2016 Mazda CX-9

PHOENIX — All new from the ground up, the three-row family-targeted mid-sized Mazda CX-9 crossover utility vehicle presents a striking pose. It gets new, sharp, rakish exterior styling. The long, sharply angled hood, bold, trapezoidal grille and sleek styling lines continue the Japanese automaker’s execution of the “Kodo” styling theme that we’ve seen on other Mazda products.

A rear camera is standard but no surround-view camera system is available. Blind spot monitoring is standard on all but the base Sport trim level.

Our top-of-the-line, all-wheel-drive Signature trim level test vehicle was trimmed in gorgeous redwood colored leather and charcoal accents. The look was very near luxury, including a leather-upholstered instrument panel with matching soft-touch applications on the door panels and center console. Attractive satin nickel-finish metal trim on the dash line, center console, steering wheel, air vents and door trim add to the upscale look and appeal. Only the base model offers cloth seats.

Seats were well sculpted, supportive and comfortable, but we found the power seat adjustments awkward with the bottom cushion angle adjustable but at the expense of also changing the seat height. At 6-6, I’m exceptionally tall so shorter drivers might not mind the lack of adjustment.

We also found driver legroom to be compromised because of the narrow cockpit, with little side-to-side leg movement ability. Second row seating allowed good space for adults, but it is only offered with a bench seat and not captain’s chairs like the Ford Explorer, GMC Acadia and Toyota Highlander. We thought the mechanism for sliding and folding the second row seats forward for third-row access was clumsy when compared to competitors.

And speaking of space, the CX-9 doesn’t offer the oversized panoramic sunroof like in competitor vehicles, just the normal aperture style.

We were also surprised that the CX-9 isn’t available with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto compatibility, a serious mistake, in our opinion. The Mazda Connect infotainment system was slow and fussy to use and required too many steps for what should be simple functions. The voice recognition feature worked flawlessly but we had numerous failures with the infotainment system crashing or  shutting off for no apparent reason. It was especially frustrating when using the navigation system.

Under the hood the CX-9 has discarded the previous model’s 3.6-liter V-6 in favor of a new 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 227 horsepower and 310 lb ft torque. It’s paired with a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission. It also gets better fuel economy and we found power and performance ample for all driving conditions, rendering the V-6 completely unnecessary.

Overall the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is likeable and better in every way than the outgoing model, but still seemed to be less fresh and contemporary and trailing in technology when compared to rivals like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander and GMC Acadia.

Vital Stats

Base Price: $31,520 - $44,015
Price as Tested: $45,215
Seating: Up to 7
Engine: 2.5-Liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 227
Fuel Economy: 21/27 – City/Highway

Fab Features
Near luxury interior materials in upper trims
New engine performs excellently
Attractive new styling

— Jim Prueter