|Stylish CX-9 certainly stands out in a crowd. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
If Subaru and Mitsubishi didn’t exist right now (both not even offering full model lineups) Mazda would be the slowest selling Japanese brand in Canada, while they only outsold VW last year because the German manufacturer was gutted from its own scandalous undoing. If you think that’s bad, the brand’s success in the U.S. can only be described as abysmal, with the lowest sales of any full line brand.
Let me be clear that I’m not trying to bash Mazda at all. I truly don’t understand why they’re not popular. Their products are excellent and have been a cut above most competitors for decades, but for some reason they’ve become the car industry’s version of Rodney Dangerfield, they get no respect.
|The CX-9 looks good from all angles. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
First off, it looks fabulous. Seriously, I haven’t met anyone who disagrees with me about the CX-9’s styling, and it only gets better inside. Again, those who pay more for the luxury lifestyle should really give their heads a swift shake and look at
|Standard full LED headlamps, just one premium-like feature that sets the CX-9 apart. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
|Nice lower fascia detailing combine with 20-inch alloys for top-line Signature look. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
So what are you doing Canada? Don’t you realize what a superb bit of kit the CX-9 is? Obviously not, which means Mazda needs to do a better job getting the word out. Of course, advertising is expensive and when you’re a relatively small, independent brand that pulls in less revenue than your competitors there’s no way you can sink as much coin into TV, radio, web and print media than, say, Ford or FCA (Dodge and Jeep) does, so Mazda relies more on word of mouth from satisfied owners and auto writers like yours truly. Full disclosure, like with all manufacturers I receive no monetary remuneration from Mazda, they simply loan me available test vehicles for a week at a time I tell you my unvarnished thoughts. As regular readers will know I can be brutally honest when a vehicle doesn’t
|Complex LED taillights look as if they’re pulled right off a concept car. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
I’ll let you decide about styling as it’s subjective, but as noted it certainly works for me. Occupants get the same level of upscale visual wow factor that passersby enjoy, albeit with the added benefit of tactile enhancement. It’s a rich cabin, particularly with this top-line Signature trim’s standard Chroma Brown Nappa leather (a chestnut or reddish brown colour). That’s right, if you prefer black you’re out of luck, while exterior colours are limited to four in Signature guise too, my tester’s $300 Machine Grey, as well as $200 Snowflake White Pearl, plus no-cost Sonic Silver Metallic and Jet Black Mica. Those who want most of the Signature’s
|A unique two-tone black and auburn-red interior is standard with Signature trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
I actually drove a second-rung GS-L trimmed example in Titanium Flash with black leather before this Signature edition, and despite its more accessible $41,500 price tag it still delivered most of the style and interior refinement. The CX-9 starts off at $35,600 plus freight and dealer fees in GL trim, incidentally, while above GS-L trim is the $45,500 GT and my as-tested $50,100 Signature. Sure, that’s well into the first threshold of luxury-branded SUV territory, but the CX-9’s final tally is still considerably lower than many competitive mainstream volume
|It looks like a premium-branded ride, don’t you agree? (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
For instance, along with that soft Nappa leather, the Signature gets tastefully applied contrast stitching in key areas including cross-stitching detail on steering wheel, beautiful open-pore, matte-finish genuine Rosewood inlays on the centre console panel and door switch panels, and LED accent lighting around the shifter, while the exterior is upgraded with exclusive grille illumination, LED courtesy lamps at all doors instead of just those up front, auto high beams, and stylish 20-inch twinned five-spoke alloys on 255/50 all-seasons.
|That’s real open-pore Redwood trim, also found on the lower console. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The Signature’s bright-finish lower body moulding and satin-silver finish roof rails get pulled up from standard GT trim, as does the LED front and rear signature lighting, and active cornering headlamps on the outside, plus the superb sounding 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint 2.0 surround technology, AudioPilot
|A sporty yet classy driver-focused cockpit makes for an engaging experience at the wheel. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Features found on my first GS-L tester that carried over to the Signature include a satin-finish grille surround, auto on/off headlamps, LED fog lamps, proximity-sensing
|The primary gauges look straightforward simple at first, but that’s a colour multi-info display on the right. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Of note, Mazda’s i-ACTIV AWD only comes standard in GS-L trim and above, whereas the base CX-9 GS makes do with FWD or optional AWD. This gives it better
|Clear graphics and mostly good functionality make the Mazda Connect infotainment interface a helpful digital assistant. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
|No paddle shifters, but a nicely shaped shift lever with manual mode and a Sport mode found in the metal rocker switch just in front. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
As you may have noted, even the fully loaded CX-9 Signature is missing some key options to qualify it for top-tier premium status, such as a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, and the list goes on, but it mostly pulls off the luxury brand look. Soft touch surfacing can be found where your fingers might land and sound absorption is most critical, such as the dash top and much of the
|This deeply sculpted, eight-way powered, Nappa leather-covered driver’s seat is sublime. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The most prominent of these latter items is the rotating dial for controlling the infotainment system, the layout of which is similar to BMW’s in that the display sits above the dash in fixed-tablet design instead of embedded into the centre stack like the base model’s smaller touchscreen, while it’s controllable via the just noted
|Comfort is king front to back, these second-row seats ideal. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
At first glance the primary gauges appear pretty stock, at least until realizing the rightmost dial is actually a colour TFT multi-information display (albeit monochrome in my first tester). Its lower third incorporates a digital fuel gauge, the
|Retractable sunshades are helpful with rear passengers old and young. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The three-way seat heaters make the leather nice and hot, but the heatable steering wheel only warms the 9 and 3 o’clock positions from about 1 to 4 and 8 to 10, with all the other areas remaining cold. Mazda isn’t alone in this, but I always appreciate a manufacturer that goes the extra step by heating the entire rim.
|The third row provides much better room than previous CX-9s. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
The 50/50-split third row lies flat by tugging on nice big, chunky handles that automatically
|A handy storage area can be found under the load floor. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
Top-line CX-9 Signature trim was the clear winner over the GS-L when it came to pampering,
|The CX-9 provides plenty of cargo space. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
To be honest, I initially didn’t find the CX-9 very sporty, because it’s sole four-cylinder engine is set up for fuel-efficiency first and foremost, causing it to download early in order to minimize consumption, but then I pulled the gear lever over to manual mode, flicked the metal rocker switch on the lower console to “SPORT” mode, pressed hard on the throttle and it really got up and went with more verve than its 250 horsepower (or rather 227 hp with regular unleaded, which is probably how the last journo filled it) lets on. This is because it’s maximum
|Small but powerful turbocharged 2.5-litre four provides efficient performance. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)|
It really feels lively through the corners, and I don’t mean “live axle” lively, but agile and confidence inspiring. Even when thrown into fast left, right, left transitions it kept its composure, while high-speed panic braking proved stable and secure. The CX-9 lacks paddles, even the top-line Signature trim, which seems strange being that it’s Mazda’s most expensive product and the brand could’ve easily sourced a set from one of its cheaper models like the 3 or CX-3. Yes I know, most CX-9 drivers will never use them, but it’s about marketing after all.
That autobox is probably the drivetrain’s weakest link as it only incorporates six forward gears in a world that’s steadily gravitating to seven-, eight-, and even nine-speed automatics, but it still provides amply quick shifts and will likely prove more reliable than some of the multi-speed units currently on offer by competitors. As noted both my testers featured AWD, a system that goes mostly unnoticed until slippery conditions cause it to come into play. I’d get it just so I wouldn’t have to chain up on snowy drives up to the ski hill (mandatory where I ski if you don’t have AWD or 4WD), but, if purchasing a base model, probably wouldn’t bother if I didn’t regularly hit the slopes as the CX-9’s standard assortment of active safety gear, such as traction and stability control, make urban winter driving pretty easy (although you may feel differently if you’re somewhere colder than Vancouver).
I’ve been mostly talking performance, but keep in mind both GS-L and Signature trims were also comfortable and compliant over rough patches of road, plus quiet and easy to drive, which is exactly what the CX-9 needs to be in order to pull more seven-passenger SUV buyers into the Mazda fold. And of course it’s doing just that, as noted earlier. If you dare to differ from your Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Nissan Pathfinder equipped neighbours, take a CX-9 for a drive, as you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. It stands out in the crowd for all the right reasons, and rewards with a premium level experience that few of its peers can match.
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