I don’t know if you all are watching the same show I’ve been glued to for roughly four years, but it’s a very good one. It’s called the Mazda show. This small Japanese automaker has been making waves for a few years now thanks to innovative thinking, bold new designs, and giving consumers what they want and need ― a tremendous feat if you ask me.
The arrival of the 2013 Mazda CX-5 marked the second coming of Mazda with its KODO design and SKYACTIV-everything. This recipe has increased interest and traffic for the brand, and now, the final piece has been put in place. The launch of the new 2016 Mazda CX-9, perhaps the most challenging model for the company, closes the loop where all the products are shod with the latest technologies.
I say “challenging” because the CX-9 is unlike all other Mazdas ― it’s big, heavy, and essentially at the opposite end of the brand’s small car expertise. I’m here to confirm to you that Mazda has done a phenomenal job of more or less reinventing the 3-row, midsize crossover segment.
“Tiny gigantic” would also have worked as a subtitle for this review. When you look at it, there’s no doubt that the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a large vehicle; the hood and grille actually sit above my waistline. However, a funny thing happens once you get behind the wheel.
By some miracle, Mazda has managed to create a vehicle that does not resemble a bloated CX-5 or a caricature of the design language they’ve now applied to all of their models. The front and rear ends are sculpted with fancy creases and attractive light treatments. The sides are sleek and muscular at the same time. The company’s design team really is on the ball.
The cabin of the new Mazda CX-9 is equally sizeable, yet quaint. The only negative comment that comes to mind is the size of the centre console up front that severely encroaches on legroom. Oddly enough, it doesn’t even improve on storage spots for phones and whatnots. There merely exists a deep, narrow bin at the top of the console.
Like I said, that’s the CX-9’s only true interior gripe, though. The seats are impressively comfortable; I spent 12 hours (in a 36-hour period) behind the wheel and I felt fine at the end. The second-row bench proves equally accommodating, while the third row is better than decent. During the 2-way trip, I had passengers sitting all the way back there and no one complained.
We packed lightly, so trunk space was not an issue, although it might have been with more gear inside. Three adults can occupy the middle row thus leaving a cavernous cargo area at your disposal.
The new dashboard is lovely, simple, and generally well designed. The now common rotary dial controls all menus for the 7” or 8” centrally mounted screen. Said screen is not touch-sensitive, which could go either way depending on your preferences. Some menu sequences would be dealt with in a far more efficient manner if selections could be made directly on-screen. Otherwise, Mazda CONNECT works well.
Overall, Mazda has upped the ante with lovely attention to details and craftsmanship rarely seen in this segment. The new CX-9 is a good place to spend many hours covering the long road ahead.
Out with the 6
The V6 engine in the previous CX-9 was the last of its kind at Mazda. For the 2016 model year, the Japanese company has taken a risky plunge and made a turbocharged 4-cylinder the only available powertrain.
For a vehicle of this size, the only downside is probably the 1,588kg (3,500lb) towing capacity. I don’t know exactly how many midsize SUV owners actually tow something, but the upsides to Mazda’s decision far outweigh this potential limitation.
The 2.5L 4-pot uses a Dynamic Pressure Turbocharger, which means it specializes in low engine speeds. In fact, all of its 310 lb-ft of torque are available from just 2,000 rpm. This translates into a vehicle that is highly adept at navigating the urban jungle. Truth be told, a little too much throttle from a stoplight and the CX-9 will eagerly jump forward.
The horsepower numbers are less impressive at 227 (250 on premium fuel); however, it only poses a problem at higher revs. You know, 80% of my road trip was spent on the highway between Montreal and Toronto, and yet I never longed for more power. In fact, the abundant low-end torque limits downshifting and creates a smoother drive overall.
The 6-speed automatic transmission of the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a bright example of engineering and programming. It’s always doing exactly what it should be doing, unlike many of the now available 9-speed autoboxes.
Mazda believes that driving matters and it shows. The CX-9’s ride and handling are better sorted than the majority of competitors. Its fully independent suspension juggles comfort and stability like a pro. Under normal driving circumstances, the brakes did a fine job, while steering proved to be precise with a proper level of assistance.
It is difficult to evaluate the new CX-9’s AWD performance in ideal driving conditions, but I know for a fact that Mazda’s i-ACTIV system is better than average. Also better than average was my returned fuel economy of 9.9L/100km. Now that’s a remarkable number.
The completely redesigned 2016 Mazda CX-9 jumps in its segment ready for war. The Honda Pilot (without the 9-speed box), Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Hyundai Santa Fe XL, to name a few, all have their merits, but in one swift move the CX-9 has hoisted itself at or near the top of the charts.
Pricing for a base GS FWD model starts at $35,300. As tested, my GS-L AWD unit retailed for $41,500.