Holding back isn’t for everyone, and in Mazda’s case that has recently translated to kicking things into high gear with the help of a turbocharged 2.5-liter SkyActiv motor and enough red leather to make Deadpool’s underpants jealous. The all-new 2016 CX-9 is an unexpected and invigorating evolutionary step for the automaker because even though it’s still a triple-rowed family transport shuttle at heart, it serves as both a test mule and a testament to the direction in which the brand is going.
In Signature trim you get all the accouterments for around $44,000 in a tight mid-size package; this includes a turbocharged SkyActiv 2.5-liter engine, all-wheel drive, every form of tech safety feature found in Mazda’s playbook, and an interior that is nothing short of outstanding. It’s a family oriented SUV that’s intoxicating to look upon and ride around in. The CX-9 has been reborn as a slinky slice of modern day engineering, and it surely is causing luxury European automakers to shudder over the thought of how good Japan’s smallest mass-market car manufacturer has become.
But for as brilliantly re-calibrated as the CX-9 has become, it’s not meant for everyone, which comes as little surprise considering how focused this automobile is in its approach. Personally, we think it’s a brilliant SUV, and while we would love to see it take the American market by storm, the truth of the matter is that a very particular kind of buyer will want this triple-rowed turbo renaissance machine.
It’s a car that’s either tailor-made to your lifestyle or completely misses the mark on multiple levels, because regardless of how well-crafted or clever it may be, there is no “all-in-one” solution for every driver out there. So in order to better understand what market Mazda is pursuing here, we assessed the CX-9 and determined what its strengths and weaknesses were when both attracting and repulsing potential buyers.
We’ll start on a high note first, and go over the kinds of people that should definitely take one of these machines for a test drive when they land on car lots across America this June. Selling points are plentiful, and with millennial parental units as the demographic that’s being catered to nowadays, the new CX-9 has a slew of strong suits that make it damn near irresistible to a lot of car buyers.
Anyone wanting the finer things in life, but who doesn’t want to pay a European premium should scope this SUV out, as it has the right touches in all the proper places. From the hand-crafted genuine Japanese wood accents and smoothly sculpted lightweight aluminum trim pieces to the lush Napa leather seats and flawless external design cues, the CX-9 hits hard in the luxury craftsmanship department.
It’s a vehicle that will appeal to the driving enthusiast, as well as active adults who like to take the kids white water rafting, snowboarding, or on camping trips where prolonged periods of time in the car and all-wheel drive settings are mandatory. The CX-9 comes standard with a turbocharged SkyActiv four-banger that cranks out 310 foot-pounds of torque.
Other types of millennial car buyer that will absolutely love Mazda’s latest creation are the audio enthusiast and the practicality purist. By teaming up with Bose and utilizing top billboard tracks from the 1990s, 2000s, and today, Mazda has been able to fine-tune a 12-speaker audio system so that it hits all the right notes with audiophiles. Meanwhile, hidden storage spaces, plentiful USB ports, easy-fold seats, and an incredibly intuitive infotainment interface offer all the practical points one expects in a modern family car.
On the flipside, the CX-9 is not an SUV that is designed for the off-road aficionado, as Mazda’s all-wheel drive system does not feature locking differentials, nor does it sport the same ground clearance as some other SUVs on the market. It also doesn’t have various traction selection buttons to prevent wheel slip, and the tires that come on it are by no means all-terrain-ready. So if sand, mud, rock, or serious snow are on the radar, you probably will want to skip the CX-9 and look toward a 4Runner in its place.
Another group of people who should avoid the CX-9 are those who need some serious towing capacity. While the SUV does come with an option to outfit it with a tow hitch that can support up to 3,500 pounds, the Mazda’s little 2.5-liter turbo motor and rear differential are more than likely going to hate you if you’re consistently hauling anything heavier than a couple of Seadoos.
The other kind of buyer who will more than likely dislike Mazda’s latest creation is the cargo space snob. While this is a three-row passenger SUV, the 14.4 cubic feet tucked behind the third bench is slight to say the least, and even with a hidden storage tray beneath it, the amount of space you get is pretty minuscule. Although laying the the third row flat does bump you up to 38.2 cubes, and laying both rear benches flat reaps 71.2 total feet of stow space, it pales in comparison to something like the Ford Flex, which features a dozen additional feet of cargo room.
Our final list of people who probably shouldn’t opt for the CX-9 includes the “large family.” By that we mean families that have a multitude of teenagers, and where the third row has to remain flat in order to house the four-legged member of the family. For as well appointed as it is, the third row of the CX-9 is not designed for older kids or adults.
Another downside is that the second row doesn’t offer a lot of entry or exit room when folded forward, so we suggest looking toward the minivan segment if third row head and legroom are a necessity. Also, being that ripped Napa leather seats are expensive to replace, stuffing a canine carrier into the back will likely require the folding of the third row in order to make room for everyone, which eats up even more space back there for big kids.