Honda has Acura, Nissan has Infiniti and Toyota has Lexus. These spinoff brands have elevated Japanese automobiles to equal, and in many cases higher, status than even the finest offerings from the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Cadillac.
Posh interiors, smooth powertrains and curb appeal out the wazoo are hallmarks of these luxury Japanese cruisers.
Mazda, meanwhile, continues to chug along as the only Japanese automaker without a luxury brand.
If you ask me, all that changed with the release of the 2016 Mazda CX-9. Our tester, decked out in Signature trim, quickly had me checking off all the boxes required to achieve luxury status. Even if it lacked a panoramic roof and heated rear seats.
In the looks department, it had me at “hello.” While the square front end may be a bit polarizing, I’m OK with that. A little dose of different works here. The long, flat hood drops off like a cliff, revealing a classy grille and somewhat sinister-looking headlights that squint like an angry superhero. Gone is the goofy grin found on the previous model.
The new look is a vast improvement, and judging by the reactions it garners, I’m not alone in that sentiment. Throughout my test drive I was continually asked, by folks ranging from soccer moms to gas jockeys, what exactly I was driving. When I responded that it was a Mazda most seemed a little confused. That confusion was further compounded when they peeked at the interior, complete with soft leather seating in a luxurious burgundy hue, trim features such as real rosewood, brushed aluminum and the soft lighting typically reserved for the corner booth at your favourite Italian restaurant.
The infotainment controls and operation are nearly flawless, the sound system is crisp and clear and Mazda’s Active Driving Display offers a head-up view of your speed, tachometer and even navigation directions. Make no mistake about it, the new CX-9 isn’t like any other vehicle Mazda has ever built.
Mazda no longer offers a six-cylinder engine in any of its vehicles, including the CX-9. No worries, though, the 2.5-litre direct-injected turbocharged four-cylinder engine is an absolute jewel, pumping out 227 horsepower at 5,000 r.p.m. and 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 r.p.m. Mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, this powertrain combination allows the midsize Mazda to hustle at a healthy pace.
Off the line it is both smooth and fast, and on the highway, despite possessing only four pistons, this heavy-breathing powerplant has loads of passing legs.
The new CX-9 has plenty going for it: Seating for seven, posh interior, potent powertrain, crisp handling, excellent fuel economy — and sexy styling.
All the attributes a luxury vehicle should possess.