The luxury crossovers, the Mercedes, Lexus, BMWs may have a hard time convincing some of their buyers that Mazda’s new CX-9 isn’t a better value.
At $45,215 the Signature AWD model I tested is within an eyelash of offering the same goodies those luxury brands tout, while also offering more style. Oh, and that price, while not cheap, is far less than you’d pay for most luxury makes.
Meanwhile, the restyled Mazda CX-9 exceeds the overall driving experience of such mainline competitors as the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer.
Here’s the deal, the Mazda uses its Skyactiv technology to create an efficient crossover, while also using enough sound deadening to make this the quietest large crossover I’ve driven. Add to that a big luxury style grille, pronounced nose and tapered roofline and even in profile the CX-9 looks like it’s moving. The look is distinctive, not cookie-cutter.
The inside is as nice as any luxury vehicle, both in looks, feel and finish. In fact, this Signature model, the top-level CX-9 features real rosewood trim around the console and on door control pads along with brushed aluminum (not plastic) trim. Classy!
Without performance, all of that would mostly be for naught, but Mazda always puts performance atop its delivery list.
Mazda’s CX-9 features a Skyactiv 2.5-liter turbocharged I4 engine that creates 227 horsepower with a 310 lb.-ft. torque rating. The power can be fully accessed by pressing the mode button on the console to take the crossover from Normal to Sport mode. Eco also is available.
Engaged, the Mazda hangs on to low gears longer to boost acceleration and the CX-9, a big ute at 199.4 inches long, runs up to highway speeds like a sport sedan. I used the Sport mode some, but to be honest, I didn’t feel I needed it much. Even in Normal mode the 6-speed automatic gets the Mazda up to speed quickly and smoothly.
Also in the Mazda’s favor, along with the power, its turbo engine is efficient. The CX-9 is rated 21 mpg city and 27 highway. I got 22.4 mpg in about 60% city driving. I had gotten 21.2 mpg in a V-6 powered Pilot. Last week I managed just 21.6 mpg in a much smaller and lighter Kia Sportage. The CX-9 is rated among the best for gas mileage in its class.
Handling also is good with a somewhat heavy steering feel, but the crossover handles well in turns and grips the road well with its 20-inch tires. The base Sport model starts with 18-inch tires.
Ride is exceptional. The independent suspension with stabilizer bars front and rear, plus the lengthy 115.3-inch wheelbase spread the bumps and give the CX-9 a smooth, luxurious ride. For reference, Honda’s Pilot rides on a 111-inch wheelbase that does not provide nearly as smooth a ride, plus its push-button transmission takes some getting used to.
On the safety front, the Mazda has disc brakes all around, all-wheel-drive and traction and stability control.
Inside, the CX-9 is impressive and stone-cold quiet. The leather interior in the Signature model is thick and luxurious. The dark metallic gray (Machine Gray) test vehicle featured a black and reddish-brown (I’d call it cordovan) leather interior, with the seats in that cordovan shade.
Trim is a combo of the black and cordovan leather, aluminum accents and black gloss on the console area surrounding the gear shift lever.
Seats are well-shaped with power up front and two memory settings for the driver. Front seats also have three levels of heating, but are not ventilated, one advantage the luxury brands still have. Head and legroom are generous in the first two rows of seats, and yes, the Mazda has a third row. Those seats, like the second row, will fold flat to extend the cargo space. Children will fit best in that back row. Also, the rear hatch is powered.
Mazda’s dash is well arranged and the manual tilt-telescope steering wheel includes the usual cruise, phone, radio and trip computer buttons. Sadly the radio channel selection is through a dial on the console with no presets on the dash. That’s clunky and distracting while driving. You really need a co-pilot to help tune things while you drive.
This is a Bose stereo system though, so it sounds fine, but does not include a CD player. However there are all the now usual hookups for plug-ins, like an iPod, etc.
The Signature model also is loaded with state-of-the-art electronics, such as radar-based cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, lane departure warning and park assist system. All can be turned off via dash buttons.
Pluses include manual rear seat side sun shades, and a sunroof and HomeLink system overhead.
Pricing for the CX-9 starts at $32,420 for a front-drive Sport model while an AWD version lists at $34,220. The mid-level Touring model starts at $36,870 for front-drive and the Grand Touring model with FWD lists at $41,070. Each trim adds more goodies and all are available with AWD.
The Sport includes a backup camera, 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity and a 3-zone climate system. Touring models add heated and power front seats, the power hatch, an 8-inch touchscreen and leather seats. Grand Touring models include a sunroof, navigation system, blind-spot warning, radar cruise control, backup sensors and a lane departure system.
The Signature model only comes with AWD and begins at $44,015. The rosewood and aluminum trim, LED accent lights in the grille come in this model, along with all those other extras on the lower trim levels. This one’s Machine Gray paint scheme added $300, plus $900 for deliver to end up at $45,215. Outside of cooled front seats and a CD player, there’s not much it could use.
The CX-9 is well worth consideration if you want a large crossover that can seat seven and are looking for luxury at a more affordable price.
FAST STATS: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
Hits: Distinctive good looks inside and out, plus good acceleration and handling and great ride. AWD to help in winter, plus super quiet interior, well-shaped seats, 3-level heated seats, blind-spot warning and state-of-the-art electronics. Power hatch, manual side sun shades, sunroof and above average fuel economy.
Misses: No cooled seats or CD player. Clunky radio tuning with console knob.
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: 2.5-liter SkyActiv-G I4, turbo, 227 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic w/sport mode
Weight: 4,301 lbs.
Length: 199.4 in.
Wheelbase: 115.3 in.
Tow: 3,500 lbs.
MPG: 21/27 (EPA)
MPG: 22.4 (tested)
Base Price: $44,015
Invoice: $42,545 (includes delivery)
Machine Gray paint, $300
Test vehicle: $45,215
Sources: Mazda, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage