2016 Mazda CX-9 AWDPosted on August 23rd, 2016
Three-row crossover for active families
By Nina Russin
The newest CX-9 is the second iteration of Mazda’s three-row crossover vehicle, available with either front or all-wheel drive: both powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter engine. Mazda’s goal was to create an interior spacious enough for a growing family in a vehicle that’s also fun to drive.
This presented quite a challenge, since driver-focused cars are typically small, light vehicles that focus more on front-to-rear weight balance and power-to-weight ratios than how many soccer team members can fit in back.
Pricing for the all-wheel drive Signature grade tested begins at $44,015 excluding the $800 destination charge. Being the top of the line model, the Signature comes fully loaded with convenience features buyers in this segment demand including keyless entry and start, three-zone climate control, leather trim, power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, satellite radio and more.
It’s also heavy on active safety technology including blind spot monitoring, rearview camera with cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and trailer stability assist. While Mazda, unlike its Japanese competitors, doesn’t have a luxury brand, the upscale CX-9 is for all intents and purposes a luxury car.
Final MSRP for the test car is $45,215.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
Over the past week I drove the newest CX-9 around Phoenix, Arizona’s east valley as well as a section of the Gila River Indian Community in the foothills of the San Tan mountains southeast of town. I wanted to see how the CX-9 would function in commuter traffic, but also on the types of road trips families take when the kids are out of school.
While the new CX-9 delivers on many of its promises with a powerful, fuel ‘efficient engine, responsive six-speed automatic transmission and good four-season traction thanks to available all-wheel drive, the new crossover lacks the nimble performance the brand is known for.
I was surprised to find on-center steering response not particularly good, since this is something Mazda excels at across the board. Unfortunately, a lot of vehicle mass is difficult to overcome, even for some of the best engineers in the automotive industry.
The car weights between 4,000 and 4300 pounds depending on trim, all-wheel versus front-wheel drive and accessories. The fully loaded test car would come in at the high end of this range. I felt that weight when I pushed the car on some winding two-lane rural roads outside of town. This isn’t to say that the car felt out-of-control. It just wasn’t as much fun to drive as the smaller CX-5: one of my favorite crossovers in the compact segment.
On the flip side, Mazda equips the CX-9 with some very desirable features such as a heads-up display, active driving display in the gauge cluster and trailer stability assist, all of which help the driver to do his job better with minimal distraction.
And I can’t say enough good things about the engine, which utilizes Mazda’s proprietary Skyactiv system to deliver exceptionally good power. With 310 pound-feet of peak torque, the CX-9 has excellent acceleration off the line and in the 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic. Average fuel economy for the all-wheel drive model is 23 miles-per-gallon; 27 mpg on the highway.
Visibility around the perimeter is good, with blind spot monitoring illuminating LED signals in the side mirrors when vehicles in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. Over-the-shoulder visibility is a non-issue. I had no problems monitoring several lanes of highway traffic from the entrance ramp.
Adaptive cruise control maintains a preset distance between the CX-9 and the car in front. Whereas conventional cruise control is almost impossible to use in urban areas, adaptive cruise control will work in heavy traffic, reducing driver fatigue and improving gas mileage.
Adaptive front lighting moves the headlamps according to steering inputs. It’s an important safety feature for anyone living in rural or suburban areas with spotty street lighting. Adaptive headlamps do a much better job of illuminating corners where pedestrians might be waiting to cross than conventional designs.
Engineers did an excellent job minimizing noise intrusion to the interior, so all three rows of occupants can converse. Tri-zone climate control keeps rear seat passengers comfortable in temperature extremes. Second-row window sunshades help to keep the rear cabin comfortable.
While Mazda has always done a good job with fit and finish, it’s made quantum improvements in the use of interior materials and quality of its displays. The Nappa leather upholstery inside the CX-9 rivals anything in the luxury world, as does the aluminum and rosewood trim.
Both the gauge cluster and center stack screen are easy to read after dark as well as Southern Arizona’s bright sunlight.
I found the power driver’s seat easy to adjust for a clear forward view, with plenty of lower lumbar support for longer drives. The small diameter steering wheel has a tilt and telescoping feature that enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view.
Access and egress to the second row is quite good. Smaller passengers will be most comfortable in the third row, but that’s typical in almost any vehicle of this type. The seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor for larger items.
The Mazda CX-9 comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control and tire pressure monitoring. Mazda’s factory warranty includes 24-hour roadside assistance.
Mazda builds the CX-9 at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Like: A versatile four-season crossover vehicle with seating for seven passengers and a high level of active safety technology.
Dislike: Soft steering response at highway speeds.
Model: CX-9 Signature AWD
Base price: $44,015
As tested: $45,215
Horsepower: 227 Hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque: 310 lbs.-ft. @ 2000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 21/27 mpg city/highway2017, Luxury 2017, Active Lifestyle Vehicles, auto review, CX9, Mazda, performance, pricing, standard safety