I’m going to tell you right off the bat that I’m torn about the 2016 Mazda CX-9. In many ways the redesigned SUV is exactly what any family would want. Three rows of seats in a shapely body with a peppy engine that doesn’t guzzle gas.
Right about now you’re waiting for the “but”. The reality is that there are no huge issues, just little things that left me less than ecstatic. The reality is that different cars appeal to different people, and maybe I’m just not a CX-9 kind of guy.
Let’s start with the shapely body. Mazda has always done a great job of looking slightly better than the competition. This new sheet metal has a more elegant style. That is, until you look at the snout. Let’s just call it “bold”. It’s definitely noticeable and different than what other car makers are doing. Over the past 20 years manufacturers have worked hard to reduce the overhang. The idea is to keep as much of the weight between the wheels as possible. Mazda does that at the back of the CX-9, but decided that its signature grille should be a little more prominent. It’s very upright, and it definitely sticks farther out. Obviously, if you like that grille, you’ll probably love the new look. It was just more snout than I wanted.
The good part is that behind that snout is a 250 horsepower, 2.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Normally, I’m inclined to think that 250 horses is just barely enough for this kind of SUV. But Mazda has done a great job of tuning the engine so that you get a snappy feel when you first hit the gas. The company says it’s designed the engine to work well in the range where most people actually use it. Having said that, it’s definitely a different feeling than a higher horsepower V6 that you might find on more upscale SUVs. Mileage is very respectable with the two-wheel drive model getting 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway with a combined number of 25 mpg. The all-wheel drive version has a combined number of 23 mpg.
Moving inside, the interior has a pleasant upscale feel. The CX-9 has three rows of seats. I’m a big fan of having that third row. It just gives you more options. However, don’t expect to drive seven adults cross-country. Like a number of SUVs, that third row is best used for kids (or quick trips with short friends). Still, it’s a nice option to have when your crowd wants to go to dinner. My test car was the signature edition that came with a two toned black and chocolate-brown interior. I can’t say it appealed to me as I found it rather dark looking. Again, that’s a matter of personal taste. You might love it.
Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of the Mazda display that controls things like the radio and navigation. First, it sits on top of the dash like someone forgot to include it in the design. Yes, it sits tall so you don’t have to lower your eyes significantly from the road to check the screen, but I’ve seen other cars achieve that without the added-on look. It has a controller that rests just behind the shift level. There’s nothing wrong with the controller, it’s more what you have to do with it. It takes way too many clicks to do the basics. Let’s just say that there are other carmakers that do it much better.
My test car was the top of the line Signature edition that stickered at $45,215. It came with Nappa leather and rosewood trim inside plus a Bose sound system. At this price point you have a big decision to make. Do you bump up another $5-10,000 and buy an upscale brand, or do you pat yourself on the back for getting plenty of luxury extras without a luxury price? To be honest, I think I’d feel better moving up the automotive food chain. On the other hand, if you’re buying a CX-9 in the low to mid-30s, you’re going to feel like you’re getting great value.
Is there anything wrong with the Mazda CX-9? Not really. It has a lot going for it. If you’re in the market for a three row SUV it’s definitely one you should test drive. Just make sure you really like that big grille and the quirky dash display.