Eyebrows were raised when Mazda announced that its second-generation CX-9, launched for the 2017 model year, would arrive with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. But 6-cylinder power is the norm for the 7-passenger crossover segment, cried many naysayers, while others lamented the loss of the 3.7-liter V6, which had powered its predecessor.

No need to fret, as the new 2.5-liter engine (rated at 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque) is an excellent—albeit smaller—replacement for its discontinued forerunner. Thanks to turbocharging, and carefully controlling the way air flows in and out of the engine with innovative technology, nearly all the engine’s power is delivered down low. The result, when compared to the outgoing V6, is 40 more pound-feet of torque, the twisty force that makes an engine feel strong. Step on the accelerator pedal and the CX-9 moves with authority off the line, zips around town, and passes effortlessly on the highway (after a couple of downshifts). I put more than 2,000 miles on the Mazda in December, and never once did I miss the V6.

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While a 6-speed automatic is decidedly old-school (most of the industry has jumped to 8- or 9-speed automatics), the gearbox shifts smoothly and it harmonizes well with the turbocharged engine’s characteristics. Thanks to gobs of low-end torque, the engine refrains from revving too high, which goes a long way to improve fuel economy. Overall, I averaged 22.0 mpg during the month, and during one 90-mile highway run I saw 27.4 mpg—effectively beating the numbers on its window sticker (the EPA rates the CX-9 at 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway).

The only downside to the 4-cylinder powerplant is noise and vibration. There’s an unrewarding buzz emanating from under the hood during acceleration that is accompanied by a mild vibration that fluctuates with the tempo. Mazda has proven that you can beat a V6’s torque and fuel efficiency with a turbocharged four, but matching the V6’s distinctive audio track and smoothness is futile.

See past reports for our long-term 2017 Mazda CX-9…

Introduction

Long-Term Update: First Service

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