We're Driving A 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature, Which Is Very Expensive, And Very Good

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

I want you to sit down for this.

The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature we’re driving this week costs $45,215.

Mazda USA’s $45,215 sticker includes the destination fee and $300 for Machine Grey Metallic.

Yes, that’s 34-percent more than the next-most-expensive Mazda.

No, there’s not a panoramic sunroof at this price point; no ventilated seats, either. On paper, the new CX-9 produces only 227 horsepower from its 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four when filled with regular fuel. Cargo space behind the third row? Negligible. Third row seating? Technically, yes, there is a third row for the headless and legless among us, like many of its rivals. The eight-inch Mazda Connect infotainment unit is intuitive but not the swiftest operator.

And other than that, the all-new second-generation Mazda CX-9 is pretty much, well … is perfect too strong a word?

Yes, perfect is too strong a word.

There are other niggling issues.

Accessing anchors for a child seat’s LATCH system is a pain. There’s an overlap where the Signature’s rosewood trim meets the underlying centre tunnel that will bother those with bony knees (and most of us do in fact have bones in our knees). Much as Mazda has dealt with our complaints in other Mazdas by silencing road and wind noise issues in the new CX-9, the quietness elsewhere serves to highlight the 2.5T, which — like so many modern turbocharged direct injection engines — doesn’t sound great at idle or low revs. The air conditioning strangely struggled, yea even failed, to keep up with 80-degree weather, as well, which is hardly the heights of summertime warmth on the Atlantic coast of Canada, let alone in Arizona. The HVAC’s difficulty was severe enough that it’s hard to believe that this could be an affliction common to all new CX-9s and not just a problem unique to our CX-9 test specimen, which met its very first representative of the media in me. But you see now why I was complaining about the lack of cooled/ventilated seats at the $45,215 price point? We’re melting up in here.

Now we’re underway, sufficiently wowed by the interior design and the quality of its materials, impressed that a Mazda’s interior is hushed, feeling like a million bucks because the CX-9 looks like a million bucks. I’m sure there are detractors, and I make no claims to being a fine arts graduate with design critique skills, but the 2016 CX-9 looks expensive, classy, sporty, handsome without ever appearing overwrought or contrived. My mother, who last noticed a car I was driving three summers ago when the noise of a Camaro ZL1 caused her great-grandfather to roll over in his grave, went weak in the knees for the CX-9. My father’s Outback loyalty was shaken after one bumper-to-bumper scan. I was waiting for take-out pizza and a delivery guy delayed his deliveries to do a long CX-9 walkaround and ask a bunch of questions. A pair of neighbors say this is the best-looking SUV that’s ever been in my driveway.

I digress.

But it’s hard not to digress. It’s difficult to not be swayed by the CX-9’s exterior panache even when you’re inside, because the CX-9 looks really good inside, too. Admittedly, this is the Signature trim, which adds Nappa leather, LED lighting inside and out, the narrow sunroof, and rosewood interior trim for an extra $2,045 over the all-wheel-drive CX-9 Grand Touring. Regardless of trim, the seats are terrific, the head-up display is no longer a comical flip-up screen, and buttons and switches and fabrics and textures are befitting of the price point.

Better yet, the Mazda CX-9 also drives better than other SUVs and crossovers at this price point. That doesn’t just mean it tackles corners at greater speed than its rivals, as is the case with the Mazda6, while suffering the compromises of class-leading athleticism. In addition to exceptional handling, the second-gen CX-9, even on 20-inch wheels, also rides sweetly. It’s firm, no doubt, but only to the extent that it’s planted, not perturbed. There are messages being sent to your backside the likes of which no Pilot or Highlander would ever deign to send, communication that enables you to be informed enough to make decisions about the potential for greater speed or the availability of more grip.

This is where we typically point out that consumers don’t want to pay the penalties for performance in family vehicles; a vehicle that can snap off upshifts, tolerate ham-fisted mid-corner inputs, and source torque (310 lbs-ft of diesel-esque twist) at all manner of rpms, won’t be a vehicle that appeals to conventional family car buyers. The consequent stiff ride, throttle sensitivity and heavy steering will make the non-enthusiast think refinement is lacking, that maturity is absent.

The new Mazda CX-9, however, delivers on both counts. It’s not that a flick of a switch causes another personality to miraculously appear, like turning the wick up in an Audi from Comfort to Dynamic. The CX-9 perpetually performs a balancing act.

It’s still a crossover, not a sedan. There’s more body roll in the first corner you attack than the CX-9’s initial responsiveness leads you to expect, but this is leagues away from the hefty GM Lambdas and the sometimes ponderous Pilot. Neither is braking, no surprise here, as immediate as in the 3,250-pound Mazda 6.

As for the 310 lbs-ft of torque, it’s nice to be in a Mazda that never feels underpowered. I’d be happier if the torque peaked just off idle at 1,500 rpm rather than 2,000. But it’s a stump-puller of a turbo four, this 2.5-liter. And with the CX-9’s 4,226-pound curb weight, 250 horsepower (on premium fuel) shouldn’t be considered an offputting figure.

Fuel economy over the course of an unusually high-mileage week of mostly urban driving rang in at 23 miles per gallon, equal to the EPA’s combined rating. That’s with a green engine that’s never before felt the soft and sometimes firm prods of an auto journo’s right foot.

The high-mileage quotient tells part of the story. I needed two special screws for a bathroom light installation late last night. Of course it couldn’t wait until tomorrow. (It could have.) Of course I was going to take the CX-9. (Not our Odyssey.) Of course my wife would be driving past the hardware store this morning. Of course I could probably find a couple of workable items if I scoured the basement for more than 60 seconds. But I wanted to go for a drive.

Strangely, that didn’t happen a couple of months ago when the Toyota Highlander Hybrid visited GCBC Towers. No pointless late night runs occurred in the 2016 Kia Sorento SX Turbo. This kind of behaviour results from Mazda doing what Mazda does best and — MX-5 aside — Mazda is at its best with the new CX-9.

In case you were wondering, the screws cost $0.95 each. I could buy 47,595 of these for the price of one Mazda CX-9 Signature.

[Image Source: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

Timothy Cain
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  • Redav Redav on Jun 27, 2016

    I've heard others complain about the AC. The CX-7 had the same problem, and it certainly hurt sales. A bad AC is absolutely not acceptable.

  • RedRocket RedRocket on Jun 30, 2016

    Go back and revisit it in 3 years when everything starts to break just out of warranty. It is a Mazda and they simply do not last. At this price point, that will be another killer.

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  • Kwik_Shift_Pro4X Take some time today to realize that virtually zero soldiers had died defending your border.
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  • Pig_Iron 💝