Rover cars, trucks and SUVs Lexus cars, trucks and SUVs Lincoln cars, trucks and SUVs Lotus cars, trucks and SUVs Maserati cars, trucks and SUVs Maybach cars, trucks and SUVs Mazda cars, trucks and SUVs McLaren cars, trucks and SUVs Mercedes-Benz cars, trucks and SUVs Mercury cars, trucks and SUVs MINI cars, trucks and SUVs Mitsubishi cars, trucks and SUVs Nissan cars, trucks and SUVs Oldsmobile cars, trucks and SUVs Plymouth cars, trucks and SUVs Pontiac cars, trucks and SUVs Porsche cars, trucks and SUVs RAM cars, trucks and SUVs Rolls-Royce cars, trucks and SUVs Saab cars, trucks and SUVs Saturn cars, trucks and SUVs Scion cars, trucks and SUVs smart cars, trucks and SUVs SRT cars, trucks and SUVs Subaru cars, trucks and SUVs Suzuki cars, trucks and SUVs Tesla cars, trucks and SUVs Toyota cars, trucks and SUVs Volkswagen cars, trucks and SUVs Volvo cars, trucks and SUVs Yugo cars, trucks and SUVs
RESEARCH BY STYLE
AWD/4WD
Commercial
Convertible
Coupe
Hatchback
Hybrid/Electric
Luxury
Sedan
SUV/Crossover
Truck
Van/Minivan
Wagon
ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Russ Heaps June 2016

Tailored for the United States, the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is landing with a splash. A longer wheelbase, a new engine and a near-clairvoyant all-wheel-drive system are a small sampling of the enhancements.

Simply gazing at the CX-9, you can see that Mazda pushed this 3-row crossover significantly upmarket while incorporating all of the attributes it currently considers core to the brand.

If there was a single underlying goal shared by planners, designers and engineers beyond improving this crossover in virtually every category, it was to strike a balance between family-friendliness and driving pleasure. Accordingly, the CX-9 is a family-carrier designed not only to deliver the practicality and utility required of any 7-passenger vehicle but also to stoke the spirits of the adults in the front seats.

Kodo

Kodo, or soul of motion, is the styling theme Mazda applies to each vehicle in its showroom, and it's evident in the CX-9's fluid lines inside and out. Mazda's new Machine Gray signature color makes you think of molten steel being poured over the framework. The grille juts out like the jaw of a defiant fighter, and the vehicle's lines track smoothly front to rear.

Inside, the concept of Kodo inspired stylists to create elements that flow from the dashboard all the way to the third row. Somehow, all the various interior and exterior aspects fuse into one cohesive sense of movement.

SKYACTIV

The final vehicle in Mazda's lineup to get the brand's full SKYACTIV technology bundle, the CX-9 not only abandons the previous generation's 273-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 but also does away with the V6 entirely. Having been named by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the most fuel-efficient automaker -- and that's without a hybrid in its lineup -- Mazda was fixated on the CX-9's mileage. Engineers sought to provide an engine with gobs of lower-end torque that was still capable of delivering class-leading fuel economy.

An all-new engine, the 2.5T is a 4-cylinder turbo. Using some nifty exhaust management, engineers coaxed a 20- to 25-percent quicker throttle response when revving below 1500 rpm. Not only does this provide a satisfying dose of acceleration when launching, it also all but erases turbo lag. Although presenters at the CX-9's media introduction in San Francisco in mid-May downplayed the actual stats, the 2.5T generates 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, the highest in its class. Those figures are with premium fuel; power drops to 227 hp with 87-octane gasoline.

A 6-speed driver-shiftable automatic transmission can be paired with front- or all-wheel drive. With either drivetrain, the EPA estimates fuel economy at 22 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg on the highway.

Jinba Ittai

Translated, Jinba Ittai means "horse and rider as one." Presenters in San Francisco applied the term several times when describing a variety of features in the CX-9, including its performance, its design and its suite of driver-assist technologies. A philosophy of integration and intuition, Jinba Ittai means the driver has a sense of being physically and spiritually connected to the car.

The concept holds up in practice, whether it's through the instant response of the turbo, the driver-centric cockpit or the all-wheel-drive system's sensors that measure 27 different factors to actually anticipate wheel slippage. The CX-9 definitely inspires a sense of union with the driver.

i-ACTIVSENSE

A suite of safety and driver-assistance technologies, i-ACTIVSENSE helps safely propel the CX-9 down the highway and shoulders some of the driver's workload. Features include an advanced blind spot monitoring system, radar cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, automatic high-beam control and Mazda's Smart City Brake Support system.

Hangout

As much as exterior styling and performance influence buying decisions, when it comes to a people-hauler, it's the interior that truly counts. Riding in the second-row seat of the Mazda CX-9 from the airport to our San Francisco hotel 20 minutes away, I was struck by the quality of the cabin materials, the craftsmanship and the remarkable quietness. Where there's wood, it's real rosewood. Where there's aluminum, it's real aluminum. The top three grades come with leather seating -- Napa leather in the Signature trim. More than 50 pounds of sound-deadening material line the body, giving this crossover a library-quiet quality.

Each row of seats is easily accessed. As with most 3-row crossovers, the third row is a bit tight. There is a load of storage. All grades come with Mazda's infotainment interface, color touchscreen and Bluetooth Connectivity.

Pecking Order

One reason Mazda decided to take its largest crossover upmarket is because, historically, the upper-level Touring and Grand Touring trims have been 70 percent of CX-9 sales. The Mazda execs concluded that it only makes sense to give buyers what they want.

At a starting price of $31,520, the Sport trim still anchors the lineup, with the Touring ($35,970) and Grand Touring ($40,170) grades stacked on top of it. Mazda has also added a fourth Signature ($44,015) trim level as the nameplate's flagship. All-wheel drive is included in the Signature's base price but adds $1,800 to the bottom line of other grades.

End Game

With the CX-9, Mazda has certainly upped its game within the segment. The styling here, particularly in the cabin, makes many of the competitors look pretty tired. You might not be optimistic about the 2.5T engine delivering as much performance as some others, but the CX-9 is satisfyingly aggressive. All things considered, the CX-9 stands head-and-shoulders above the previous edition and among the top tier of competitors as well.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

Find a Mazda CX-9 for sale

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mazda CX-9: First Drive Review - Autotrader