What's been stealing the minivan's sales thunder the past decade? Why...car-based crossovers featuring tri-row seating like Mazda's second-generation, 2016 CX-9.
As the adjective implies, car-based crossovers include underpinnings and chassis borrowed from uni-body constructed cars, contributing to a smoother on-road ride and lighter frame parts. The alternative, a truck-like body-on-frame SUV design adds weight, bulk and a workman's suspension.
For the past decade, mid and full-size crossovers have emerged as the go-to transport for today's typical cul-de-sac-based family forever stigmatized with what the psychological community might coin 'minivan denial.' Those spending formative years shuttled by parental units via the minivan starting in the mid 1980's now demand their generation's own 'station wagon,' transport and Mazda's CX-9 fits this criteria. Measuring in four inches shorter than Chrysler's new 2017 Pacifica minivan, CX-9 exudes enhanced handling when pitted against Chrysler's latest minivan.
Like a conventional sedan, the 2016 CX-9 features four swing-out rather than sliding side rear doors adoring minivans. Within Mazda's current lineup of sedans, crossovers and iconic two seat roader (specifically the MX-5 Miata also recently redesigned), CX-9 measures in with the largest and boldest dimensions, while marketed as a mid-size three-row vehicle. Mazda's slim and trim vehicle array is sans pickup trucks or sizable truck-based sport utilities.
This 2016 CX-9 total redesign represents a second-generation effort with welcome upgraded interior nuances, new Mazda family exterior upgrades and a powertrain update which bids adieu to a six-cylinder offering standard found in the previous generation. While wheelbase (distance between front and rear axle) grows by 2.3 inches, overall length gets shaved by 1.2 inches. This coupled with shedding approximately 198 pounds results in enhanced on-road maneuverability. Mazda's CX-9, debuting in 2006, was overdue for a next-generation redo.
Front 'A" pillars framing the front windshield get whisked back 3.9 inches, lengthening the hood while creating a more athletic silhouette. The elongated U-shaped front snoot with five vertical slats and center winged Mazda logo borrows cues from human kind, in as much as grille portion jets out a bit from the front fascia.
Under hood, Mazda's advanced SkyActiv technology squeezes every bit of energy out of a conventional, internal combustion gas engine thanks to a higher air-fuel volume compression ratio. During the past half-decade, Mazda invested engineering resources into this fuel-extending technology rather than debut an assortment of alternative-powered vehicles including pure-electric, gas-electric hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicles. SkyActiv came on line four years ago in the compact CX-3 sedan.
The 2016 CX-9 is Mazda's first offering to welcome an all-new 'turbocharged' SkyActiv engine to the family; a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, with direct injection teamed with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. A turbocharger runs off of recycled exhaust gases spinning a pinwheel-inspired turbine to pump concentrated air into the engine. Turbocharging increases engine output without adding undue weight, tweaking up fuel economy.
The SkyActiv 2.5 turbo benefits from both cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a varying degree of exhaust pulsation dependent upon engine speed. Combined, turbo lag (a hesitation sometimes felt when aggressively summoning the accelerator pedal) is kept at bay.
The fuel tank holds 19.5 gallons of fuel, accepting both, 87-octane regular fuel or higher-octane premium. If opting for performance premium fuel, horsepower gets bumped up to 250. Horses, however, paint only half the picture, as this engines low-end torque registers 310 pound-feet with higher-grade fuel. This translates to quicker get-up-and-goes from a standing start and a pleasanter highway cruising experience with plenty of power in reserve for passing maneuvers. Last year's V-6 pumped out 273 horsepower, but only 270 pound-feet of torque.
Front-wheel drive registers a combined 25 miles per gallon (averaging city and highway mileage together) qualifying CX-9 as a top performer in the mid-size, three-row, non-hybrid crossover.
Four trims include Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and new-for 2016 Signature. All offer front wheel drive or Midwest friendly all-wheel drive sans top-shelf Signature, an all-wheel-drive opportunity only. Both Grand Touring and Signature come nicely equipped with scant few options while Sport trims offer a $950 optional sport package and Touring trims offer a $1,745 Touring Premium Package.
Our tester, an all-wheel-drive Grand Touring checked in at $41,970. The only factory option was premium Sour Red Metallic exterior paint ($300) for a bottom line of $43,170 after factoring in $900 destination charge. Starting price for a front-drive Sport trim checks in at $31,520.
Grand Touring and Signature both include as standard equipment advanced electronic safety nuances including radar cruise control, brake support, lane keep assist and blind spot monitoring; all new for CX-9 in 2016.
Inside, push-button start comes standard in all trims, located east of the tri-circled, instrument panel. A narrow, attractive-looking ventilation center includes well marked, reversed type push-buttons for fan direction and speed flanked by twist dials controlling dual temperature settings. Those possessing longer legs and/or torsos may find the reach a bit exaggerated.
Prominent in many other recently introduced Mazda's is the Mazda Connect infotainment system with a flat-screen-type multi-function monitor jetting up from the downward sloping center dash area (not an in-dash variety). Grand Touring and Signature trims include a larger eight-inch screen in place of a seven-inch size. Interacting with this screen is accomplished through a multi-function command center between front buckets. If parked, the flat screen reacts to touch-sensitive commands.
A circular chrome twist-and-push knob is located between front bucket seats. The twisting action allows scrolling through a host of tutorials, selectable by a downward push. A smaller, stalk-like volume knob resides to the right. Three quick select buttons (home, music and navigation) are found in front of the twist-push dial. This screen also displays the rear camera backup feed.
Dual side-by-side cup holders reside fore of a deep arm-rest storage bin with a top-side opening reflective of a side-by-side refrigerator appliance. An electronic finger-tip operated parking brake pull tab is also nearby.
Standard third-row backrests manually fold down (50/50 split) from the cargo bay region, each side sporting a backside mid-section release lever. Mazda should consider adding attached grab straps to aid movement back up to a prone position. The lift gate's (power operated in all but Sport trim) head clearance when open will keep those five-feet ten inches and shorter from bending to avoid head contact.
he middle row accommodates three riders with a 60/40 split and fold down center arm rest with built in cup holders and portable electronic plug-in ports. To access row three, second-row back rests tilt forward (once pulling up top-side tabs) and the entire seat-backrest unit manually slides forward. While billed as a seven-seater, pre-teen duos best occupy the depths of row three as head and leg room remain limited compared with the first two rows. Plus, the more agile the better when contorting in and out.2016 Mazda CX-9
Price as tested: $43,970
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo
Overall Length: 199.4 inches
Overall Width: 77.5 inches
Overall Height: 69 inches
Fuel Economy: 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway