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2016 Mazda CX-9 Test Drive Review
Mazda’s large SUV punches above its weight, sharing more at times with upmarket SUVs.
Look and Feel
Form and Function
Since you’re on a car-buying site, looking at new cars, you’re likely looking for a good deal. Inherent in that pursuit of value is trying to get the most car for the lowest cost. With the 2016 Mazda CX-9, you get that more-for-less proposition with a completely new look for the full-size SUV.
The new CX-9 still has three rows and a sporty “Zoom-Zoom” nature, but with something new in the mix: an air of luxury. And that near-luxury feel is available at a price below those of other large SUVs.
The new CX-9 shed a bunch of weight to come in substantially lighter than its predecessor, which let Mazda put some serious resources into quality and sound deadening, resulting in a quieter, more upscale cabin feel. With the new CX-9, you might pay more than the direct competition, but the CX-9 feels like an SUV that punches above its weight.
But is that enough to convince you opt for the Mazda CX-9 over proven large SUV entrants like the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot? Read on to find out.
Look and Feel
Mazda’s recent slew of new cars all take inspiration from the Kodo design study, from 2011. Cars like the Mazda3 and CX-5 have taken on various aspects of the concept, but with narrow headlights and a massive LED grille, the CX-9 is the most extreme version we've seen so far.
Inside, Mazda went from Zoom-Zoom to upscale. Ditching the cheap plastic interiors for wood grain and Nappa leather… for the right price. The weight loss meant Mazda could spend more resources on sound deadening, resulting in a supremely quiet ride.
Trims for the CX-9 are Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and our Signature test model. The Sport comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, a body-color roof spoiler, dual exhaust, 3-zone automatic climate control, auxiliary audio jack, dual USB ports, Bluetooth hands-free calling with streaming audio capability, and Mazda Connect infotainment.
The Touring trim adds heated side mirrors, a power rear liftgate, leather seating with heated front seats, push-button start, larger 8-inch touch screen display for Mazda Connect, second row armrests with integrated USB charging ports, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
The Grand Touring features 20-inch wheels, adaptive high beams, rain sensing wipers, navigation system, 12-speaker Bose premium stereo, head-up display (HUD), and a suite of high tech safety gear. That safety equipment includes forward collision warning, lane departure warning, dynamic radar cruise control, backup sensor system and more.
The Signature features some unique equipment like an LED lighting accent to built into the chrome grille, unique steering wheel stitching, Nappa leather, and exclusive Rosewood interior trim.
Despite having the added sound deadening, the overall weight of the CX-9 is down 250 pounds. Due to this weight reduction, Mazda has ditched the V6 from the previous model in favor of a four-cylinder engine. The CX-9 is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-4. It makes 227 hp with 87-octane fuel, and 250 hp with 93-octane. That might not seem like much for a three-row SUV, but then you learn the engine makes 310 pound-feet of torque.
Power is sent through a 6-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or available all-wheel drive. Our Signature model is only available with AWD. All models feature a Sport mode and manual tap-shift functionality.
When you step on the gas and feel that rush of acceleration, that’s torque, and the real-world application of this number translates when you get behind the wheel. The combination results in decent acceleration, especially when you need to get up to highway speeds. There’s a depression on the pedal that you press to go into full acceleration. So when you think you’re “givin’ it all she’s got,” there is actually another level to kick it into. And with the added sound deadening, the I4 engine doesn’t sound that loud or whining when you’re putting the spurs to it.
Fuel economy for the front wheel drive model is 22 miles per gallon city, 28 highway, 24 combined. The AWD model gets 21 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined. That doesn’t sound ideal, but is actually quite competitive compared to the rivals, where the CX-9 does better by in MPG in many places. It is proof-positive that you don’t need V6 power to be competitive among SUVs.
Despite the Zoom-zoom personality of Mazda, the CX-9 is still a large SUV, and its handling is predictably not as capable as its Mazda brethren. The steering is well weighted and responsive, but can’t fight physics, and the CX-9 can get a bit top heavy or even nose into turns. Don’t put it into a turn too quickly.
Form and Function
The CX-9 brings a great deal of luxury to the table. One could argue this comes at the cost of ergonomics, but not completely. There are plenty of cubbies in the center console and doors. The center console has the butterfly opening from the center, similar to the layout in a Mercedes-Benz. But the center console compartment is really not deep enough. Luckily there’s a deep enough space in front of the shifter for keys, wallet, phone, etc.
The second row is impressively spacious, with plenty of head and legroom, even for adults. The second row is actually a legit option for adults on long trips, and all trims but the base come with a second pair of USB charging ports that fold out of the center console. The third row is cramped for adults, but is perfect for kids.
There’s 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. Dropping the third row brings that up to 38.2 cubic feet. Put all the rows down and cargo space tops out at 71.2 cubic feet.
That falls behind the Honda Pilot, which puts up 16, 46, and 82.1 cubic feet. The CX-9 has more aft cargo space than the Toyota Highlander, but Toyota’s popular SUV outguns the CX-9 with the third row and with all rows down– providing 42.7 cubic feet and 83.7 cubic feet respectively.
The CX-9 comes with a standard 6-speaker stereo system with auxiliary input jack and two USB ports. It also comes standard with Bluetooth hands-free calling and streaming audio.
You can also get the CX-9 with a 12-speaker Bose premium stereo. The Bose system has a great sound, and uses a subwoofer, center point technology, and noise compensation technology. The latter further reduces the road noise in the cabin of the CX-9.
All versions of the CX-9 come with Mazda Connect infotainment. The base model comes with a 7-inch touch screen while all other trims come with an 8-inch touch screen. When the CX-9 is in park, the screen has touch-control, but once you’re in motion, all touch controls are locked out. It is then operated via the rotary dial in the center console. This is more akin to BMW iDrive or Mercedes-Benz COMAND. It lets you control the stereo, available navigation system, phone contacts, and more.
Mazda Connect has less menus than the BMW and Mercedes systems, but its simplicity results in improved menu navigation. Overall, it’s an easy-enough system to use, and blends technology with tactile controls.
The CX-9 comes standard with a full complement of front and side impact airbags, LATCH child seat anchoring system, backup camera, engine immobilizer anti-theft system, and tire pressure monitoring system.
The CX-9 is available with blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, backup sensors, and forward collision avoidance. The lane keeping assist watches the lines on the side of the road and the median (or the lane lines on the highway), and keeps you from veering. It’s a little too sensitive at times. It is almost set up for completely distracted driving, rather than for the attentive driver that knows they are getting close to the lane line. It’s tough with any large vehicle to have this lane keeping system, as their inherent size makes the system go off often.
Base MSRP for the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is $33,320 for a Sport AWD model. A Touring model starts at $35,970, and a Grand Touring starts at $40,710. Our Signature test model came in at $45,215.
These prices put it a bit above the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, but for as much as they compete on paper, the CX-9 is almost for a different buyer. The CX-9 is aspirational in its look and feel. It punches above its weight and is more in line with the look and feel of the Acura MDX or Volvo XC90.
In that sense, the CX-9 is a great deal, delivering a near-luxury feel for non-luxury prices. If you need the space and kid friendly cabins of the Pilot and Highlander, they will always be there to serve their purpose. But the Mazda CX-9 delivers a luxury experience but at thousands of dollars less than the vehicle it aspires to be.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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