If we could marry a car company at this very moment, there’s little question it would be Mazda. Maybe it’s not the sexiest, certainly it’s not the richest, but there’s no other auto manufacturer with whose full lineup we’d rather settle down. This is not hyperbole: When the most recent Mazda long-termer finished its 40,000-mile stay in our fleet, it was immediately purchased by one of our editors, whose real-life spouse is now driving that Mazda 3 every day.
It helps that the Mazda lineup has been pared to just six vehicles; the newest is this redesigned CX-9, which ditches the last vestige of Ford mechanicals from Mazda’s parts bin, leftovers from the era in which the Blue Oval was part owner of the Japanese brand. A lighter, Mazda-engineered platform underpins the new CX-9, which uses struts in the front and a multilink suspension in the rear. This doesn’t transform the three-row crossover into an MX-5, but our 4393-pound CX-9 does weigh 165 pounds less than the final example we tested from the previous generation.
This is despite our new CX-9 being delivered fully loaded. We ordered it in Signature trim, which carries a base price of $44,915 and affords every factory option. Highlights include seating for seven, all-wheel drive, 20-inch wheels, power everything, leather seats and interior trim, navigation, and a sunroof. Our CX-9 also carries modern safety-enhancing equipment such as LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, automated braking, and a backup camera. Noticeably absent from the features list are a heated steering wheel, cooled front seats (although they are heated), and heating or cooling for the rear seats. Yes, we’re spoiled.
We added to our order form $200 all-weather floor mats, a $450 trailer hitch, and $90 worth of cargo nets. With $300 spent for the classy Machine Gray paint, the total price came in at $45,955, which seems reasonable for a three-row crossover, especially one this nice inside. By comparison, that price is $2000 less than the sticker on the long-term 2016 Honda Pilot that will soon depart our parking lot at Eisenhower Place.
Like everything Mazda sells, the CX-9 aspires to be the best-driving vehicle in its class. This doesn’t necessarily mean outstanding test-track performance. The CX-9 ran from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds, equal to the performance of the long-term 2016 Kia Sorento it currently shares a parking lot with but more than a second slower than the Pilot. The Mazda did better in other instrumented testing, pulling 0.83 g on the skidpad and stopping from 70 mph in 168 feet, pipping the Honda and the Kia in both metrics.
On the road, the Mazda is in another league from that pair, with a tautness to its suspension that allows it to drive smaller than its size. (And it might actually have less body roll in corners than a base Miata sports car.) The CX-9 feels comparatively low to the ground and has quick, sedanlike steering. Both our long-term Honda and Kia pack V-6 engines under their hoods, while Mazda opts for a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder. With 250 horses, it makes less power but lots more torque: 310 lb-ft as low as 2000 rpm. The six-speed automatic’s shift programming keeps turbo lag to a minimum and works well enough that we haven’t had cause to explore what exactly the Sport toggle switch on the center console does.
Surely we’ll get around to it soon enough, but our initial exposure to the CX-9 has been largely confined to commuting. This has given us ample opportunity to appreciate just how well appointed and refined the interior is. A two-tone black and reddish color combination is called Auburn by the factory, but “Merlot” might be more appropriate. Rosewood trim is as plentiful as it is pretty, and the stitching on the leather-wrapped steering wheel defines how this trendy decorative element should be done, shaming some luxury marques in the process.
Not everything inside the CX-9 is as perfect as the grain of its seat leather. Mazda’s 8.0-inch infotainment system, which was state-of-the-art a few years ago, doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. The 60/40 split-folding second-row bench seat is not as easy to operate as is the one-touch system in the Pilot. And once an adult has clambered into the economy-class third row, well, they’ll wish they were a child. And if they’re actually a child, they’ll wish they were an adult so they could tell someone else to ride back there.We certainly don’t plan to spend much time as passengers, as the CX-9 promises nothing less than being the driver’s alternative to the world of softly suspended transportation appliances. With flesh-and-blood families of our own, when it comes time to grab keys for the weekend we often have no choice but to pass over favorites like our long-term MX-5 Miata. We look forward to the CX-9 making that choice easier to swallow for many months to come.
Months in Fleet: 2 months Current Mileage: 4465 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 20 mpg Fuel Tank Size: 19.5 gal Fuel Range: 390 miles Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0