- What’s Best: Beautifully-styled mid-size crossover, added content and features.
- What’s Worst: No panoramic roof and no ventilated seats if we must nitpick. Considering the competition, the six-speed tranny should evolve with more gears in future.
- What’s Interesting: CX-9 Signature really competes with premium products above its pay grade.
SEATTLE, WA – Good things don’t have to come in small packages.
Take the 2018 CX-9 – the largest vehicle in Mazda’s stable.
Mazda’s three-punch arsenal of sport utility crossover choices starts with the entry-level CX-3 ($20,795-$30,795), followed by the bigger and popular CX-5 ($25,900-$35,100), topping out with the flagship CX-9 ($36,400-$50,300).
Putting the CX-9 through its paces during a recent family gathering in Seattle, accessing its extra room and three-row, seven-passenger capabilities, simply reinforced all my previous drive test experiences in Canada.
A second-generation CX-9 debuted just a few years ago; making a splash with its new and sharply delineated exterior, following Mazda’s “Kodo” design philosophy. Key styling changes included the new five-sided upright grille, slitted LED lights, a long hood, pulled back cabin architecture and a sweeping, almost fastback roofline.
An upgraded interior added new trappings and techs. And the complete package was mounted on a stretched wheelbase with shortened overhangs, a new Skyactiv powertrain and leaner, weight-saving construction.
For the 2018 model year, that evolution continues with techno twists and content changes that include:
- A new G-Vectoring Control (GVC) system shifts engine torque from front to rear to enhance steering and handling.
- Broader availability of i-ACTIVSENSE (adaptive front lighting, high beam control, radar cruise control, smart brake support, lane departure warning and lane-keep assist, forward obstruction warning), now available on lower trim, standard on higher trims.
- Stop & Go function added to Mazda Radar Cruise Control
- Traffic Sign Recognition system (TSR) added to Active Driving Display (ADD).
- Pedestrian detection (Smart City Brake Support) added to Smart Brake Support
- Available heated second row seats and improved accessibility to third row.
- Added sound-deadening insulation and NVH improvements.
- New colours and other package additions.
Under the hood, the CX-9 harnesses a one-choice Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre engine with Dynamic Pressure Turbocharging, a unique turbo system that varies exhaust temperature and thrust for an improved power range.
This engine makes 227 hp at 5,000 rpm, along with a burly 310 lb/ft of torque that peaks quickly at a low 2,000 rpm. It also boasts a respectable 1,588 kg (3,500 lb) tow rating.
The idea of a four-banger in a biggish crossover like this may sound a little ludicrous at first but the motor does not disappoint.
Some downtown Seattle streets boast the same intimidating angles as the steep streets of San Francisco but the CX-9 took to the hills undaunted, even with a full load of passengers.
For a little extra oomph, adding a tank of premium fuel boosts top-end power to 250 hp. That get-up-and-go is translated via a standard six-speed Skyactiv-Drive automatic transmission that shifts unerringly through the cogs.
Front wheel-drive is standard in base models but Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel-drive makes up the bulk of sales in Canada.
The 2018 CX-9 comes in four trim levels – GS ($36,400), GS-L ($42,000), GT ($47,300) and Signature ($50,300), with prices in keeping with competitors like the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder, Dodge Durango, etc.
Even GS base models come equipped with standard features that include a long list of driver assists – dynamic stability control, traction control, trailer sway assist, hill launch assist, roll-over stability control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Other standards include 18-inch wheels, LED lights in front and back, folding mirrors with signal indicators, remote keyless entry, push-button start, three-zone climate control, seven-inch Mazda Connect colour touchscreen monitor, Bluetooth, six-speaker audio.
And the list goes on.
Content levels increase with each step up the trim level ladder, culminating in our top-of-the-line Signature tester which adds deluxe touches like Nappa perforated leather upholstery with premium stitching, open-pore Rosewood trim, LED interior illumination accents, even an illuminated Signature grille.
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Those extras add ambiance to a cabin that offers comfortable but somewhat tighter quarters than some of its boxier competitors. Yes, the third row is do-able but this mid-size, like most of its cohort, really serves better as a five-seater with the added cargo room of a folded-flat third row.
So, you could argue that form has impinged on function with the CX-9. But, really, what a lovely form!
The spirit of Mazda’s efforts with this midsize crossover was best captured when design director Julien Montousse noted that the sporty CX-9 “meets family needs without losing personal identity and passion.”
This test was based on an American-spec CX-9 but, while the U.S. offers more FWD platforms and some varying trim levels, this CX-9 Signature is almost identical to its Canadian cousin.
And, final note, Mazda Canada has signalled that 2019 CX-9 models will add Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, continued acoustic insulating efforts and other minor changes for the coming year.
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2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature
BODY STYLE: Mid-size, seven-passenger crossover
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, i-Activ all-wheel-drive, six–speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 2.5-litre hp, direct injection turbo (227 hp, 310 lb/ft) (250 hp with premium)
FUEL ECONOMY: 11.5/8.9L/100 km (city/hwy)
TOW RATING: 1,588 kg (3,500 lb)
CARGO VOLUME: 407 litres/1,082 litres behind second row/2,017 litres behind first row.
PRICE: GS, $50,300 (not including $1,895 destination and other fees)($3,000 incentive discount available at writing)
WEB SITE: Mazda.ca
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