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.