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2016 Mazda CX-9: First Drive Review

If you’re looking for information on a newer Mazda CX-9, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Review

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, 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. See the 2016 Mazda CX-9 models for sale near you


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.


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.


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


Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps
Russ Heaps is an author specializing in automotive, financial and travel news. For nearly 35 years he has covered the automotive industry for newspapers, magazines and internet websites. His resume includes The Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald, The Washington Times and numerous other daily newspapers through syndication. He edited Auto World magazine, and helped create and edit NOPI Street... Read More about Russ Heaps

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