Mazda’s new 2016 CX-9 Signature delivers the brand’s usual driving fun and raises its styling to new heights, but quality faults sideline the seven-passenger SUV.

CX-9 joins the GMC Acadia as the latest players in a fast-growing group of midsize crossover SUVs that have three rows of seats but admit the rear seat is for occasional use, mainly by children.

The 2016 CX-9 is smaller, lighter and more fuel efficient than last year’s model. While the old CX-9 had a 3.7-liter V-6 engine, the new, smaller model uses a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder motor that produces considerably more torque to combine satisfying throttle response with significantly improved fuel economy.

Prices for the 2016 CX-9 start at $32,420 for a base front-wheel drive model, including $900 in delivery charges. All CX-9s have the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission.

I tested a very well-equipped Signature all-wheel-drive model. It had Nappa leather upholstery, navigation, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, Bose audio, power front seats, power tailgate, Bluetooth audio and phone compatibility, blind-spot alert, backup camera and much more.

My test car has a sticker price of $44,915, again including destination charges. That’s competitive with similarly equipped models of the Acadia, Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.

The 2016 CX-9 is 1.1 inches longer than the Explorer, its closest competitor in size. The CX-9 is longer than the Acadia, Pilot, Santa Fe, Pathfinder and Highlander.

The CX-9’s long nose, bold grille and sleek lines may be Mazda’s finest execution of its dynamic “Kodo” styling theme. The sleek shape sets a high standard as other automakers’ designers sketch new midsize seven-seaters.

The interior of my test car was beautiful. Brick-red leather with black accents draped the seats, with matching soft-touch materials on the doors and dash. Nickel-finish metal trim and glossy black plastic completed the picture.

The gaps between doors and dash were large and uneven, a fact that was made more obvious by eye-catching metal bright work.

The front seat is roomy and comfortable, with plenty of storage space for glasses, phones and the like. The rotary controller for navigation, audio, phone and more is harder to use than the best competitive systems. The screen works as a touch screen, but its placement in the middle of the upper dash puts it out of reach for adjustments while driving.

The CX-9’s voice recognition works well, but the infotainment system crashed repeatedly during my weeklong test. Every time, the system shut itself off for no reason, then restarted. The glitch disrupted directions to several destinations and required reprogramming when it rebooted. That’s a serious problem in a system you depend on for real-time directions, potentially to emergency destinations such as a hospital or police station.

The second row of seats are accommodating when in the rearmost position. Sliding them forward to make the third row comfortable leads to cramped legroom. The mechanism for sliding the seats and tipping them for third-row access is harder to use than the competitors’.

Cargo space behind the third row is useful and more than the Acadia, Santa Fe and Highlander offer.

The EPA rates the AWD CX-9 at 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. The key combined figure beats all competitors except the smaller and less powerful 4-cylinder Acadia, which matches it.

The 2.5-liter turbo engine produces 227 horsepower. The engine and Mazda’s quick-shifting 6-speed automatic deliver plenty of zip for acceleration around town and on the highway.

The ride is smooth and comfortable, but the steering is a real strong point. Fast and direct, it responds to quick maneuvers and has a good on-center feel in highway driving.

The CX-9 lives up to Mazda’s goal of offering the sportiest model in most mainstream market segments, but quality and comfort issues leave it trailing the pack.

What Stands Out

Size: Longer than many competitors

Gas mileage: Better than the others

Infotainment system: Balky

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

What? A seven-passenger SUV.

When? On sale now.

Where? Made in Hiroshima, Japan.

How big? 16.6 feet long.

What makes it go? A 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that puts out 227 horsepower.

How thirsty? 21 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined.

How much? Starts at $31,520, plus $900 destination fee; price as tested was $44,915.

Overall: Good looks, performance and fuel economy.