The 2016 Mazda CX-9: Redesigned to be a Winner

Strong points
  • Smart new shape
  • Impressive build quality
  • Well thought-out powertrain
  • Intuitive rather than reactive AWD
  • Teutonic-style quiet ride
  • Sharp response to driver inputs
Weak points
  • Reliability not yet demonstrated
  • Modest towing capacity (3500 lbs.)
  • Luxury brand image yet to be established
Full report

The first-generation CX-9 was still available in Mazda showrooms, but it was beginning to show its age; while there had been improvements here and there over the years, it was essentially the same vehicle that had been with us for nearly a decade—an eternity in the car world. During those years, its rivals had been updated more than once, and sales of the CX-9 were less than impressive. It was high time for Mazda to do more than add new paint colours. A complete renovation was in order.

Behold the 2016 Mazda CX-9, the second generation of this model and the last in line to benefit from SKYACTIV technology and the brand’s KODO – Soul of Motion design language.

Smart looks

While some SUVs try to mimic the macho look of big trucks, the CX-9 is much more subtle: it echoes the visual cues of the CX-5, MX-5, CX-3 and the Mazda6, such as the chromed front grille, headlights wrapping around into the fenders, and lines that suggest a vehicle in motion, even when it’s standing still.

If you glance at it without checking its dimensions, it looks smaller than it really is. When I saw it for the first time, I thought it had been lowered a few centimetres, and fitted with smaller wheels: it looked rather like a large station wagon.

The CX-9 can also deliver luxury. Its top-of-the-line Signature version comes with chromed accents and good-looking 20-inch wheels. It also has an LED band in the grille that illuminates with the headlights; this feature appeared recently on the Mazda6 GT, and it gives these Mazda products a distinctive style.

A great deal of attention has been paid to the interior, and the results are very impressive: assembly quality is at a luxury-car level, the lines are modern and the ergonomics work, with everything where it should be. The Signature trim level comes with nappa leather, open-pore rosewood on the centre console and door switch panels, and LED interior lighting. Mazda is seeking not just to compete with such popular crossovers as the Ford Explorer and the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, but to invite a comparison with more expensive models like the Acura MDX and the Infiniti QX60.

Since the Hiroshima-based carmaker does not have a luxury brand – Acura belongs to Honda and Infiniti to Nissan – the CX-9 has to be the standard-bearer. The quiet ride is due to two factors. First, the complete redesign included substantial weight-saving. The new version weighs almost 100 kg less than the previous one, and this enabled the engineers to squeeze in about 24 kg of sound-deadening material under the floor to absorb vibration and road noise. Second, the upmarket trims levels – GT and Signature – come with a 12-speaker Bose audio system as standard.

You may wonder what that has to do with a quiet ride. Well, the heavy dose of new technology includes AudioPilot 2, which cancels out ambient noise by releasing equal and opposite waves of sound into the people space in real time. Mazda is not the first to resort to this technology, but it really works in this configuration.

The third-row seating, by the way, is obviously not designed for long-distance travel, but is relatively comfortable even for adults, since the seats are positioned so as to leave space for the occupants’ feet under the second-row seats.

Smaller and more efficient

When developing the new engine for the 2016 CX-9—a turbocharged 2.5-litre four—Mazda came up with something for the real world, rather than an engine producing dazzling output figures. It produces 227 horsepower—250 on 93 octane—which is modest for a vehicle of this size. On the other hand, modern technology such as a variable-diameter exhaust outlet gives it 310 lb.-ft. at just 2000 rpm.

On the road, this means virtually instantaneous response to pressure from your right foot, and unusual urge for such a small engine. On corner exit, half-throttle is enough to have the CX-9 accelerate smartly without changing gears. Its torque is reminiscent of a diesel engine, so what’s not to like? Mazda claims average fuel consumption of 9.5 litres per 100 km.

Taking corners with the CX-9, I was frankly surprised by how well this crossover handles; it holds the road in a way that reminds you of the CX-5, and the larger vehicle is unexpectedly agile in the twisties. It provided a smooth ride on secondary B.-C. highways, and the i-ACTIV AWD offers abundant grip. Mazda is known for its fun-to-drive vehicles, and the CX-9 is no exception.

Moving upmarket

The 2016 CX-9 targets two kinds of car buyer: the ones who already have a CX?5 and want something more comfortable with more room, and luxury crossover buyers who want a change from the Acura, Infiniti and Lexus offerings.

If you have to abandon your sports car in favour of a family-friendly vehicle, and you hate compromises, drop by your dealer for a test drive of the CX-9. For the first time in a long time, you will be able to keep the fun in your driving without breaking the bank, and the first few bends in the road will soon have a smile on your face!

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