One Week With: 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Family crossover with style and substance
When the Mazda CX-9 was introduced over a decade ago in 2006, it was one of the earliest entries into what has become one of the market's booming segments. While no Miata or RX-8, the first-generation CX-9 still delivered on Mazda's premise of "zoom-zoom."
Because of its success, the first iteration of the CX-9 lasted almost a decade, phasing out in 2015 to make way for the second-generation model. Introduced just last year, the latest and greatest CX-9 took the winning recipe of the previous model and improved upon it, scoring a chance to compete for a winning spot on our 2017 All-Star list.
Automobile contributor Scott Burgess wrote for our First Drive impressions, "While Mazda will have a tough job ahead of it turning the heads of customers shopping for luxury vehicles in the three-row crossover segment, it's now not out of the realm for them to seriously consider the CX-9 as a viable option." Favoring the CX-9's attractive, aggressive, and clean sheet metal, I couldn't help but agree that its aesthetics lead the crossover's move upmarket.
Out of all the three-row mainstream crossovers currently available, short of the premium segment, the CX-9 takes the award as the most stylish of them all. Mazda's Kodo design language appears more aggressively and better proportioned on the CX-9's larger body, and looks more elegant than it does on smaller offerings like the CX-5. However, in order to keep things "sophisticated," the range-topping Signature trim can only be had in four less-than-exciting shades: black, dark gray, silver, and white. Our tester came in the picturesque Machine Gray Metallic (the dark gray) that you've probably seen in advertisements and on Mazda's own landing page for the CX-9. Although it would be nice to see some variation in the exterior color palette, the Machine Gray is probably the best and most elegant choice offered that doesn't make the large crossover look look too much like an Uber.
Inside, Mazda avoids a crowded center console and keeps it simple. But none of it is stupid, as physical buttons and knobs actuate the most pertinent functions. Most of all, the interior design leans on the side of luxury thanks to this simplicity and our tester's Auburn Nappa Leather and real Rosewood trim bits, both exclusive to the range-topping Signature trim. All of the surfaces have a soft-solid touch to them and any hard, budget plastic is thoughtfully kept out of reach or sight, though there were some signs of odd premature wear, such as plastic support piping protruding from the driver's seat trim.
All options boxes are ticked in this range-topper, providing the fully-loaded experience. If you've had the pleasure of experiencing a top-spec Mazda6 sedan, the CX-9 elevates this experience—literally. Inside, you get as much kit and caboodle as you'd expect to get in a premium offering, but in a Mazda. The list includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic sensory for reversing, active and adaptive front lighting that swivels with the steering, rain sensing wipers, a lovely Bose Centerpoint 12-speaker sound system, sat-nav, three-zone auto climate control—the works.
In addition to more elegant aesthetics both inside and out, another shining moment for the CX-9 is its all-new SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter turbo-four, the sole motor available. That means cylinder count is down by two, as is power when compared to the outgoing Ford-sourced Cyclone V-6 and its 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of twist. Despite this, the new CX-9's four-cylinder, which offers 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, does a really good job of substituting boost for the reduced displacement and cylinder count. Helping its case is a properly tuned and slick-shifting six-speed automatic, which doesn't feel like its short any cogs. Some power and the previous Ford V-6's throaty engine note might no longer be, but the CX-9's new force-fed four offers the right level of refinement. It's also proof that automakers are making technological strides with this latest trend of motor downsizing. For instance, the CX-9's SKYACTIV mill utilizes a new Dynamic Pressure Turbo, featuring a special valve that basically "primes" the turbocharger for boost at low engine speed, eliminating turbo lag. As the 2.5-liter mill revs through its range, the Dynamic Pressure Turbo allows for a smooth and imperceptible transition into the turbo's boost pressure.
The hits keep zooming in once one cranks the sporty three-spoke wheel. The new CX-9 ditches its heavy and cumbersome Ford CD3 platform in favor of Mazda's own, developed completely from the ground up, starting with the Mazda6's basic structure. As a result, some weight gets lost, making the new model perceivably lighter, handling with greater deftness than the car it replaces. The last CX-9 was already impressive on its rubber for its size, invoking handling and driving dynamics that are akin to imagining a raised Mazda6 wagon with a V-6. The same sentiments exist for the new car, but with the hot new looks of the latest Mazdas, a new turbo four, less weight to lug around, and a finely-tuned suspension setup to round it out.
I found myself oddly grinning at how quickly I shook off tailgaters in the twisty bits or highway onramps in a vehicle meant to haul families. The faster you went into a corner, the more the CX-9 seemed to progressively shrink into a CX-5, but with more power and excellent brakes to match. That said, the new car delivers on its "zoom-zoom" premise in spades while maintaining a lovable balance between excellent handling and a fuss-free, quiet ride. It absorbs pothole impacts as well as any of its competitors. More importantly, the efforts to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) level were instantly noticeable when compared to the outgoing model I tested years ago, once again making the CX-9 feel like a much more expensive vehicle. Even if you're not into tire-scorching fun and aren't looking to push the CX-9 to the limits, it offers very confident and controlled handling that makes drivers feel safe in any condition.
Once hooked in by the looks and reeled in by the behind-the-wheel experience, prospective buyers of the 2017 Mazda CX-9 will find themselves impressed. Its not only great to stare at, but it has the substance to match its aesthetic pleasure with an excellent, sportier, driving experience that you can't quite get with any of the competition. And with a whole range of standard and option kit that competes with just about every class-leading three-row crossover, there shouldn't be much issue for the CX-9 to find its way onto many people's shortlists, or better yet, in people's driveways.
2017 Mazda CX-9 Specifications
|PRICE||$45,755 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||2.5L turbocharged 16-valve DOHC I-4/250 hp @ 5,000 rpm, 310 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||20/26/23 mpg (city/hwy/combined)|
|L x W x H||199.4 x 77.5 x 67.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.2 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||128 MPH (est)|