The CX-9 has been here for almost a decade, so it's high time it got significantly revised styling and a more efficient engine. As with all Mazdas, the CX-9 is enjoyable to drive and has a strong European flavor.
The new CX-9 comes with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD) in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature versions. List prices range from $31,520 to $44,015. I tested the equipment-loaded $44,015 Signature with AWD.
The top-line Signature has many upscale items, including a standard power sunroof, power tailgate, Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery, heated and power front seats, 3-zone automatic climate control and a Bose sound system with 12 speakers.
Safety items include blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear backup sensors, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.
The 2016 CX-9 is approximately two inches shorter and several hundred pounds lighter than its predecessor. However, it still weighs more than 4,000 pounds. It's got a 115-inch wheelbase and is a stretched version of the Mazda 6 and CX-5.
Last year's 3.7-liter 273 horsepower V-6 has been replaced by a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. It produces 227 horsepower on regular-grade fuel and 250 on premium gasoline.
The new engine has a sophisticated "Dynamic Pressure Turbo" system that provides especially good low-end responsiveness. That's particularly helpful when moving fast off the line and when darting through traffic.
The CX-9 also performs well on open roads. It does 0-60 m.p.h. in 7.2 seconds and delivers fast 65-75 m.p.h. passing times. But the engine provides most torque at 2,000 r.p.m. to accommodate typical U.S. driving conditions and isn't designed for really high-r.p.m. cruising--often done in Europe. Shoot past 4,500 r.p.m. and the engine loses an appreciable amount of enthusiasm.
The transmission is a silky smooth six-speed automatic, with a responsive manual-control feature.
City estimated fuel economy is about 21 miles per gallon, but the highway number is decent at 27. My test vehicle averaged about 20 miles per gallon during an even mix of brisk and moderate freeway and city driving. The EPA estimated combined fuel economy rating is 23 miles per gallon.
The roomy cabin looks decidedly upscale, with nice-fitting materials and a mix of easily used small and large controls. However, the eight-inch touchscreen in the middle of my test CX-9's dashboard is a bit too far for those with shorter arms to reach for audio and navigation reasons. In that case, it's best to control the screen with a knob behind the console shifter.
The CX-9 cabin is roomy, with a decent amount of storage areas. It's exceptionally quiet, thanks to generous sound-insulation measures.
It doesn't require much extra effort to slide into the first and second seating rows, but the tight third seat is hard to reach and best left for children. Running boards would make third-row seat entry and exit much easier.
There's marginal cargo room with the third seat in its upright position, but good cargo space with its seatbacks pushed forward. Also fold the second-row seatbacks flat and cargo room is impressive.
The electrically assisted steering initially felt too light and a little slow for city driving, but soon felt just about right for a tall, heavy crossover in the city and on freeways.
The ride was smooth, even when the CX-9 was put in "sport" mode for slightly sharper responses, but that mode also causes a little loss in fuel economy.
Handling was agile, helped by 20-inch tires and stability and traction controls and roll stability control. The brake pedal had a nice linear action, and brakes were equipped with "Smart Brake Support."
While practical, the new CX-9 is stylish and fun to drive.