After updating all of its smaller vehicles with Kodo design language and Skyactiv engineering, the three-row, seven-seat CX-9 was long overdue to join Mazda's more modern offerings. As its largest, priciest offering, the 2016 CX-9 is a crucial vehicle for Mazda's success, especially in North America, whose appetite for SUVs shows no signs of slowing.

The CX-5 and the Mazda3 are the sales volume machines; the CX-3 has youth appeal; the Mazda2... well, that's not available any more. The CX-9 though, that's more than just Mazda's family hauler. Sure it'll appeal to those who've outgrown their CX-5 or Mazda6, but it's also positioned to be something of a cut above, a vehicle you buy because it's nicer.

Certainly it looks the part, more than just an extended version of the CX-5. That massive grille extrudes from the front of the car, and the side silhouette is muscular. On the inside, Mazda's made an effort to use real materials in the way that Cadillac's been doing. Real aluminum, real Nappa leather, and authentic rosewood inlay.

The CX-9 gets Mazda's first Skyactiv-based turbocharged engine, the 2.5L turbo-four making 250 hp on premium fuel, 227 hp on regular, and 310 lb-ft regardless of fuel.

Along with claims of the fun-to-drive nature you expect from a Mazda, there are a suite of safety features on offer. Mazda calls their tech suite i-Activesense, and it includes radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring, and the like.

The real success here will be if Mazda can actually get turbocharging to deliver solid real-world fuel economy. That combined with frankly stunning styling and an interior treatment that's equally pleasing to the eye should make the CX-9 a winner.