Expert Reviews

Test Drive: 2016 Mazda CX-9

AutoTrader SCORE
This score is awarded by our team of expert reviewers after extensive testing of the car

OK, let's just get this out of the way. The new CX-9 looks fantastic. From every angle. I don't think Mazda designers left anything to chance here – it appears they made sure they got it right. The first thing I noticed as I walked up to it from the side was that the roof appears to be significantly lower, giving it a much sleeker appearance. The stance is muscular, but somehow it looks elegant and sophisticated too.

If you like your gadgets and driver assistance technology, you'll find plenty of it in the CX-9, especially in the Signature trim.

Likewise, the front and rear styling is very well done. I liked the interesting use of chrome strips on both the front and rear fascias, and the front looks downright menacing thanks to that massive grille. There are LED lights everywhere! Headlights, fog lights, tail lights and front and rear "signature" lights.

The CX-9 has a powerful presence and the whole package is augmented by nice, fat 255-50-sized rubber wrapped around massive 20-inch rims.

I found the top of the front door frame to be a bit low. I'm not a very tall person and I still whacked my cranium on it a couple of times until I learned to duck when I was getting in. That's a bit weird in a large three-row crossover. Once in, I really appreciated the new styling inside. It's clean and functional, and complemented by a very handsome (and bold) two-tone colour scheme crafted out of soft-touch materials. In this trim, you get a few authentic rosewood accents which look fantastic.

The power-adjustable and heated seats are very comfortable, and very supportive. This Signature-trim perforated Nappa leather upholstery is really nice with its contrasting inserts and piping and stitching details. I also loved the heated steering wheel – it's relatively small and sporty, with a fat, grippy rim and excellent ergonomics.

You'll find a wide 8.0-inch touchscreen jutting out of the dash – it can also be controlled by a rotary joystick dial, which is surrounded by some hard buttons for major functions. It handles all the usual stuff – navigation, phone, audio (played through an excellent-sounding 12-speaker Bose system!) and vehicle settings. Overall, I found the system to be user-friendly (once you figure it out) and it works pretty well. Except for one thing – I thought the system's response time was often sluggish, and it felt ponderous because of it.

I found the centre console flared out too much toward the front and intruded into my leg space. I wish it was an inch or so narrower, which would make for a much more comfortable drive – for me anyway.

In-Depth: Mazda CX-9’s Skyactiv Technology

If you like your gadgets and driver assistance technology, you'll find plenty of it in the CX-9, especially in the Signature trim. A back-up camera with rear parking sensors, adaptive front lighting system with high-beam control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, smart brake support (which will slam on your brakes to avoid collisions), dynamic cruise control and lane departure warning and assist. Oh yes, and let's not forget the fantastic heads-up display, which can be loaded up with information – I had a tach, speedometer, gear selection as well as blind-spot monitoring and lane departure assist warnings when applicable. All that stuff, and the display still worked well and didn't feel cluttered. And no, this isn't the goofy pop-up piece of plastic you've seen in other Mazdas. This is a colour windshield-projected system, as it should be.

Mazda's attention to cargo space is not bad – but not great. In the front I found a deep open drop-in bin at the front of the centre console, and a small carpeted bin under the armrest's clamshell lid. That's about it other than the glove compartment.

The entryway into the second row is large, making for very easy ingress. Once you're in, you'll find a typical second row for a crossover – two large, comfortable outboard seats and one narrow, hard middle seating position that straddles a not-insignificant driveshaft tunnel on the floor.  No surprises there. At 5'10", I found ample head room and leg room. There is an automatic climate control system for the rear passengers, and there are manual sunshades for the side windows. The middle seatback folds down to become a very nice padded armrest with a storage bin and a couple of cupholders. A pleasant surprise came when I popped open the storage bin to find two USB charging ports – I haven't seen something like that in a second row before. Obviously, if you have three people sitting in the second row, you won't be using those USB ports.

When we put all three of our kids in the second row, they were quite happy with the space. Second-row seating slides fore and aft and reclines, and is easily folded and then slid forward to access the third row.

The third row was difficult to get into and out of as an adult, but my kids had no trouble. There are two seats back there. Based on the lack of head room, leg room and width, they weren't designed for adults, but two of my kids were thrilled to hang out in the third row.

If you're affixing child seats, there are two sets of LATCH anchors in the second row – none in the third.

Pop the CX-9's power lift gate and you'll find that the space behind the third row is pretty limited (407 L). Fold down the third row (it splits 50/50) and you get a sizable 1,082 L trunk. Of note, that's not huge – it's actually a tad smaller than the Toyota RAV4's trunk – but it's definitely not restrictive either. Of course, you can fold down the second row too (this one splits 60/40) and end up with a huge 2,017 L cargo space.

Mazda isn't messing around and carrying over old stuff. They gave the CX-9 a brand-new engine too – a SkyActiv 2.5 L turbocharged four-cylinder. Horsepower is a bit lacklustre on paper – 227 hp at 6,000 rpm. But what matters in these vehicles is the torque, and it puts out an impressive 310 lb-ft of twist at 2,000 rpm. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, the 1,917 kg (4,226 lb) CX-9 gets fuel ratings of 11.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 L/100 km on the highway.

We averaged an impressive 12.0 L/100 km with no effort to drive economically. The CX-9 runs on regular fuel, which is nice.

The CX-9's new powertrain provides enough power, but there's a bit of lag off the line. Acceleration is good, but not excellent. It would be nice if the torque would come on just a bit more quickly when you're trying to get into faster-moving traffic. With that said, it's more than adequate for this vehicle and in virtually all normal driving situations.

The transmission is very smooth, although in normal mode it heads for higher gears quickly to save on fuel. Gears can be shifted manually using the gear selector. The CX-9's Sport mode does make a difference, albeit not a huge one – it impacts the throttle response and the transmission's behaviour and it certainly makes things feel a tad sportier.

I thought that the suspension set-up was simply outstanding. The ride is firm, bordering on sporty, which means you actually get a bit of road feedback, while soaking up all the hits along the way. The big tires got a little slappy over some harsher expansion joints and really bad roads, but overall, it's a smooth operator. The pay-off is in the handling department. Sure, it leans into corners, and turn-in isn't going to be MX-5 sharp, but this is one of the most fun crossovers I've driven, and it doesn't balk when you pick up the pace. As a matter of fact, it seems to want to indulge you and it gets even better in the faster curves.

Mazda's active torque-split all-wheel drive (I'm surprised they haven't stuffed that into the all-encompassing SkyActiv bin yet) is smart and effective. Invisible on dry roads, it perked up and earned its keep during several torrential downpours during our time with it.

The CX-9 is stellar on the highway, and we found it to be very quiet when it comes to engine, road and wind noise – even at highway speeds. You'll get a little snarl from the engine but only when you're stepping on it. Visibility out of the vehicle is excellent, unless the third row is in use – then the rear-most headrests will cut into your rear view significantly.

If you're doing some towing, the CX-9 can drag another 1,488 kg (3500 lb) along.

I had a few nitpicks when it came to the CX-9. Most of them are about what's missing. While these may come across as whiny and first-world-problem-ish and yes, you can obviously live without them, the competition doesn't hesitate to provide some of these things. And so I feel qualified to whine. At this price, Mazda should be throwing in things that are now commonplace, like a huge panoramic sunroof, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.

Also, I don't know what the deal with the air conditioning was, but it was a pretty toasty week in Edmonton (a number of 25 and 26 degree Celsius days), and I found myself having to dial the automatic climate control down to 18 or 19 degrees to reach bearable cabin temperatures. I normally set my climate control to 21 degrees in nearly every other car. It seemed like the CX-9's air conditioning had to work extra hard just to keep up. It's possible that there was something wrong with it.

Mazda has built a truly premium-feeling crossover in the new CX-9. I found excellent drivability with a great balance between comfort and agility, impressive fuel economy, usable space (although less than the competition) and utility and a truly high-end interior laden with technology and luxurious touches.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very, very high. She loved the styling inside and out, and really enjoyed driving it. She appreciated that it was pretty easy to park, considering its size, and thought it felt like a European-brand SUV when she was on the road and when she looked around the cabin. High praise indeed.

Mazda has definitely brought a contender to the table with the new 2016 Mazda CX-9. It offers a lot, and while it can get pricey in the higher trim levels, that's nothing new for this category. I loved it!

3 years/unlimited distance; 5 years/unlimited distance powertrain; 7 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 3 years/unlimited distance roadside assistance

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Model Tested 2016 Mazda CX-9 (Signature AWD trim)
Base Price $50,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $52,395
Optional Equipment
$300 Machine Grey Metallic paint