When you see the heavily designed and handsome all-new 2nd generation Mazda CX-9, only a few of us would remember its humble tether to Mazda’s original MPV, which was a small triumph in the late 80’s as a fun and versatile mini-van that was primarily rear-wheel-drive and a hoot to drive even in the snow. Friends and family took one up to Tahoe in the early 90’s where we got stuck for several hours on the road in a snow storm. The MPV kept us safe, warm and cozy. After three generations of that multi-purpose wonder van, Mazda transitioned to the all-new 1stgeneration CX-9 that catapulted all the very best attributes of the MPV forward into a scorching, full-size crossover SUV. With a potent Ford-sourced 274 bhp 3.7-liter V6 mated to a lively six-speed automatic transmission and rear-biased AWD, the CX-9, up to this all-new 2nd generation model, was the very best handling and most spirited 7-seater crossover SUV in its class.
Naturally, Mazda had to apply all its fantastic and very successful SkyActiv engineering and design measures plus so much more to its flagship vehicle, the CX-9, which is the last important model in the current product portfolio. Our test unit was a pre-production, full-spec Signature model in finely flaked aluminum Machine Gray with the elegant Auburn Nappa leather interior highlighted with liberal use of real aluminum and fabulously tactile Rosewood trim. By design alone, the CX-9 distances itself from all its peers and authentically challenges the Europeans with its exemplary fit-and-finish as well. The CX-9 represents the very best of Mazda in every way. The new CX-9 is essentially 1.2-in (30mm) shorter than before but uses a 2.2-in (55mm) longer wheelbase so the ride and handling is even better, but the third row is not as spacious as before.
Like the facelifted Mazda6, the CX-9’s huge grill has LED accent lighting to make it even more pronounced without looking tacky. If you love or at least appreciate the upscale interior designs of the updated Mazda model ranges, then you will swoon with the CX-9’s much higher level of materials and execution. Even the 8-inch central infotainment monitor and crisp colored HUD system are new along with the excellent instrumentation that now includes a larger color screen on the rightmost gauge similar to systems used by Porsche. The previous generation’s interior wasn’t bad but it looks and functions like it is over a decade older than the new model’s. The cabin is also so much quieter and more refined with over 53 pounds more sound-absorbing insulation with an acoustically laminated front windshield and front windows. The 294-watt 12-speaker Bose® Centerpoint® 2 Surround Sound audio is a fantastic system and it appropriately sounds the very best of the entire Mazda family. Despite having an inch wider (8.5-inches) 20-inch alloys wrapped with larger 255/50R20 104V Falken Ziex CT50 A/S tires (10 mm wider than before), the new CX-9 rides plusher but is also more tenacious when cornering.
The mighty V6 engine has been replaced by a force-fed version of the 2.5-liter inline-4 found in the other models which features a unique new Dynamic Pressure Turbo system for maximum fuel efficiency while retaining the engine’s excellent elasticity. Thankfully, the new CX-9 is lighter than the old equivalent AWD by almost 290 pounds because it makes less power than before but it compensates for this by generating more (310 lb-ft compared to 271 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm) usable torque from as low as 2000 rpm until 4500 rpm. If you don’t use at least 93-octane premium gasoline, however, the power drops from 250 bhp to 227 bhp but retains the same torque curves all without any perceptible turbo-lag.
The new AWD system is not just active but it is also predictive for total effortless all-weather road driving confidence. We enjoyed every second testing the new CX-9; it is without question superior to the old full-size crossover in every way but outright capacity. It won’t beat the twin-turbo Ford Explorer Sport or new Honda Pilot, with either the 6-speed or the 9-speed gearbox, in a straight line and it does have a bit less interior room as well, but it does outshine them and the rest of the competition in its class; aesthetically, composure, in refinement, in comfort (not in the third row or trunk space though), handling, fuel range, packaging, and pride of ownership.
Specification – 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
Engine: Inline-4, 2488 cc, dohc 16V, Direct Injection Intercooled Dynamic Pressure Turbo, VVT, 6-speed AT
Max power: 250 bhp @ 5000 rpm
Max torque: 310 lb ft @ 2000-4500 rpm
0-100 km/h (0-62mph): 7.4 sec.
Top Speed: 216 km/h (135 mph) Governed
Fuel Mileage: 21 mpg City & 27 mpg Highway
Price as tested: US$ 45,215.00
C! RATING 10/10
+Gorgeous inside and out, Mazda’s best tech showcase, exemplary materials and packaging
-You must have at least 93-octane fuel to get the full 250 bhp or its 23 bhp down, expected brisker pace, cramped third-row