By Matt Degen
The CX-9 is Mazda's flagship SUV. All-new for 2016, this 3-row, 7-passenger crossover SUV starts around $32,500 with a stylish exterior, premium interior, and a new turbocharged engine that deftly splits the power/efficiency equation. The Mazda CX-9 has always stood out from rivals like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer with its athletic driving manners, and this all-new version refines that dynamism. Thank Mazda's SkyActiv powertrain technology, which enables zippy performance and high fuel efficiency. The 2016 Mazda CX-9 completes the automaker's lineup of SkyActiv vehicles and signals another step forward into premium territory with the new Signature model. Like its rivals, the new CX-9 can be had with driving and safety aids like all-wheel drive (AWD), radar cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 puts the "fun" in "functional." If you want a mainstream 3-row SUV that is an adept family vehicle for school drop-offs and a rewarding personal vehicle for a spirited trip to the office or couples weekend getaway, this is it.
The CX-9 only seats seven, so you'll have to pick a rival like the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot or GMC Acadia if you need to fit eight. If you're adamant about having a V6 engine or Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, you'll also have to choose one of the Mazda's competitors.
The Mazda CX-9 is all-new for 2016. Now in its second generation, Mazda's largest and priciest SUV receives a svelte new skin, plush interior, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, and a host of safety and driving aids. The new, amenity-laden Signature trim could pass as a luxury SUV at a serious discount.
Like most Mazda vehicles, the CX-9 has long been the most athletic, fun-to-drive SUV in its class. That remains the case with the all-new version. The biggest difference is how...
... Mazda's 3-row SUV gets its motivation. Where the former version used a strong V6, this new model is powered by a small-but-stout turbocharged 4-cylinder. Horsepower is down some, but torque is up immensely -- a big help for off-the-line acceleration. Moreover, it's more fuel efficient. The all-new Mazda CX-9 feels lighter, nimbler and even more athletic than its predecessor, while also boasting a quieter ride. Thankfully, the new CX-9's dynamic ways don't come at the cost of a stiff suspension. This one ably absorbs rough patches. Credit should also be given to the CX-9's automatic transmission, a 6-speed that's well-matched to this engine. Like other Mazdas, this one has a Sport mode that optimizes the engine and transmission for zippier performance, but we found it unnecessary.
PREMIUM APPEAL, MAINSTREAM PRICE
If you want more proof of the blurred line between mainstream and luxury, look at the 2016 Mazda CX-9. Specifically, look at the $45,000 Signature edition. Yes, that's real rosewood and aluminum accents surrounded by Nappa leather. Also included are Mazda's suite of active safety features and a premium Bose audio system.
HIGH TORQUE, HIGH EFFICIENCY
The new engine in the CX-9 puts up impressive figures. Among them: 310 lb-ft of torque that enables prompt initial acceleration and 28 mpg, the highway fuel economy on front-wheel-drive (FWD) models.
All Mazda CX-9s feature 3-row, 7-passenger seating. Adults fit fine in the second row, but the third row is best for kids or shorter trips. The front seats are roomy, and the area feels commanding thanks to a wide console. Nestled in that console is a rotary dial and auxiliary buttons controlling the CX-9's standard dash-mounted infotainment display. The view out front is good, and we like that the left windowsill is wide enough to rest an arm. The new CX-9 still trails rivals like the Honda Pilot in cargo room, but this new model has made it easier to load long and bulky objects with 2nd- and 3rd-row seats that fold flatter.
In addition to receiving the SkyActiv treatment like the rest of Mazda's lineup, the CX-9 now also gets Mazda's "Soul of Motion" design philosophy emphasizing sweeping forms, organic shapes, and the idea of movement even at rest. Whatever you call it, we think the new CX-9 is beautiful. That big grille up front adds to the premium cred, yet doesn't seem overboard. The tapering roof and forward stance make this SUV appear smaller than it is, and even its rear is pretty thanks to a horizontal treatment of the taillights and rear lip beneath the window. A pair of exhaust outlets further emphasize this SUV's sporty nature.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 is now available in four trims: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and the new Signature. Even if you spend the least on a base Sport model, you'll get some nice amenities like 3-zone climate control that includes a 2nd-row control panel, 7-inch color touch-screen display with rotary controller, rearview camera, and 18-inch wheels. However, unless you opt for a package, you'll still have to manually adjust the front seats. Standard tech includes the Mazda Connect system with voice command, Internet radio streaming, Bluetooth connectivity, and AM/FM/HD Radio with an auxiliary input and two USB inputs. Sorry, CD fans -- a compact disc player isn't even optional on the new CX-9.
We recommend springing for at least a Touring trim, which includes heated and power-operated front seats, leather trim, a power liftgate with adjustable height setting, a larger 8-inch command screen, keyless entry, and a total of four USB inputs. Grand Touring trims include navigation, 12-speaker Bose audio, a moonroof and a slew of safety/driving aids including blind-spot monitoring, radar cruise control, backup sensors, lane-keeping assist, and automatic emergency braking. Signature models have all-wheel drive standard (it's optional on all other models) and Nappa leather trim, genuine rosewood accents, and nifty LED accent lighting in the grille. Unlike rivals, the new CX-9 doesn't offer ventilated front seats or heated rear seats.
All 2016 Mazda CX-9 models now use a new 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaces the former 3.7-liter V6. This new engine has fewer horsepower than the outgoing one, but greater torque. That low-end torque, combined with sophisticated plumbing for the turbo system, makes this engine feel plenty strong. It's like a V6 in disguise. Benefits to the smaller size include reduced weight and greater fuel economy. Regarding horsepower, you'll see two figures: 250 is the max, running on harder-to-find 93 octane. Most drivers will opt for regular unleaded, on which the engine makes 227 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is the standard setup, with all-wheel drive optional and recommended if you live in a cold-weather state. All models use a 6-speed automatic transmission. The CX-9's towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
2.5-liter turbocharged inline-4
227 horsepower @ 5,000 rpm (250 horsepower w/ 93-octane)
310 lb-ft of torque @ 2,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/28 mpg (FWD), 21/27 mpg (AWD)
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $32,420 for a base model. Touring trims bow at $36,870, and Grand Touring models start at $41,070. Adding all-wheel drive to any of those is an extra $1,800. The new, top-line Signature model that includes AWD standard starts at $44,915. At these prices, the new CX-9 begins slightly higher than rivals like the Highlander, Pilot and Explorer. But the price-to-features differential evens out or leans in the Mazda's favor as you climb trims. If you're simply looking for a low-priced 3-row SUV, there's the Mitsubishi Outlander, though that isn't as easy to recommend. Even harder, but it still exists, is the Dodge Journey. Before buying, be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying for their new SUV. The Mazda CX-9's resale value has traditionally notched below rivals like the Highlander, but our number crunchers are still evaluating this all-new generation.