2016 Mazda CX-9: Monthly Update for March 2017
by Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
Where Did We Drive It?
My parents are moving from one house to another along the rugged Oregon coast. They'd always figured they'd move closer to town eventually, but unforeseen circumstances made it necessary to rapidly accelerate the timetable. My help was needed to get them settled in and move some of the more sensitive items, and with heavy rain in the forecast I preferred to use a biggish three-row SUV. So I chose our 2016 Mazda CX-9, even though I'd just used it to make the same drive this past December.
This trip amounts to little more than a week of this month's driving time, but it represents over 75 percent of the accumulated distance. The remaining 25 percent was amassed by other staffers who drove it back and forth to work and ran errands closer to home — the usual stuff, in other words.
Time was of the essence on this trip, so my wife and I kept our heads down and stayed on interstates and major highways. We made it all the way to the Oregon border with just a single fuel stop near the halfway point in Modesto, California. Once we reached Oregon, we opted to fill up again on the California side of the border because Oregon doesn't let drivers pump their own gas, something I prefer to do myself to keep each fill consistent for record-keeping purposes.
What Kind of Fuel Economy Did It Get?
This déjà vu road trip set a couple of new high-water marks for the CX-9. I drove it 461.4 miles on a single tank, up from the previous best of 408.9 miles. The best calculated fuel economy I saw was 26.7 mpg, which beat the EPA highway rating and destroyed the previous best of 24.5 mpg set in December. In fact, the entirety of this 1,956-mile trip went down at an average of 25 mpg and beat that previous best tank.
You'd think a performance like that would do wonders for the CX-9's lifetime average. In reality, the needle barely moved, rising from 21.7 mpg to just 21.9 mpg. Why didn't this road trip give the overall number a bigger boost?
It's because of the 732 miles of city driving racked up by my colleagues before my trip. Their worst single fill-up was just 15 mpg, and the trio of tanks that made up that distance averaged a paltry 15.9 mpg — a shockingly poor performance next to an EPA city rating of 21 mpg.
Mazda products usually do better with respect to window sticker ratings, so what gives? I think it has to do with the new CX-9's switch to a small-displacement turbo engine. Such motors are favored by engineers for their ability to sip fuel when driven in the grandmotherly fashion that matches the way EPA test cycles are run. But that can mean they'll guzzle gasoline in the real world, where even regular folks are more liberal with the throttle.
And the EPA tests don't accurately account for hills, headwinds and the throttle work associated with bends and corners. On this trip I was able to match and even beat the CX-9's rated fuel economy on the vast flat interstate expanses south of San Francisco. However, it fell short in the northern part of the state on Highway 101, which is generally run at a lower average speed but has more corners and hills. Here the small turbo motor spends more time in the boost zone, which increases fuel consumption.
Average lifetime mpg: 21.9
EPA mpg rating: 23 combined (21 city/26 highway)
Best fill mpg: 26.7
Best range: 461.4 miles
Current odometer: 9,444 miles
Maintenance and Upkeep
We took it in for its first tire rotation and oil and filter change at 6,999 miles. That was a bit early compared to the maintenance schedule, but we wanted to get it handled before an upcoming road trip. Total cost: $99.
"I like the way the CX-9 rides and handles most of the time. It's an effortless cruiser that has a highly developed sense of straight ahead on open freeways, and it feels utterly composed as it scythes through bends and the twisty mountainous sections of our route." — Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing
"Brakes are powerful and sure, and the pedal feels firm underfoot." — Dan Edmunds
"The ride is generally steady and serene. But there is a downside, and it usually crops up when the road drops off in an abrupt or stepwise fashion where the asphalt has slumped or slid due to land movement, a scenario that is extremely common here in the damp coastal mountains of Northern California and southern Oregon. In these instances the CX-9 tends to drop sharply at the rear, as if the suspension is too bound up to exhale and react smoothly. The relative lack of give in the ultra-short sidewalls of the 20-inch tires probably don't help much here, either." — Dan Edmunds
"The decisions the automatic climate control makes are sort of maddening. I always wanted it to be moving more air around, except for the times it decided to turn the A/C on full blast when it seemed utterly unnecessary. I wound up just switching to manual climate control and was much happier for it." — Will Kaufman, Associate Automotive Editor
"I'm becoming a big fan of head-up displays, and the CX-9 has a good one. I still don't see the point of the 'rotation' adjustment. Why not make it square with the horizon and leave it fixed? I suppose some people drive on highly crowned roads or want to make it parallel with the bodywork. If it were fixed, someone would complain it was crooked." — Dan Edmunds
"The Mazda's navigation system displays the posted speed limit on the lower corner of the screen, which is nice. Thing is, the carmaker has chosen to have the miniature speed-limit sign turn red on a yellow background if you exceed the speed limit, a mild scolding that seems unnecessary. But it's far more irksome than that, because on this trip I discovered it turns red if your speed merely matches the speed limit. You must drive under the posted limit if you want to keep the red indicator at bay. Since when did the Zoom-Zoom company get the vapors and become my carsickness-prone grandmother?" — Dan Edmunds
"For $40K, I want the ability to tilt the seat cushion. I could also do with a few more inches of telescoping on the wheel. The car is comfortable, but a few more ergonomic tweaks for a taller driver would have been welcome. I always felt like I was just one adjustment away from being really comfortable." — Will Kaufman