2016 Mazda CX-9 Long-Term Test: Introduction

In a market where SUV sales are growing by double figures from year to year, a new midsize crossover couldn’t come soon enough for Mazda.

Last year, Mazda’s outgoing seven-seat CX-9 was outsold by such oddities as the Mitsubishi Outlander, Lincoln MKX and Nissan Juke. Over the first six months of this year, Mazda has sold just 3,681 units of its CX-9, most of them in June now that the new 2016 model has finally arrived, when most in the segment have sold at least 10 times that number. It’s a gaping hole in Mazda’s lineup, and a segment that can fill the war chest with the profits from high-margin models.

A New Signature Trim

With Mazda having lost all momentum in this segment, it will have to come back strong, so the 2016 Mazda CX-9 is a crucial piece in the company’s long-term health and a de facto flagship vehicle as it launches a new engine and new levels of interior finish to appeal to those luxury intenders not hung up on badge prestige that are willing to spend more than $40,000 on their family chariot. In order to test the full range of options and that fetching interior treatment, our long-term tester is the new Signature trim in a Machine Grey hue, the fully loaded model, and we’ll be adding the dealer-installed Class II hitch at the earliest opportunity so that we can find out if the CX-9 is as good at hauling a trailer (up to its 3,500 lb tow rating) as it is at family shuttling.

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All the Trims

However, the CX-9 starts for as little as $32,420 (including the $900 destination fee) in front-wheel drive Sport trim. Even a base CX-9 brings a long list of modern amenities and Mazda’s latest engineering. All CX-9s are equipped with the all-new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. Most of them will leave the dealer with all-wheel drive, which is available for $1,800 on Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims and standard on the Signature trim. One package is available on the Sport, adding heated front seats and mirrors and power-adjustable driver’s seat for $950, and a variety of standalone options mean you can order other features like roof rails, rear parking sensors, fog lights, etc.

SEE ALSO:  Why Turbocharged Cars Don’t Live Up To the MPG Hype and What Mazda is Doing About It

For such a large vehicle, you may think that a 2.5L four cylinder falls a little short of the mark, but between the turbocharging and direct injection, the CX-9 makes a maximum of 250 horsepower (on 91 octane gas; 227 hp on 87 octane) and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm, so it has no problem getting rolling, even when its curb weight reaches as high as 4,301 pounds, as in this Signature trim we are testing. We’ll dive deeper into the driving impressions and powertrain tech in later updates, and keep an eye on fuel consumption to see if the CX-9 can live up to its EPA rating of 21 mpg city, 27 mpg highway, and 23 combined. In our first week of driving, in a vehicle that has yet to hit the 1,000-mile mark, the trip computer is hovering right around 20 mpg. Front-wheel drive models promise slightly better mileage, with 22/28/25 mpg city/highway/combined on the EPA cycle.

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Feature highlights of the Sport trim include 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, LED lights, power windows, mirrors and keyless entry, three-zone automatic climate control, rearview camera, Bluetooth compatibility and text message audio delivery and reply, two USB ports and six-speaker audio. Even the base trim is equipped with the Mazda Connect Infotainment System, with seven-inch full-color display controlled by the touchscreen, control knob on the console or voice command, and able to play HD radio station or Aha, Pandora, Stitcher or music from your smartphone library.

Measuring Up

While the seats are fabric covered and manually adjusted, the steering wheel and shift knob are wrapped in leather, and the tilt and telescopic steering column should make finding an ideal driving position easy for a wide range of people. As to the practicality of the CX-9, the second row splits 60/40 and reclines, with a quick tilt and slide for third row access, which splits 50/50. Cargo volume starts at 14.4 cubic feet with all seats up rear seats up, plus underfloor storage to conceal some things as there is no cargo cover, and it jumps to 38.2 with the third row folded and up to a maximum of 71.2 with all seats stowed.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Review

The Touring trim is where the options really start to pile on. Starting at $35,790, AWD and destination take it to $38,670, and a Premium Package runs another $1,745, taking it over that $40K barrier to $40,615. Standard kit with the Touring is everything on the Sport, plus blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, power liftgate, proximity keyless entry, heated front seats and mirrors, leather trim in first and second row seats, eight-way power driver’s and four-way power passenger seat, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming mirror, and the infotainment display grows to eight inches. The Premium Package adds automatic braking (Smart City Brake Support), navigation, Bose 12-speaker audio and SiriusXM Satellite Radio with four-month trial subscription, auto headlights, power moonroof, rear backup sensors and rain-sensing variable-intermittent windshield wipers.

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Next on the lineup card is the Grand Touring, listed at $41,070 or $42,870 with AWD, and it includes everything from the Touring with Premium Package, plus 20-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, adaptive headlights, chrome exterior trim, head-up display, genuine aluminum interior trim, driver’s memory seat, radar cruise control, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist.

See Also: Are Turbocharged Engines Reliable?

While the Grand Touring gets you essentially all the technology that Mazda offers, the Signature trim aims to add a level of luxury, with Nappa leather on the seats, auburn-colored interior accents, unique stitching on the leather wrapped wheel and genuine Rosewood interior trim around the centre console and LED accent lighting inside and out to add some theatre and drama to its appearance at night. The CX-9 Signature is available only with AWD at a price of $44,915.

Long-Term Planning

It’s a lot of money for a lot of car, and although you can shop the middle trims for good value and practicality, the Signature is the culmination of Mazda’s recent push to provide near-luxury levels of interior finish at mainstream prices. On the engineering side, this is the first application of a turbo in the Skyactiv era, so we’re eager to test all aspects of its practicality and performance, especially efficiency. While many turbocharged vehicles struggle to achieve their fuel economy ratings, especially small displacement engines moving a large mass, Mazda’s Skyactiv powertrains have always fulfilled their promise and delivered class-leading efficiency with a sense of driving engagement that is becoming all too rare these days. We’ll be monitoring its fuel consumption closely and reporting regularly. Throughout this long-term test, we will find new challenges and ways to push the CX-9 to its limits and evaluate every aspect of its capability, from commuting to the office through rush-hour traffic to the big Yarkony Family Summer Road Trip Camping Adventure, a max towing test, a big comparison with other leading midsize SUVs, and even a moving day (weekend… week…) thrown in for good measure.

  • Rocket

    I love the styling and the Signature trim’s interior. I really want to love the entire package, but there are some critical features missing from the options sheet, including:

    Ventilated seats
    Surround view camera
    Fully adjustable front passenger seat
    Apple Carplay/Adroid Auto

    Kudos to the designers for giving the CX-9 a RWD look, but I think they got carried away and severely compromised packaging in the process. How compromised? Well, despite being nearly a foot shorter than this CX-9, the Ford Edge actually has more cargo capacity behind the second row than this flagship flagship SUV. Heck the CR-V at 20″ shorter essentially matches the CX-9’s cargo numbers. A lot of potential buyers are going to be wondering how a vehicle with a minivan’s footprint has roughly half the cargo capacity.

  • Isend2C

    I see that you guys at Autoguide are pretty obsessed with this car, but I really don’t see it. In addition to Rocket’s list of missing features is a fully-capable adaptive cruise system. Mazda won’t let the car slow to a stop unless it’s the collision mitigation slamming on the brakes. (But I don’t see too much of a point to Carplay/Android Auto when you have a nav system already, especially when the car won’t let you use the touchscreen when the car is in motion).

    Also, the MPGs don’t seem that great. The Explorer with the 2.3 Ecoboost offers 280 HP, 310 torque and gets 19/27 – so pretty similar on a 5 year old model. The Kia sorento gets 18/26 with AWD and a 3.3 290 HP V6 or 20/27 with a 2.0T FWD, and you can get the base I4 for 21/29 – and the Sorento can tow 5000 lbs with AWD V6 or 3500 for other models (exuding base I4).

    Also, why diju guys write the article like this? I don’t care about the model and trims – I can look them up myself. This is – so far as I know – your first long term car and I wanted to know why you decided on it (apart from Mazda-obsession), what’re your plans, how will it be used, where will it be driven, will one editor use it or will multiple be checking it out?

  • jyarkony

    I hear ya’. Of the things you mention, the missing ventilated seats is the one that really gets me. Something I’ve been noticing a lot this week as temperatures are in the 90s and getting into those seats after a full day in the sun feels like it’s got seat heaters on steroids. The passenger seat wouldn’t bother me, and I doubt my wife would complain, although she would probably vote to add a 360-degree camera if she had her choice – she loves it when we get a car with that (and anything with enough horsepower).

    Comparing cargo space to five seaters is a apples to oranges, but compared to seven seaters it is somewhere in the middle, but on the low end. If cargo space was top priority, the Traverse and Explorer are pretty massive, or any minivan.

  • Rocket

    How many people buy a 200″ vehicle that aren’t looking for cargo capacity, passenger space, or both? And I disagree about it being “somewhere in the middle” of 7-seaters. The 5-inch shorter Pilot absolutely embarrasses the CX-9 with its 109 cu ft of cargo capacity with all seats folded, or a whopping 53% more. The Highlander, 8″ shorter and 2″ narrower, handily betters the Mazda, too, with 42.3 cu ft behind the second row and 83.7 with all seats folded. Even the 3-row Sorento, which is a foot shorter and 3″ narrower, has better numbers. Utility was clearly way down on the list of priorities. It’s a good thing it’s handsome and drives well.

  • jyarkony

    While people are looking for cargo capacity, they aim to fit the things in their life, not abstract measurements… if it fits four sets of golf clubs, six packages of paper towels from Costco or a washing machine, numbers don’t always tell the whole story. The numbers I was referring to were behind-third-row numbers, in which the CX-9 is better than Highlander, Sorento and Santa Fe, not behind-second-row numbers. i agree with you regarding the styling compromise as the height of the cargo bay in the CX-9 is an issue I noticed when trying to move some stuff from my storage. It’s amazing how quickly the CX-9 loses ground with the seats stowed, and very Honda-like that they found that much space inside the Pilot. One of my previous long-term tests was the Sorento, and it was amazing in so many ways.

  • Freddy T.

    To the author: Your grammar is horrible for someone who writes for a living.

    To Mazda: No Android Auto, NO SALE!

  • carjunkie8934

    “I don’t see too much of a point to Carplay/Android Auto when you have a nav system already”

    This makes it clear that you don’t realize how bad the nav systems are that auto manufacturers have been using. Also, if you think that they’re just nav systems, you don’t know what they are at all.

  • Tomas A.

    Jonathan Yarkony thanks for doing a long term review on this one. 2 biggest thing’s I’d like to know is……..
    1) real world mpg on city, hwy, and combined?
    ( I know most car companies / epa put mpg’s on the sticker of cars that fall so far below what’s public actually experienced in real world driving and actual human being mileage:) I do think that this one will be more accurate, but I am curious on your real mpg”s experience.

    2) Lastly, with your 7 seater comparison I know that most comparisons are done by category (7seater) & same price range of comparos. Wondering though if you could be so kind to include comparos to the Volvo XC90 (7seater suv winner last year for motor trend), Tesla Model X, and Acura MDX? I know, waaay pricier, but as Mazda goes up market with this one I as well as I’m sure others would like to know how Mazda”s interpretation of premium and “their” version of premium compares in real mpg, driving experience, power, cargo room, driver/passenger room, and look/feel/ammenities/luxuroes/safety features/crash test and all that you get for what money being how worth it, considering bang for your buck.

    Thanks! #autoguidereader #future7seatpurchaser

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  • Kevin Cagle

    I know this was a while back but I can answer the MPG question when using regular in it. We just bought one out of state and had one as a loaner for a few weeks in town prior. We achieved 24.5 on 87 octane at 81mph. In town if you have a lead foot, it will be around 17mpg, but it is possible to get above 20.