If you read nothing else about the 2020 Mazda CX-9, let me be clear: this is the first car in which I’ve experienced a llama gnawing on the exterior trim, and yet I didn’t need to make a dreaded phone call to the automaker to explain any unusual damage.
Day 124 since lockdown yielded, for once, a new experience. Rather than our usual day of driving somewhere remote to get away from humanity, we drove somewhere remote to get closer to nature. Well, caged nature, at least, as we trekked to a drive-through safari/zoo in northern Ohio just to break the kids away from YouTube and Netflix for a few hours.
This biggest Mazda not only shed the licks and nibbles of captive animals – the mark from a bison’s horns wiped off with a towel – but it proved a comfortable long-distance hauler with better than expected fuel economy.
I suffered a nearly fatal narcissistic injury to the journosaur gland when I arrived at the Oakland airport last Friday night, only to find out that my press-loaner 2018 Mazda CX-9 was the Grand Touring model instead of the Signature.
Why does this matter? Well, as any self-respecting Mazda fanboy knows, the Signature has a center console made from rosewood provided by Fujigen, the famous Japanese guitar maker behind Pat Metheny’s infamous Roland GR-808, the bulk of Fender Japan production across the Eighties, and several different models of Electra six-strings. I happen to be an avid collector of Japanese guitars, with over one hundred and five Electras, Westones, and Grecos in my basement. I’m also semi-obsessed with Metheny’s Roland GR-808 sound, to the point that I’ve assembled some remarkably expensive hardware in order to precisely duplicate the tone found on tracks like “Are You Going With Me?”.
In other words, if ever there was a crossover capable of capturing my heart, it would be the CX-9 Signature. Oh well. I’m sure I’ll get over it eventually. In the meantime, let’s take a look at how Mazda’s newly-refreshed version of its still-youthful three-row CUV handles a brief trip to California’s central coast.
It was a tidbit easy to skip over, a tacked-on phrase designed to illicit nary a response, a drip-drip-drip of information without the two latter drips. In Mazda’s press release announcing the addition of more safety equipment to the base Sport model of the 2018 Mazda CX-9, the company briefly made mention of a reconfigured passenger compartment.
“Among the highlights are more features at every price point,” Mazda says, “such as an improved second row for both greater comfort and easier third-row access and greater sound insulation in what is already one of the quietest vehicles in its class.”
An improved second row? Easier third row access? Of all the things the second-generation Mazda CX-9 required, those elements would certainly rank near the top of the list. But is this just a fanciful claim, or did Mazda actually make meaningful changes to the CX-9 less than a year and a half into its lifecycle?
We have answers.
Mazda is increasing the base price of its CX-9 flagship by $610 for the 2018 model year.
With more standard safety kit, Mazda’s $32,460 2017 CX-9 (after delivery) now becomes the $33,070 2018 Mazda CX-9.
But can Mazda, which sells the CX-9 at a slower rate than essentially all of its competitors, operate at an even higher price point? The second-generation Mazda CX-9 was already priced at a premium: $775 more than Pilot, $835 more than Highlander, $1,210 more than Pathfinder, $1,370 more than Durango, $1,585 more than the 2018 Traverse.
Mazda doesn’t seem terribly bothered. The majority of CX-9s sold in America are already top-spec Grand Touring and Signature models, higher-margin vehicles that are helping Mazda slowly craft an image as a premium mainstream brand, buoyed along by Driver’s Choice commercials and, as we can see now, CX-9s with $33,070 base MSRPs.
First, we heard about the Mazda CX-8.
Then the Mazda CX-8 was spotted on the streets of Chicago, Illinois. Which is in the United States.
And then Mazda confirmed that the CX-8 would most definitely not be exported from Japan. As the CX-4 was a China-oriented model, the CX-8 would be geared towards a Japanese market for which the CX-9 is just too big. But then we heard the Mazda CX-8 might be exported from Japan, but only to Australia.
And now, with official imagery, it’s not difficult to understand why Mazda USA has no need for the CX-8. It looks almost exactly like a CX-9 with six fewer inches of length, five fewer inches of width, and a marginally lower roofline.
Americans do not need a smaller Mazda CX-9.
Shocker. The 2017 Mazda CX-9 entered a buff book comparison test against four comparable three-row crossovers and scored a victory.
That’s what Mazdas do. It’s what I assumed the CX-9 would do when, one year ago, I called the second-generation CX-9 a class leader, asking “is perfect too strong a word?”
Swaying the jury seems to be straightforward business for Mazda. The justification for rendering a pro-Mazda verdict is familiar. “It drives so much better than any of the others,” Car And Driver’s Jeff Sabatini writes of the CX-9, after the Mazda bested the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, and Volkswagen Atlas. “The CX-9 is nimble and agile,” Car And Driver says. “Weight transfers smoothly in the CX-9,” and, “There is a flow to the controls.” The publication credits the quiet cabin and the attractive exterior, as well.
Also described? The reason 98 percent of buyers in the Mazda CX-9’s segment choose a different vehicle.
About three weeks ago, my Question Of The Day focused on public statements about Mazda’s future plans. The statements came from the CEO of Mazda North America, as reported in an article by Tim Cain. Many of you responded and agreed with the assertions and opinions I put forth, while some were brave enough to disagree. By and large, it was a fairly productive conversation, with over 150 replies in the comments.
Now that some time has passed and the comments have largely ceased, I can fulfill a request made by commenter slow_poke: a summation of your top recommendations, in our first Mazda QOTD FU (follow-up). Let’s see what you had to say.
Spotted recently on the streets of Chicago was a Japanese crossover that will never — not in final production form — actually make it to the streets of Chicago.
Nor to the streets of any other American city, for that matter. Wearing no camo and sitting in broad daylight, the diesel-powered Mazda CX-8 was photographed by Peter Lazar, albeit not from the front.
When the 2018 Mazda CX-8 is launched later this year, its primary market will be Mazda’s Japanese home base. “It will not be sold in the U.S., as CX-9 fills that role quite well,” Mazda spokesperson Jacob Brown told TTAC yesterday.
Mazda also re-confirmed that the CX-4, a more rakish take on the CX-5, is also still primarily a Chinese market crossover that will not make its way across the Pacific. In other words, 40 percent of Mazda’s global utility vehicle lineup stays outside the mighty SUV market that is America.
Yesterday, Steph Willems asked in his Question of the Day what BMW should do with Mini and its lineup of identical-but-different vehicles almost nobody is buying. Since it seems like you’re quite eager to give brand strategy advice, let’s do it again today.
I want you to tell me what you’d do with Mazda, because its current PR line isn’t sitting well with me.
“I am not comfortable with 2 percent. I’m comfortable with a good 2 percent.”
– Masahiro Moro, President and CEO, Mazda North American Operations
Mazda’s U.S. market share fell to a 10-year low in 2016 and hasn’t noticeably recovered in the first four months of 2017. A small lineup with no presence in key segments limits Mazda’s chances of becoming a major automaker.
But Mazda doesn’t want to be a major automaker. Mazda wants to be a small but profitable automaker with profitable dealers and loyal buyers.
Mazda also wants to carry greater sway in the U.S. market than it does at the moment. Only slightly. Fractionally more. Marginally, almost imperceptibly more. Only 1.7 percent of the new vehicles sold in the United States are Mazdas. Mazda wants 2 percent, surely a reasonable and easily attainable goal.
But Mazda’s North American boss, Masahiro Moro, has no intention of jumping up to that 2-percent marker rashly or hastily.
Over the last two months, Mazda, that great tiny bastion of four-cylinder engines and SkyActiv and adding lightness, has sold more crossovers than cars in the United States.
Yes, that Mazda. The Mazda that had to rebadge Fords to bring its first two SUVs to market. The Mazda that, only four years ago, produced two-thirds of its U.S. sales with passenger cars.
Unfortunately, the gains now produced by Mazda’s CX crossover division aren’t enough to counteract the plunging sales of Mazda’s three remaining cars. As a result, Mazda’s U.S. market share is down to just 1.7 percent through 2016’s first eight months.
The good news for Mazda? Company bosses saw this coming. As part of a long-term strategy, Mazda is sticking to its guns, unwilling to overreact to disappointing short-term results with short-term fixes.
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?
When Mazda initially launched the CX-9, it aimed the crossover firmly at American buyers — 80 percent of CX-9 production came to the U.S., and exactly 0 percent stayed in Japan. It was an American under the sheetmetal, too, built on an older platform shared with Ford.
For 2016, Mazda completely redesigned its large, three-row crossover with an eye on improving dynamics, efficiency and giving the brand a near-luxury alternative. Yep, Mazda believes its new Signature trim — featuring such adornments as heads-up display, Nappa leather, and real wood trim — is an alternative to the Acura MDX.
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