Mazda CX-9 three-row crossover receives a complete update

Mazda’s completely redesigned CX-9 midsize crossover utility vehicle has arrived for 2016, with a starting price of $31,520 (plus $900 freight) for the base Sport model with front-wheel drive, or $33,320 with all-wheel drive.

Prices range as high as $44,015 for the Signature model, which comes only with all-wheel drive.

In between are the CX-9 Touring ($35,970, front drive; $37,770, all-wheel drive) and Grand Touring ($40,170, front drive; $41,970, all-wheel drive), with each successive model building on the features of the previous trim level.

A Sport Package for the Sport model adds $950; and the Touring Premium Package for the Touring model is $1,745.

This three-row crossover offers a premium interior, a Mazda-style fun driving experience, and the brand’s signature “KODO-Soul of Motion” exterior design.

With seating for up to seven, the CX-9 is Mazda’s ultimate family hauler, as I can attest from my own experience owning one of the previous generation models – complete with the automatic all-wheel drive.

Standard features on the base 2016 model include LED headlights and taillights similar to those of Mazda’s new MX-5 Miata roadster; fabric seating surfaces; an electronic parking brake; 18-inch wheels; backup camera; trailer stability assist; and the Mazda Connect infotainment system, with Commander control and a seven-inch color display.

The Sport Package adds a power driver’s seat, heated front seats and heated door mirrors.

Moving up to the Touring level brings an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, universal gate/garage opener, black- or sand-colored leather seating surfaces, the Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry System, a power liftgate, power front seats, and an eight-inch Mazda Connect touch-screen display.

The Touring Premium Package adds automatic headlights, LED fog lights, navigation, a premium 12-speaker Bose audio system, rain-sensing wipers, rear backup sensors, second-row retractable sunshades, satellite radio, automatic Smart City Brake Support and a sunroof.

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Our tester – the Grand Touring model – has the previously listed amenities, and tacks on an Adaptive Front-lighting System, 20-inch wheels, aluminum interior trim, Mazda’s first Active Driving Display that projects instrument and navigation information onto the windshield, automatic high-beam control, lane-departure warning/lane-keep assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Smart Brake Support, roof rails and memory settings on the driver’s seat.

We also had Mazda’s predictive i-Activ automatic all-wheel-drive system on our test vehicle, which operated seamlessly on a variety of road surfaces we experienced, including some dirt and gravel state and national park roads and well-maintained trails. The all-wheel drive is not intended for serious off-road use, however, as it does not have low-range gearing.

Under the hood of all models is Mazda’s new turbocharged Skyactiv-G 2.5T four-cylinder engine, producing 227 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque on 87-octane regular gasoline (250 horsepower on 93-octane premium gasoline). The engine is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.

I’m not sure whether our tester came with regular or premium fuel, but we had plenty of power from this turbo engine – so much that it felt like we were in a sports car at times, especially when I kicked the accelerator down to pass on some two-lane country roads. There was never any question of a shortage of power.

With this redesign, the CX-9 entered its second generation, and is one of three crossovers now in the Mazda lineup. The others are the compact, five-passenger CX-5, which last year replaced the Ford-based CX-7; and the all-new CX-3 subcompact.

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The CX-9 can hold its ground. This is a vehicle that combines large measures of style and performance into a package that not only has great curb appeal, but also is quite fun to drive.

The new turbo four-cylinder engine replaced a 3.7-liter V-6 engine from last year, which cranked out 273 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque – but didn’t offer quite the zip we got from the 2016 model.

While the new CX-9 continues to offer a six-speed automatic as before, it’s an updated gearbox with a sport driving mode that pairs well with the turbo engine. Most competitors are going with transmissions that have seven or more gears, however.

Our Grand Touring model also had trailer stability assist. But trailer towing is limited to 3,500 pounds.

Cargo space is limited to just 14.4 cubic feet when the third-row seat is in place, but that expands to 38.2 cubic feet with the third row folded down, or to 71.2 cubic feet with both rear seatbacks folded. There is a power-operated tailgate, which is a handy feature.

The middle row bench holds three people, and has a 60/40 split, and the rear seat has room for two, with a 50/50 split-folding seatback.

We had the great Bose premium audio and the navigation system, which had 2-D and 3-D modes. It was easy to program, and had large type for easier reading on the go.

The interior is typical of Mazda products, with great attention to detail and lots of creature comforts.

Seven exterior colors are offered, including the Soul Red Metallic of our test vehicle – which added $300 to the sticker. That was the only option included on our tester, whose total sticker price was $43,170, including freight. We had the sand-colored leather interior.

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The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature model includes such features as auburn-colored Nappa leather seats, rosewood trim from Japanese guitar-maker Fujigen, LED signature accent grille lighting, and LED accent lighting around the automatic shifter. Photo: Mazda / 2015

 Photo: Mazda / 2015

2016 Mazda CX-9

PACKAGE: Midsize, seven-passenger, five-door, turbo four-cylinder, front- or all-wheel-drive, crossover utility vehicle

ENGINE: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed automatic

POWER/TORQUE: 227 HP./310 foot-pounds (with regular fuel; 250 HP. with premium fuel)

LENGTH: 199.4 inches

CURB WEIGHT: 4,054-4,301 pounds

CARGO VOLUME: 14.4 cubic feet (behind third seat); 71.2 cubic feet (third seat folded)

TOWING CAPACITY: 3,500 pounds

FUEL CAPACITY/TYPE: 19 gallons (2WD); 19.5 gallons (AWD), unleaded regular acceptable

EPA FUEL ECONOMY: 22 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined (2WD); 21 city/27 highway/23 combined (AWD)

BASE PRICE RANGE: $31,520-$44,015, plus $900 freight.

PRICE AS TESTED: $43,170, including freight and options (Grand Touring, AWD).

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