Mazda crossover comes of age

BY Haney Louka. Nov 10 04:00 am

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mazda’s CX-9. When a three-row crossover displays any semblance of agility, I tend to take notice. The CX-9 has always been a good-looking, well-equipped family hauler that was unique in its ability to make getting behind the wheel and piloting the thing a joy rather than a task. But to say it was getting long in the tooth is an understatement.

Introduced in 2007, Mazda’s largest crossover marched on largely unchanged throughout last year. Of course, everything around it has changed significantly, particularly in the house of Mazda. And if I could pick out the one thing about the CX-9 that was most outdated, it was under the hood: the old crossover had a 273-horsepower, 3.7-litre V-6 that was decidedly retro in the way that it drank fuel — to the tune of 12.8 L/100 km in the city.

But Mazda has come up with this thing called Skyactiv; the fuel-saving technology was first introduced on the compact 3 line and has since proliferated throughout the Mazda lineup. The new CX-9 is a beneficiary of this advanced technology.

Replacing the six-pot is a new four-banger with but 2.5 litres of displacement. One might (as I did) immediately wonder whether a seven-seat people mover should have only four cylinders providing motive force. But this is a direct-injected mill with forced induction, and it churns out 250 horsepower on premium fuel and 227 on regular. The real number that matters, though, is a healthy 310 pound-feet of torque at a low 2,000 r.p.m. That betters the old engine by 40 lb-ft and peaks 2,250 r.p.m. lower.

The purpose of this exercise, of course, is to lower consumption, and Mazda has knocked the CX-9’s official consumption down by nearly 15 per cent, to 11.2 L/100 km in the city.

Not only has Mazda brought Skyactiv technology to the CX-9, it has also incorporated its current KODO design language, and the result is stunning. The large, forward-leaning grille may be a bit much for some, but it grew on me quickly and endows the CX-9 with a bold presence on the road. The rest of the CX-9’s styling is typical Mazda: elegantly sporty. That the CX-9 has 3,846 L of interior volume is hidden well by its clean lines.

The CX-9’s new cockpit could have been lifted straight out of a sports sedan. Mazda has taken some cues from the Germans in the dash layout here. There’s a clean simplicity that belies the multitude of features available on today’s vehicles. The eight-inch, fixed-centre screen can be operated by touch or remotely using a control knob on the centre console. I found myself using both methods to access various functions.

The interior proved a wonderful place for a drive out to the lake. Our Signature tester wore “chroma brown nappa leather” upholstery and rosewood trim on the dash. This colour combination earned mixed reviews here; I think they’re trying just a bit too hard with this top trim level.

My preference for this crossover with a $50,000 price tag is that it would have some of the features that are expected in this snack bracket. Things like a panoramic sunroof and heated rear seats should be making an appearance here.

One premium feature that stood out during my week with the CX-9 was the so-called “active driving display,” which projects important information (visible only to the driver) onto the windshield just below the driver’s line of sight. It has a focal distance of 2.5 metres, which means less strain on the driver’s eyes when checking vehicle speed, navigation, blind spot, cruise control settings and more. Clever and useful.

That aside, the CX-9 proved to be a front-runner for family hauling duties. The three-plus-hour drive to the cottage was comfortable; much more so than the loaded Toyota Sienna I had driven out there earlier this summer.

There are a couple of features in this top-trim example that proved useful: radar cruise control kept us a safe distance from the car ahead on two-lane roads. When it came time to pass, the turbo four provided enough thrust at highway speeds, even if there weren’t huge reserves of power on tap. But the CX-9 makes up by providing the satisfyingly firm ride and responsive steering we’ve come to expect from Mazda.

Mazda is unique with its automatic locking system. When the vehicle is turned off and doors are opened and then closed, the vehicle beeps once, then waits for the key fob to move out of range, then locks as it beeps again and the driver walks away. I like the feature, except that it didn’t always activate. During my week with the CX-9, I couldn’t figure out what it was that prevented the system from working. In the end, I just locked the doors myself instead of waiting and listening for the beep.

I averaged just below 10.0 L/100 km during mostly highway driving, while city driving yielded a consumption of almost 12.0 L/100 km; a vast improvement over the old model.

The CX-9 checks all of the boxes that matter; while it lacks a few of the features found in its competitors at the same price, it comes through with appealing design and performance in a practical package.

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