Perfectly poised to capture a piece of the family action that had eluded its predecessor.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 proves just how adept the Japanese brand has become at deconstructing parts of its line-up and then reassembling them in a fresh, modern context. With full-size crossovers and SUVs on fire right now, the redesigned three-row Mazda CX-9 is perfectly poised to capture a piece of the family action that had eluded its predecessor.
While the original CX-9 was much more engaging to drive than many of its peers, its inefficient V6 engine, lack of tech features, and low profile in the Mazda line-up made it a hard sell on a crowded landscape - despite the popularity of the next-step-down CX-5. All of that changes with the new 2016 Mazda CX-9, which introduces a brand new drivetrain, significantly updates the vehicle's infotainment and safety equipment, and adds a layer of luxury that was never before available in the SUV. Throw in pricing that's within the reach of most Canadian buyers, and you've got a formula for success that should reverse the fortunes of Mazda's people mover.
- The 2.5-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder engine that replaces the older V6 is just as responsive as its predecessor, and significantly thriftier at the fuel pump. Fill it with 93 octane and you get 250 horses and 310 lb-ft of torque, and there's a real lack of lag at lower RPMs that won't leave you questioning the decision to downsize the motor. The Mazda CX-9 is almost 50 percent more frugal around town than it was in 2015, even when outfitted with the option of all-wheel drive.
- If you want luxury, you've got it. Starting at a very affordable $35,300, even the next-step-up GS-L is nicely-equipped at $41,500, with niceties such as leather seats, the Mazda Connect infotainment system (with navigation), heated seats, and LED headlights along for the ride. It's the $50,100 Signature trim, however, that really stands out, with a cabin as nicely-appointed as anything you'd find from Lexus or Acura.
- Interior room is suitable enormous, with generous amounts of second-row legroom and a third row of accommodations that's adult-capable if you scoot the middle seats ahead just a little bit (but best enjoyed by children, as in most large crossovers). It's easy to access the back tier, and cargo space is competitive for its class.
- It's not just the interior of the Mazda CX-9 that attracts attention. The restyled sheet metal of the full-size SUV cuts a snazzy profile, and from both the front and the rear the vehicle separates itself from the blob-like shapes we've come to expect from crossovers and sport-utility vehicles.
- The original Mazda CX-9 got a pass for its dated tech and design because its hydraulic steering and lively chassis made it fun to drive. The 2016 CX-9 simply doesn't live up to its ancestor dynamically, as it emphasizes comfort over handling prowess. That's completely fine, of course - few shoppers are looking for an engaging personality in a big SUV - but it's a crucial difference between the two vehicles.
- The Signature model is well-equipped, and priced right, but are buyers really thinking 'Mazda' when it comes to luxury? It's a bold strategy, and one that’s facing an uncertain outcome. It could take at least a few years before shoppers realize that they can get a comfy premium SUV in the form of the Mazda CX-9 without having to spend Acura MDX money.
- If you only put regular 87 octane fuel in the 2016 Mazda CX-9, you'll be down to 227 hp. Not a deal-breaker for most, but having to pay for premium throughout the life of the SUV might be a turnoff for some buyers who expect maximum power right out of the box, regardless of what the pump's rating might be.