2016 Mazda CX-9 Long-Term Test Wrap-up

Wrapping up our CX-9 long-term test, we look back at the highlights and flaws in Mazda’s flagship crossover.

Over the past four months, we’ve thoroughly tested nearly every aspect of the Mazda CX-9. While it’s an afterthought in the market, we wanted to know if it would be worth putting in your family’s driveway, so we put it through its paces to make sure it was up to the task. Our long-term test is over now, but before we let it go, here is what we learned.

As Mazda Tells Us, Driving Matters

As promised by Mazda marketing, the CX-9 is a blast to drive. Sure it’s big and heavy, but it’s also long and wide and low relative to others in the segment, so it has a great stance that benefits its driving dynamics.

The 2.5L Turbo has plenty of grunt to get it going, 310 lb-ft of toque to be exact, and it never seems to want for power, even when we run it on regular grade fuel, which puts its horsepower at a modest 227. Horsepower rises to 250 if you spend the extra coin on premium fuel, but we stopped doing that about halfway through our test after alternating at each fill-up over the first few months. As to the transmission, in the entire four months we’ve had it, there hasn’t been a single complaint or hiccup, so about the only fault we could raise with the powertrain is a bit of coarse engine noise.

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Steering and throttle are quick and light without being jumpy, which is the right middle ground for a vehicle that will mostly be used for family duties, but it has a mild Sport mode too that perks up throttle response and holds gears a bit longer. On our way up to our annual camping trip, we found some roads straight out of a car commercial, where I had a great time as we pushed the CX-9, and to be honest, the CX-9 still had more to give. It’s easily the best in this segment for driving manners – comfortable over the long haul, but surprisingly agile in the corners. Although we didn’t reach the snowy season to give it a proper winter test, the AWD system kept the CX-9 secure and stable in any rain or rough terrain we encountered.

SEE MORE: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Road Trip Edition

Another area in which Mazda impressed was fuel consumption. After 8,000 miles, the trip computer shows a solid 20+ mpg thanks to a mix of short-distance commuting, a few long road trips and generally warm summer and fall weather. In pure highway driving, we saw results as good as 25 mpg on one trip.

Technology Matters, Too

Making life easier on the highway is the adaptive cruise control. The only drawback to this system is that it shuts off below 15 mph (20 km/h), meaning you can’t use it in stop-and-go rush-hour traffic – which is when I would be most inclined to use it. Frankly, that sucks, and made me ignore the system altogether.

However, the CX-9 has other assistance systems that are every bit as helpful as advertised. Blind spot warning flashes or buzzes when there is a car in one’s blind-spot, lane-keep assist gently steers the CX-9 back into its lane if you start to wander but isn’t overly intrusive, and rear cross-traffic alert is hugely helpful when backing up out of a spot in a crowded lot or busy street.

SEE MORE: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Tech Talk

Unfortunately, as we detailed in our last report, the infotainment system, while looking slick, leaves a lot to be desired. Sure it has navigation and Bluetooth, satellite radio and other radio app compatibility, but the response time is a tad slow, there often seems to be one more layer of menu than there should be, and the touchscreen and various functions are locked out while driving. The head-up display is a nice perk, but it’s almost invisible while wearing polarized sunglasses. We were also disappointed throughout the test that even in top trim the CX-9 does not offer cooled seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto or surround-view parking.

Don’t Forget About Practicality  

When it comes to practicality, the CX-9 doesn’t quite keep up with the competition, where it just can’t match most other midsize SUVs in terms of cargo and passenger space. The third row is very tight, and features only one set of awkwardly positioned child-seat anchors that only allow one full child seat to be installed in that row.

SEE MORE: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Practicality

While interior space falls short of segment leaders like the Pilot and Explorer, 99% of the time there is more than enough cargo space for day-to-day family life and the four main seats are very comfortable, as is the ride, so it’s a superb cruiser on long trips, even for multiple adults in both rows. The second and third rows do fold completely flat, accommodating wide, flat items easily, but the CX-9 is not very tall, limiting the height of the cargo compartment and the types of items you can load. I failed to get a table on board when moving the last stragglers out of my storage unit into our new house, an item that would have easily fit in the Pilot or Explorer, and likely even the smaller Sorento. On the other hand, one of our editors had no problem loading up a couple sets of tires with the seats folded flat.

Because this is the Signature trim, the interior is gorgeous and the quality is beyond reproach, with deep red leather and genuine wood trim to add a level of luxury for this flagship Mazda that is unmatched in this segment – even the much more expensive Acadia Denali’s interior isn’t as nice as this cabin. However, durability was a concern as the driver armrest padding collapsed and left my elbow exposed to a hard, unyielding surface. Hey, I have delicate elbows, OK?

SEE MORE: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Towing Test

Our towing test showed that the Mazda is not the best choice for those hauling loads over 3,000 pounds, as the CX-9 gets a little unsettled when towing a load over 3,000 pounds. Our resident towing guru Stephen Elmer concluded:  “I would put the sweet spot for this crossover right at 2,000 pounds. That is the point where the dynamics still haven’t degraded too far and it is still a fairly substantial amount of weight. While pushing this Mazda crossover right to the limit may push it out of its comfort zone, the most important aspects of towing, safety and control, were still well maintained.”

The Verdict: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Long-Term Test

We’ve gotten to know the CX-9 really well in the last few months, commuting every day, running the kids to their activities, taking long road trips, navigating the suburbs and the city in rain or shine and it has thoroughly earned our respect.

With modest cargo space, a few ergonomic flaws and some notable missing features, it doesn’t blow the competition away on the spec sheet, which were the primary reasons it fared rather poorly in our Midsize Crossover Comparison Test, coming in fifth out of five vehicles.

However, the Mazda CX-9 speaks to us as drivers, delivering impressive dynamics and efficiency for such a large SUV, and there is no question in my mind that it has proven that it can meet a small family’s vehicle needs. It might not dominate the sales charts, but it’s worth a closer look for families looking for a fun all-purpose crossover.