By Derek Price
Every year automotive journalists from around the country gather for the Texas Truck Rodeo, where the newest pickups, SUVs and crossovers compete for awards.
Which full-size crossover came out on top? This year it was the all-new Mazda CX-9.
The CX-9 has long been one of the sportiest three-row crossovers you can buy — and certainly the sportiest in its price range. If you like that connected-to-the-road feeling from behind the wheel, you’ll like the CX-9.
The new-for-2016 version takes everything up a notch. It’s still got its characteristically crisp driving feel, but it’s more polished now with a turbocharged engine, a modern all-wheel-drive system and a cabin that’s as beautifully designed and well thought out as anything in this price class.
There are plenty of things to like about it, starting with the way it looks. It’s sleek and bold, with a gaping grille and swept-back lines that, to my eye, seem prettier than most of the boxy, SUV-looking people movers it competes with. The new CX-9 comes with standard LED lighting across the lineup, too, something that was only offered on luxury vehicles until fairly recently.
In fact, especially if you opt for the high-end Signature trim level, luxury is something the CX-9 does well. The new platform rides quieter and smoother than before, which provides a good starting point for any luxury vehicle, but the design and finish inside the cabin both make it seem more expensive than it is.
For example, one big piece of aluminum trim on the dash is designed to evoke the craftsmanship of Japan’s famous hand-made knives, and you can get it with rosewood trim on the center console. It feels like a thoughtful, serene place to spend time.
It’s also got the same upside as all the recently designed Mazdas: good fuel economy for how fast it feels.
The CX-9 is no slouch, with its new turbo engine making 250 horsepower with premium fuel and, more importantly, 310 pound-feet of torque to make it feel quick off the line. But it still manages to get a 22-mpg rating in the city and 28 on the highway, which Mazda says is the best in this class.
You could read all day about the sensors and tech features in this car, which is typical of any freshly redesigned vehicle. It has sensors that try to prevent wrecks, monitor your blind spots and adjust your vehicle speed when on cruise control to follow the car in front of you.
It can steer itself to help keep you in the center of the lane, and the steering wheel will vibrate if you start to stray over a line. It can automatically dim your bright headlights for oncoming vehicles and automatically brake to prevent or mitigate crashes.
Is it a perfect vehicle? No. There’s no such thing. I wish it had more cargo space, along with a bit more room for passengers in the third row. It feels like Mazda is trying to squeeze too much stuff behind the second row in this vehicle.
Beyond that, especially if you’re going to spend most of your time with the third-row seat folded down, there aren’t many downsides to the new CX-9. It looks good, drives well, gets good gas mileage and makes a very practical crossover for today’s families.
Pricing starts around $31,500 for the base model and ranges up over $44,000 for the Signature trim that comes standard with all-wheel drive.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD ($41,970). Options: Soul Red Metallic paint ($300). Price as tested (including $900 destination charge): $43,170
Wheelbase: 115.3 in.
Length: 199.4 in.
Width: 77.5 in.
Height: 69 in.
Engine: 2.5 liter turbo inline 4 cylinder (250 hp, 310 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 21 city, 28 highway
2016 Mazda CX-9
Why buy it?
It gets great gas mileage but still feels quick and fun from the driver’s seat — something unusual not just for this category, but cars in general. It’s a brilliant, total redesign for 2016.