Test Drive: Mazda CX-9 full review | Times Free Press – Chattanooga Times Free Press

Posted: Saturday, December 24, 2016

Fast facts

– Model: Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

– Exterior color: Machine Gray

– Interior color: Auburn

– Engine: 2.5-liter, four-cylinder turbo

– Horsepower: 250 (with premium gas)

– Transmission: six-speed automatic

– Fuel economy: 27 mpg highway, 21 mpg city

– Local Dealer: Tim Short Mazda, 6015 International Drive

– Price (as tested): $45,215


With seven-passenger SUVs now the default family haulers in wide swaths of suburbia, auto-makers are looking for design flourishes to set their crossovers apart.


Mazda has arguably done the best job yet of making a midsize SUV that actually has some “hey-look-at-me” charisma. The Mazda CX-9, which underwent a major overhaul for the 2016 model year, has gone from a plain-Jane segment cellar-dweller to the most elegant ride in a group that includes the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer.


In fact, the CX-9’s design and execution has more in common with luxury models from Infiniti, Audi and Volvo than its standard-label peers. Drive a new CX-9 anywhere in the Chattanooga area and expect the Mazda to get plenty of double-takes from admiring soccer moms.


Eric Lauer, sales manager at the new Tim Short Mazda store at 6015 International Drive, said the dealership has several CX-9s in stock, including a Signature AWD model in the same color combination as our tester. And what a striking color pairing it is. A luminescent Machine Gray exterior paint job is complemented by a deep red leather interior color called Auburn.


The CX-9 model line-up ranges from Sport trim ($31,520), to Touring ($35,970) to Grand Touring ($40,170) to Signature ($44,015). Our tester with a Machine Gray paint upcharge ($300) and delivery charge ($900) has an MSRP of $45,215. A similarly equipped luxury SUV would easily fetch $10,000 to $15,000 more.


STYLING AND COMFORT


The CX-9 grabs your attention with a prominent five-bar grille that actually protrudes for emphasis. It’s almost as if the CX-9 has lifted its nose a few millimeters to emphasize its higher social standing. Aside from two lateral creases, the hood is vast and smooth. The roof-line has the gentle arc of an Audi SUV and the gorgeous 20-inch wheels with their 10-spoke chrome design would look right at home on an Infiniti QX80.


Spears of chrome along the rocker panels offer a finished look, and the tapered architecture of the rear quarter of the CX-9 give it a settled stance.


We think most drivers will be delighted by the upscale interior. Every surface feels padded and plush. If you like to spread out, both of your elbows are likely to land on a surface that feels like it’s made of memory foam. Our Signature trim tester has upgraded leather seats and attractive rosewood trim on the door panels.


The split-bench second row seats offer plenty of hip and leg room, although there is no option of adding captain’s chairs. The third row is sized mainly for the under-12-year-old crowd. The third-row headrests eat up visibility through the back window, although they can be folded away via pull handles on the back of the seats.


Cargo room, of course, varies with seat configuration. With all seats upright, there’s about 14 cubic feet of space for groceries and gear. That grows to 38 cubic feet with the third-row seats laid flat and 71 cubic feet with the second-row seats down.


Front seat comfort is first-rate, although we could have used another half-inch of thigh support. You definitely sit “in” the seats, not “on” them, which portends well for long trips. The dash is dominated by easy-to-read analog gauges. An 8-inch touchscreen rises from middle of the dash and displays the functions of the Mazda Connect telematics system.


Step up from Sport trim to Touring trim and you’ll get heated side mirrors, keyless ignition, leather upholstery, extra USB ports and the 8-inch display. The Grand Touring trim adds the 20-inch wheels, LED fog lights, a suite of safety-tech features and a sunroof. The top-of-the-line Signature trim features the wood trim, premium leather and LED accent lights.


DRIVING IMPRESSIONS


All CX-9s are powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine Mazda says makes 227 horsepower on regular gasoline and 250 horsepower on high-octane fuel.


If you’re leery of a four-cylinder engine powering a two-ton vehicle, don’t worry, this powerplant has been designed for real-world driving. Most of the ample 310 pound-feet of torque manifests at lower speeds. In other words, the CX-9 can be a real kick in the pants on your morning and afternoon commutes, when mid-range acceleration — not top speed — is what you covet.


A six-speed automatic transmission goes about its business without fuss. True to Mazda’s pledge to produce driver-oriented vehicles, the CX-9 handles much better than most of its competitors. Mazda has also gone to extremes to tamp down cabin noise by adding laminated glass and more sound-deadening material throughout.


BOTTOM LINE


Although most often recognized as a builder of high-quality small cars, the CX-9 proves that Mazda can build near-luxury family vehicles, too. It’s only going to take a few of these lookers to enter the blood-stream of the seven-passenger SUV market for CX-9 sales to flourish.


Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.


 

Comments

Write a Reply or Comment:

Your email address will not be published.*