What Did We Get?
Nine years is a long time for a vehicle to soldier along virtually unchanged, but that's how long the first-generation Mazda CX-9 hung around. It was able to pull it off because the 2007 debut model came out of the gate strong as an attractive and functional crossover that was satisfying to drive, and its run was bolstered by timely face-lifts in 2010 and 2013.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 adheres to the same successful formula, but every inch of this second-generation model has been modernized and redesigned. After all, the outgoing model was conceived when the auxiliary jack seemed like a neat idea. But this new one offers a sophisticated touchscreen navigation system, full smartphone integration and a wide array of driver assistance technologies.
The old CX-9's Ford-derived 3.7-liter V6 is out, replaced with an efficient 2.5-liter turbocharged and direct-injected four-cylinder engine. Its job is made easier by a newly optimized body structure that helps make the 2016 CX-9 about 250 pounds lighter. Little wonder that EPA fuel economy is 24 mpg combined (22 city/28 highway), a commendable increase of 5 mpg, or 25 percent.
What Options Does It Have?
The CX-9 used to be sold in three grades: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. But demand for the Grand Touring was strong, so this year they've added a new Signature grade at the top end. The difference between the Signature and Grand Touring comes down to a higher grade of leather and interior accent trim, but they're otherwise identically equipped.
We thought about ordering the midlevel Touring because it comes well equipped with 18-inch wheels, power-adjustable, heated leather seats, an 8-inch touchscreen, push-button start, a total of four USB jacks, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. But we stepped up to the Grand Touring because it comes standard with everything.
Everything means 20-inch wheels, a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium Bose audio system, a head-up display, adaptive headlights and automatic wipers. Our CX-9 also has advanced driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist and automated emergency braking.
Unlike with the Signature, all-wheel drive is a choice on the Grand Touring. We decided we wanted it, so our AWD GT cost us $42,870, including destination. It'd have been $1,800 cheaper if we'd opted out. Our lone dealer-installed option was a $450 trailer hitch. We don't imagine we'll tow much, but we may just hang a bike rack off the back. Add another $300 for the Machine Gray metallic paint, and you arrive at our total price of $43,620.
Why We Got It
Mazda's original CX-9 debuted to rave reviews because its three-row sensibility came bundled with sleek, not-a-minivan styling and sure handling. We actually put a 2008 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring in our long-term fleet at the time, and it was indeed a breath of fresh air among the mostly boxy SUVs, crossovers and minivans it competed against.
But has the CX-9 made the improvements necessary to stand out in a more crowded marketplace? Does the 2.5-liter turbo engine deliver the necessary power and the promised fuel economy? Have they figured out how to make the 20-inch tires ride as well as they look? Does the in-car technology package finally feel up-to-date? We have the next 12 months to find out the answers to these and other questions.
The manufacturer provided this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing @ 478 miles