The 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a completely redesigned, midsized SUV aimed to go head to head against stalwarts like the Honda Pilot, the Nissan Pathfinder and the Toyota Highlander.
The outgoing, first-generation model was getting very long in the tooth. The new exterior design brings the CX-9 in line with the other models in the lineup, sporting the Japanese brand’s KODO—Soul of Motion design language. We have a long hood and a five-point grille with double bars flanked on either side by standard low- and high-beam LED headlights. The design flows quite nicely to the rear by way of a swept greenhouse, large wheels and short overhangs. I like the overall look, but the nose has a bit of a duck bill thing going that I don't quite care for.
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Sitting in the CX-9 gave me an air of familiarity from having tested numerous other Mazdas. I still find the gauge cluster to be a little old-looking, but it's much improved over the outgoing model. Mazda cockpits are ergonomically among the most effective layouts on the market. The vertically stacked centre console, with details that wrap around from the dashboard to the rear seats, is visually very appealing and functionally relevant, but it does take up quite a bit of space. The rosewood trim on the centre console and front of the cabin is supplied by premium guitar-maker Fujigen for a premium finish.
Mazda’s ace in the hole is its infotainment system. The location of the volume control button near the gear selector, in particular, cannot be understated as an ingenious move, particularly because the volume is adjusted each and every time the occupant is in the vehicle, thereby amplifying its importance. This represents a massive plus over the insanely tiny touchscreen buttons found on the Pilot. Standard operation of the Mazda Connect system is done with ease through the rotary dial.
There are three rows of seats in the CX-9, so it can seat up to seven people. Third-row seating is always a bit tedious to access, but it’s getting better as manufacturers develop new and clever ways to design folding seats. That being said, I didn't find the seat manipulation to be as easy as in the Pilot and getting in and out of the third row of the Mazda was more taxing than I would have liked. The third row can seat kids comfortably, but adults will find it quite snug as is usually the case.
Interestingly, there is no rear-seat entertainment option for the CX-9 and this is a major deal for someone who has three toddlers like me. Well-behaved kids will be fine, but let's face it: not all kids are and many parents need this option. Nobody wants to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on an aftermarket system after having just purchased a brand-new vehicle. If I was on the fence between this vehicle and a competitor that had the rear-seat system, the choice would be clear.
Similar to many competitors, Mazda offers a single motor for all time levels in the CX-9: a new SKYACTIV-G, 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine making 250 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 10.5 L/100 km city and 8.3 L/100 km highway, which is excellent for a vehicle this size. Contrary to some of my colleagues’ opinions, I didn’t find the power to be stellar and it’s not as quick and peppy as the Pilot. Mazda claims the 2016 CX-9 boasts improvements in driver control, chassis dynamics and overall performance. While the 2015 CX-9 model felt quicker, I did like the improved handling, reduced body roll and overall drive of the 2016 edition.
Don’t take my little nitpickings as a repudiation of the new model. Mazda has brought the CX-9 back from obscurity and turned into a real contender in this segment. Priced from between $35,300 and $50,100, in GS, GS-L, GT and new Signature trim levels, it's a good-looking, affordable, high-quality option that everyone in the market needs to add to their short list when considering a family hauler.