It seems the three-seat SUV or crossover is the must-have vehicle for family hauling these days. Mini-vans continue to fall out of favour with many families, soccer moms excluded. I would say if you are considering either a mini-van or three-seat SUV, take your time deciding what best suits your family. Mazda’s 2016 CX-9 Signature AWD will certainly please on many fronts if you’re shopping in the $50,000 price range. In fact, it looks nicer on the outside and inside than some pricier German SUV models of the same size.
The exterior really appeals to me; with smooth surfaces and a lack of unnecessary creases on the body. Overall the CX-9 is a clean design, uncluttered and very handsome in appearance compared to some other mid-size competitors. The original CX-9 was introduced a decade ago but this new model is lighter, 30 mm shorter, yet has a stretched wheelbase resulting in more passenger legroom. While efforts were made to save weight in this new model, more than 26 kilograms of sound-deadening material was added back on the body shell for reduced noise, vibration and harshness. Savings in weight also allowed for an increase in window thickness and other noise-cancelling technologies all helping reduce interior noise.
On the inside, the interior has been well thought-out and attention to detail is everywhere with two-tone leather trim, satin steel-brushed trim and a little woodgrain, the CX 9 feels very expensive indeed. Soft materials add to the ambiance. The main dials in the instrument cluster show r.p.m., speed and additional driver info. The end result gives the driver uncluttered, clearly-defined information, well-placed so only a glance is needed for the important information you require while driving. The seats are well contoured, supportive and up to the task of keeping a person comfortable for a long drive. Yes, the rear-most seat is not for adults, but definitely suited for small children. Drop that seat down and you have a huge amount of cargo space.
Mazda decided to provide power from a 250 horsepower 2.5 litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic. A buyer can choose from either front or all-wheel drive. The result is an engine that pulls like a six and provides good fuel consumption as long as you take it easy with your right foot. The CX-9 is rated at 11.2L/100 km in urban driving, 8.8 on the highway. Driving in a responsible manner (Which I do now and then), I managed 10.7L/100 km around town. That’s pretty good for a mid-size SUV.
On the road, a well-tuned suspension provides admirable handling with steering that is light but precise. Adaptive cruise-control and automated emergency braking are standard on Grand Touring and Signature trim levels. The engine has no problem allowing the CX-9 to zip away from green lights and get around slow-moving vehicles. Power builds quickly from down low in the r.p.m. range through to 4,000 r.p.m. when it starts falling off. Towing capacity is rated at 3,500 pounds.
So is there anything negative I can say? Yes actually, but nothing really serious. There are no paddle shifters for the six-speed automatic; It’s a feature I prefer but wouldn’t be a deal breaker.
The head-up display is a cool feature at night, but wearing polarized sunglasses during the day washes out the display – again, not a big issue for some people.
The mid-size crossover model segment continues to do well, although not selling at the pace of compact crossovers. Mazda’s CX-9 should find a lot of buyers as this new model is quieter, smoother, lighter and more fuel efficient, never mind looking very stylish. There are four models to choose from starting at $35,300 right on up to my tester at a little over $50,000. Mazda may not be a big player compared to other Japanese manufacturers but they make fun to drive and distinctive models that are even enjoyable in lower trim models.
The CX-9 gives the look and feel of a crossover just as capable as any German SUV of similar size in the market.
Garry Melnyk is a St. Albert resident and lifelong car buff who has written about new cars and trucks for radio and print publications since the ’70s.