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2016 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD Review

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Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

This might be the fourth or fifth full-size, three-row crossover I’ve reviewed in the past few months and in some ways one of the standouts, competing head-to–head with the likes of the Dodge Durango, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander and the GM entries, Acadia, Enclave and Traverse. The CX-9 cuts a confident swath through all these great vehicles.

CX-9, refreshed for the 2016 model year, comes in 7-passenger configuration only and four trim levels – Sport, Touring Grand Touring and Signature. Our test car is the Grand Touring version showing a starting price of $41,970 and that includes a lot of premium content including 20-inch alloy wheels, all-wheel drive, leather interior, power sunroof, sunshades on the rear windows, adaptive front lighting with LEDs, adaptive cruise control, power rear lift gate, heated power seats up front, 8-inch color display with rear view camera, and lots of other stuff. The only option on this car is the paint for a bottom line on the sticker of $43,170, about equal to the other comparably equipped large crossovers.

The styling trend in this class is to have a bold, brash front view and tepidly plain the rest of the way around. The CX-9 is no exception. A big vertical grill, modest cheek sculpting and squinty headlight bezels blend into a rather plain side view. Large wheel arches with black trim compliment the big tires and 8.8 inches of ground clearance on this one to give it a powerful ambiance. Rear view, we’ll note, is a bit more stylish than most with gracefully flowing curved lines breaking up the expanse of the lift gate.

Inside we find it simple and understated visually but functional and quite attractive. A horizontal aluminum trim piece expands across the dash morphing into trim around the door handles. The multifunction screen mounts up high and a knob on the console controls functions. I found it one of the better systems of its kind having little trouble navigating and managing settings. Using a knob instead of a touch screen has significant advantages. Excellent materials, fit and finish inside along with ergonomically pleasant details make for a nice place to spend time.

Rear seats are mounted high and fold easily out of the way for third row access. Cargo capacity competes with the competition well at 14.4 cubic feet with all seatbacks in place, 38.2 cubic-feet with rearmost seatbacks folded and 71.2 with both rows folded.

Just one powertrain comes in the CX-9, a SkyActive 2.5-liter, direct injected, turbo four making 227 horsepower (using regular fuel) or 250 horsepower (using premium) and 310 pound-feet of torque mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission. For a 4,300-pound vehicle it feels strong. Rated at 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway (expect just one click better for front-wheel drive) it is as efficient as any in its class and the 19-gallon fuel tanks makes for a decent cruising range. It is rated to tow about 3,500 pounds. We managed an average of about 24 mpg during our week of mixed driving.

We found the CX-9 had plenty of power off the line and at lower speeds but seemed to run out of breath at higher speeds, for example trying to joust with fast traffic on the freeway. The new transmission shifts quickly and smoothly and rewards those who use the manual mode to shift for themselves when needed.

Mazda is known for sporty handling in most of the vehicles they make but it is hard to tell with this large crossover. Reasonably quick steering with decent feedback and firm but compliant independent suspension will have you feeling completely in control, except in the most extreme maneuvers. But this is not unlike most in the class. All the manufacturers have become good at managing driving dynamics.

Mazola’s new car warranty covers the CX-9 for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

If you’re shopping in this segment you have a big job ahead if you want to compare them feature for feature. All the tools you need are here at The Auto Channel. Rest assured that whatever one you choose you’ll probably be satisfied, including this CX-9.

©Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved

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