The first generation model of the Mazda CX-9 showed up as a 2007 model – in late 2006 – and it was the automakers first entry into the large Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV) market.
While this vehicle had a number of impressive features at its price point, it never caught the attention of the masses, selling roughly between 1,000 to 3,000 units in Canada per year.
However, thanks to its sales numbers in America, and other parts of the world, the CX-9 did well enough to convince Mazda management in Japan to continue playing in the seven-seat CUV genre – even though it won’t actually be sold on its home soil.
So, for 2016, there is an all-new Mazda CX-9 (yes, despite its entry into showrooms at the end of May, it is not being introduced as a 2017 model), and unlike its predecessor, it has no involvement from Ford – the two automakers are no longer in a business partnership.
The new CX-9 does share its platform with the smaller CX-5 model, but the end result is so vastly different, you’d never be able to guess by just looking at it that these two vehicles share anything more than the company logo on its nose and tail.
That is largely due to the fact that Mazda paid a lot of attention to the proportions of the CX-9, and hence the vehicle looks vastly different from other CUVs in Mazda’s portfolio, even though it still carries the KODO design language – shared with other current Mazda products – rather than head in a new direction.
With its long hood, sleek A-pillar, and its trapezoidal stance, the design of the 2016 CX-9 not only portrays function and emotion, but also elevate it to compete with vehicles in the premium sector, such as from Acura, Lexus and Infiniti.
Style is not the only area where Mazda tried to compete with premium CUVs with the new CX-9, cabin comfort was given an emphasis also. Hence, the 2016 CX-9 has 24 kg of sound deadening mats in the floor of the vehicle to suppress road noise – compared to just 7.5 kg of mats in the old CX-9. Couple that with acoustic glass to suppress wind noise, and you end up with a cabin that really is among the quietest in the industry.
Now, you must be thinking, the extra weight of sound insulation must make the new CX-9 quite heavy, but in fact, thanks to weight saving measures used throughout the vehicle, the 2016 CX-9 is 90 kg lighter than its predecessor in front-wheel drive (FWD) form, and a whopping 130 kg lighter when comparing the new all-wheel drive (AWD) model to the gen-one CX-9.
Some of that weight saving is attributed to the engine, as the new 2.5L I4 turbocharged motor is about 60 kg lighter than the 3.7L V6 found in the older CX-9. On paper, the new CX-9 is not as powerful as its older model – producing 227 hp versus 273 hp of the previous model. But, since there is less weight to push around, the power to weight ratio is very close. Plus, the new motor is rated to produce 227 hp on regular 87 octane gasoline, on 93 octane premium fuel, you’ll get 250 hp – that is plenty. More importantly, torque has improved quite significantly – whereas the old V6 developed 270 lb-ft of twisting power, the new SKYACTIV-G 2.5T motor produces 310 lb-ft of torque. The transmission is still a six-speed automatic – Mazda says that due to their ratios, there was no need to add more gears. Also, the more gears a transmission has, the more hunting it will be doing when you ask it to accelerate, which can be very annoying at times.
The more you look into the details regarding the new CX-9, the more you realize, that Mazda does like doing things its own way. For instance, while twin-scroll turbo chargers are popular in the industry currently, Mazda engineers decided to fit the CX-9 with a more conventional, single vane turbo charger, but gave it a variable flow nozzle, which opens a smaller nozzle at low rpm for a quicker force fed response, to a larger nozzle for high rpm power. This truly is very clever engineering, and Mazda needs to be applauded for thinking outside the box.
All this tech talk is fine, but what is the 2016 Mazda CX-9 actually like to drive? To find out, I was invited to its press launch in beautiful, Okanagan Valley, near Kelowna, B.C. The roads in this area offer a good mix of city, highway, and back country tarmac – perfect for testing a new vehicle.
As I set off from the Sparkling Hill Resort – where all the journalists were stationed – the very first thing I noticed was how responsive the turbocharged motor is. There is minimal to no lag, as the turbo spools up and hustles you down the road. I was very skeptical at first regarding a small-ish four-cylinder motor powering a 1,917 kg vehicle (in AWD trim), but my concerns were quickly addressed – while the new CX-9 is no road-going rocket, it has more than enough performance to keep you pleased.
I personally loved the noises made by the turbocharged motor, as it whistles and tweets when you get off the throttle – tuner car guys and girls will love it.
The second thing that came to my attention was its ride quality. The first bit of our route was on a narrow, twisting and turning country road, which had plenty of dips and pot holes, but the CX-9 soaked them up with relative ease.
An area Mazda vehicles had been quite poor in the past, is with cabin noise at highway speeds, they’ve been louder than what is ideal. The CX-3 was the first Mazda which showed some improvement in this area, but the CX-9 takes sound insulation on a whole new level. Hence, you can have a conversation with your passenger, even if you whisper, while traveling at 120 km/h – which was the speed limit on many British Columbia highways (Ontario, take note).
When you relax in the vehicle, you notice the fit and finish of the vehicle, which as you’d expect from Mazda, was top notch – no nasty squeaks or rattles to be found anywhere. What you will find – depending on the vehicle’s trim – is lots of features. My first tester of the day, was the top of the line ‘Signature’ trim, which had just about every feature you can throw at it. I really liked the clarity of the 8” infotainment screen which can be operated by either touching the screen, or by using a remote device located behind the gear shifter – not the ideal location for this unit, but it’s something you can get used to.
What was easier to get used to was the extra bit of luxury added to the Signature trim, which is placed above the GT trim, the usual top spec in Mazda products. Mazda really wanted to elevate the CX-9 into a luxury area that the automaker has not been in before, and to do that, it has fitted the vehicle with real wood, real aluminum, and soft touch leather pads in all key areas – including where a passenger might rest their knee against the transmission tunnel. All this shows, that real humans were involved in the making of this vehicle, and was not just put together on a computer software.
For many CUV buyers, interior space is of utmost importance. Space in the front of the cabin is plenty, and space in the middle row is also quite generous for adults. The space in the third row has improved over the previous model, but it’s still not ideal for adults.
As for luggage space, there is plenty of it if you use the new CX-9 as a five passenger vehicle, but erect the third-row seats, and you’ll only have enough cargo room to carry a few groceries.
Another area many of today’s buyers give a lot of emphasis to, is fuel economy. The old CX-9 wasn’t very good at it – the last time I tested an all-wheel drive (AWD) model, it averaged 14.8 L/100km – which is not good. The new CX-9 with AWD is rated at 11.2 L/100km in the city, and 8.8 L/100km on the highway. I managed 10.9 L/100km on my test route which had city and highway driving combined, meaning the manufacturers numbers are not hyperbole – however, a test in Toronto will reveal what this vehicle can manage in your local area, a test I’d like to do later this year.
To sum it up, the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a vastly improved version over its older model, and is now good enough to pull in buyers from premium brands. It is available in four trim levels (GS, GS-L, GT, Signature) with prices starting at $35,300. The GS trim is the only one that gives you the option of having a FWD vehicle, or add the i-ACTIV AWD system for $2,500. The GT trim can be further spruced up with a Technology Package – which gives you radar cruise control, lane departure warning, lane assist, among other tech-based safety features – for an additional $1,600. The top of the line Signature is yours from $50,100.