Just turned in the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature All Wheel Drive after a week of driving it around Colorado, from mountains to suburbs, deep into the city and just taking my youngest to school and heading to the market. The results? It’s one of my favorite cars of the year from a driving and feature perspective. Now, fair disclosure: I’m ready to buy a new car to replace my great 2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and while I like the full-size SUV format, I don’t really need a new vehicle that’s so big. No longer am I driving three children and their stuff around, after all.
And yet the CX-9 is the largest of the Mazda SUV line, and it’s the CX-5 that’s more of a mid-size sports utility vehicle, what the industry calls a CUV, a compact sports utility vehicle. Mazda’s going to be loaning me a CX-5 for a road trip in a few weeks, so the CX-9 was more of a chance to dig into the technology that powers the 2016 Mazda line. And that CX-9 is loaded with tech and some of it’s really slick…
First off, here’s an exterior shot with its trademark front hood “nose” design:
With its 115″ wheelbase, 199″ vehicle length and 71.3 cubic feet of cargo space (with seat area), it’s pretty similar to the specs of my ’08 Highlander, which is a bit more compact with its a 110″ wheelbase and 188″ length but yet has a greater cargo capacity because of its less streamline design: 94.1 cubic feet with seat area. So the CX-9 is definitely not “compact” as SUVs go.
Nonetheless, the CX-9 proved a roomy vehicle with a very comfortable drive and more tech than you could shake a stick at, even some surprising features that I didn’t even realize it included until they revealed themselves while I was driving.
ADAPTIVE CRUISE CONTROL
In 2008, cruise control was basically a way to set your desired speed and the vehicle would drive at that speed regardless of the situation. The car in front is going 20mph slower? Oh well, it’s up to you to manage the cruise control. The most recent generation of vehicles has a feature that I just love, however: adaptive cruise control. Since cars now have radar systems to detect the environment around them, the cruise control also tracks the speed and distance of the vehicle in front and if they’re slowing down, you’ll automatically slow down too.
You can even set your proximity tolerance as part of the cruise control settings:
Adaptive cruise control is the difference between a brick on the gas pedal and an autopilot (though it doesn’t steer, of course, so we’re not talking about anything particularly autonomous). What surprised me with the Mazda CX-9, however, was that at night the vehicle used its ability to track other vehicles for another capability: automatic high-beam. Much to my surprise, when I was driving on a dark, empty road, the brights would pop on and as soon as a vehicle was detected in front of me, it’d switch off again, automatically. Very slick!
Another great feature is the military-inspired heads-up display (HUD) where information is reflected on the windshield and is visible while driving:
You can see in the above photo, I have the adaptive cruise control set to 47 mph, I’m currently driving 47 mph and the posted speed limit in this particular part of Boulder, Colorado is actually 45 mph. Yes, I was speeding. 🙂
CARGO AND STORAGE SPACE
There’s lots of cargo space in the CX-9, as you can see in the following photo:
This is the cargo space with the second row of seats up, so fold those down and you’ve quite a lot of space to work with. However, I’ll also note that while I had the 2016 Mazda CX-9 AWD I had to take parts of my couch to the furniture store for repair and while the CX-9 might be longer, I couldn’t fit the pieces in due to the narrowing of the cargo area itself. I ended up using the Highlander for that transport job.
That was the only time there was any issue with cargo size, however, and it was more than enough space for my daughter’s full-size cello and all our gym bags, backpacks and other miscellany of life. And as befitting a fairly long vehicle, there’s very good legroom in the back seats, even with the front seats pushed back:
Notice the central console for the back passengers. Surprisingly, however, no cup holder which was a bit of a problem for my rear passengers. Not sure why a pull-out cup holder wasn’t available as part of the center console design, but perhaps it’s a bit crazy to be worrying about the number and location of cup holders when evaluating a vehicle!
THE DRIVING EXPERIENCE
So let’s talk about the engine and driving experience! The signature edition features Mazda’s peppy Skyactiv-G 2.5T turbo engine, 6 speed with sport mode. 227 horsepower it’s got 310 ft/lb of torque and the I-ACTIVE all wheel drive system, including front and rear stabilizing systems. All those specs summed up: It was surprisingly fun to drive, peppy and nimble, comfortable on mountain roads and capable of easily keeping up with even the most eager highway traffic.
A fairly standard console dash, this highlights one feature of the car that I did find a bit disappointing: the mileage. The CX-9 is rated for 21 city, 27 highway for a combined 23 mpg. As you can see in the above photo, I saw about 22 mpg on average for my combined driving. Peppy, yes, but I’d like to see 10 mpg improvement in fuel efficiency since we’re not going to have $2.00/gal gasoline forever.
The navigation / entertainment system was terrific. Bright, easy to understand, it still offered lots of useful information including distance to destination, projected time of arrival, next turn, and much more:
Except for occasionally when it simply wouldn’t load:
This happened about 10% of the time, and from reading online Mazda discussion boards, this wasn’t just me. There’s some sort of glitch in their system that requires either a different SD Card or a hard system reset. Likely a quick visit to the dealer will produce a fix, but it was a bit odd to occasionally have the nav system offline for an entire 10-15 minute drive.
It also took me a while to locate the “lighter” power plug in the CX-9. You can’t quite see it here:
Lighter plug? Why would you need that when it has USB plugs in the center console? Well, radar detectors. Fortunately there is a lone plug and it’s on the right side of the central driver’s console (as I said, you can’t quite see it in the above photo). Perhaps that’s just becoming obsolete, which means the next generation of radar detectors might need a different power source.
SUMMARY: I LIKED IT
Finally, even with the nav system glitch, I really enjoyed driving the CX-9 and got many compliments from other drivers about its exterior design and the luxurious interior. Certainly my children much appreciated the comfortable leather seats, space to spread out, and technology (so we could debate about whose device we’d listen to on the way to school!). Fun to drive, peppy, and great and handling the road, there’s a lot to like in the 2016 Mazda CX-9. Now to get my hands on the smaller CX-5…
Price as configured: $44,915.
Disclaimer: Mazda USA loaned me the CX-9 for a week so I could really get a feel for it and write up my experiences. Darn nice of them, if you ask me!