Mazda has a reputation for building vehicles that look good and are fun to drive. Building a three-row SUV that lives up to that reputation is a challenge, but that is exactly what Mazda did with the all-new 2016 CX-9.
What is it?
This three-row SUV delivers all the flexibility of three rows along with plenty of style, features, and a superb interior. It has all this at a price that makes even the most well-equipped trim a bargain compared to competitors.
Pricing and trims
There are four different trim levels starting with the base Sport at $31,520 and moving up to the luxurious Signature that starts at $44,015. Your budget might not allow for the highest trim, but a high level of quality is found throughout the lineup.
Our test model was the Signature AWD, which puts it at the top of the CX-9 range. It’s priced at $45,215 and delivers a wide range of luxury features from a plush interior to advanced safety technologies.
The 2016 Mazda CX-9 has not yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so we have no crash test ratings. It does, however, come with a long list of safety features, may of which are standard across the model range. Standard features include a rearview camera, roll stability control, hill launch assist, and multiple airbags.
Higher trims include more advanced safety features like lane keep assist, lane departure warning, rear backup sensors, dynamic stability control, and Smart City brake support. Unfortunately, not all of these features can be had on the lower trims, even as options, so you’re forced to take a step up if you want the best safety the CX-9 has to offer.
The CX-9 is powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged Skyactiv-G engine with 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. There’s also a sport mode to provide a more aggressive throttle response for those looking to have a little more fun behind the wheel.
Even if you don’t choose to press that sport mode button, the CX-9 is a spirited drive with plenty of power. It doesn’t drive like a three-row SUV and does a darn fine job of making you think you’re in a smaller, sportier crossover. It is smooth and quiet with plenty of oomph to merge easily into highway traffic.
That engine is paired to a six-speed automatic transmission that is well-timed to give you the power you want at exactly the right moment. It is quiet even during hard acceleration. Sport mode changes the shift-mapping for a more aggressive drive, but even then, the CX-9 is quiet and composed so passengers enjoy the ride.
Ride and handling
The ride is smooth with responsive steering that makes driving the CX-9 effortless. Three-row SUVs can be cumbersome, but this one drives like a smaller, more nimble vehicle. It is some of the most fun you’ll have driving a vehicle this large. The plush cabin is comfortable and quiet making it easy to hold conversations without having to yell back to that third row. The smooth ride ensures everyone will arrive happy, even if you’re on a longer road trip.
Seating up front is supportive with good adjustability, so even shorter drivers can find a good driving position. Available heated seats make those cold mornings easier and lumbar support helps make sure you’re not hobbling out of the car after longer drives. The bolstering is stronger than what is found in most other SUVs, which may prove too snug for larger drivers.
The second row is comfortable and roomy with plenty of space for three adults. It’s close, but not uncomfortable even if you’re the unlucky guy in the middle seat. There’s 38.5 inches of headroom and 39.4 inches of legroom, which make it slightly smaller than the competition. The Honda Pilot has 40.9 inches of headroom and 38.3 inches of legroom while the Nissan Pathfinder has 39.4 inches of headroom and 41.7 inches of legroom.
The third row is typical with tight seating. Access is good so adults can get back there without too much effort and the seating is nice but stiffer than the second row. Again, the CX-9 is not as roomy as competitors with 35.4 inches of headroom and 29.7 inches of legroom. The Pilot provides 38.9 inches of headroom with 31.9 inches of legroom while the Pathfinder has 37.8 inches of headroom and 30.7 inches of legroom.
The beauty of a three-row SUV is that it can carry lots of people or lots of cargo. The seats in the CX-9 are quick and easy to fold and aren’t too heavy so even the kids can flip them back up. The rear opening is wide for larger objects and the load floor isn’t too high. There’s 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row, 38.2 behind the second row, and 71.2 behind the third row. This makes it smaller than the Honda Pilot with 16/46/82.1 respectively and the Nissan Pathfinder with 16/47.8/79.8 of cargo capacity.
Infotainment and controls
The Mazda Connect infotainment system is fully featured with and 8-inch color touchscreen, AM/FM/HD Radio, Bluetooth, navigation, and an available Bose surround sound audio system with 12 speakers. There are USB audio jacks front and rear as well as an auxiliary audio jack and steering-wheel-mounted audio, phone, and cruise controls.
It isn’t the easiest system to use, however, with a rotary dial located on the center console that simply requires too much spinning to get to the right selection. It’s confusing to learn and even when mastered is not one of the better systems available.
The all-new 2016 Mazda CX-9 upholds Mazda’s reputation as a brand that is stylish and fun to drive.
It looks good and has plenty of amenities along with the flexibility to hold cargo or passengers. It’s also affordably priced, which makes it more attractive than its competitors.
The drawback is that it’s not quite as large. Cargo space and rear passenger room are limited, so those whose focus is getting the most spacious three-row SUV possible will want to look elsewhere.
2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
Base price: $44,015
Price as tested: $45,215 including $900 destination charge:
Machine Gray Paint: $300
- Gorgeous Interior
- Competitive Pricing
- Fun to Drive
- Awkward Infotainment System
- Not all Safety Features Available on All Trims
- Limited Cargo and Passenger Space