The conquest of cool: Driving the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
The wrapper of the CX-9 — Mazda’s big three-row crossover — evokes Raymond Loewy’s 1930s Streamline-Moderne refrigerators. Loewy transformed ungainly boxes into tres chic curved-top, monolithic forms with thin stainless-steel speed stripes and skirted valences.
The apron of the CX-9’s flared front bumper apes that look — and then adds late1960s muscle-car aggression: a forwardleaning shield grille. The vehicle’s sexy cabback stance has panache.
Mazda’s chariot wears a fastback rear, big wheels and inset lamps. Inside, it’s a sybarite’s delight, decked out with tightly fitted, soft-touch materials. Even the hard parts are monumental — Mazda’s door and center console plastics resemble blackonyx sculptures. The interior evokes tonier rides: leather trimmings (Volvo), steering wheel (Audi) and sculpted door panels (Bentley). Real aluminum trim adds pizzazz. However, high-style means compromises. The CX-9’s cargo bay is height-restricted, as is the narrow third row’s headroom. If you want maximum cargo capacity, check out something square. The sliding mid-row seat fits three. The front thrones are too high. Width for working the steering wheel is narrow due to a high center console with flip-top bin covers. Plus, the door’s stitched upholstery intrudes. Nicely covered interior door handles are hefty, which is a pleasure. Naughty bits, such as under-the-seat metalwork, are fabric covered, ensuring no more scuffed Gucci loafers.
Mazda has engineering tricks up its metaphorical sleeves. The 2.5-liter, four-cylinder 227-hp (87 octane) power plant utilizes techniques that improve its turbocharger’s responsiveness. Torque? Yes! It’s 310 lb.-ft. at 2,000 rpm. That means the 4,336-pound machine moves when spurred.
There’s also a cooled, exhaust-gas recirculation system — lowering the engine’s combustion temperature, which permits a leaner fuel mixture for improved economy. The result is a civilized, willing engine. The all-wheel-drive CX-9’s EPA numbers are 21 mpg city and 26 mpg highway for a 23 mpg combined. I observed 21 mpg overall.
On the road, the CX-9 behaves, mostly. The CX-9 is agile, not clumsy. Steering is light but accurate, and ride quality is good. The stability program, however, scolds like a sixth-grade science teacher and curbs cornering speed. The brakes are also overactive. So, there’s a limit to this Mazda’s zoom, despite the spiffy 20-inch tires.
There’s a smorgasbord of driver assists. For instance, lane departure warning with assist vibrates the steering wheel and then steers for you. Y intersections, however, baffle lane keeping, leading to a directional tug of war. A push-button lets you disable its follow-the-road wizardry. Blind spot detection also is included. The adaptive cruise control uses radar; there’s also a camera that helps it maintain a gap between you and the vehicle ahead.
An added bonus is the on-windshield display, which shows vehicle speed, cruise control info, whether there’s a vehicle ahead or to the side, and lane-assist indicators. The navigation system’s directions are also included.
A three-ring instrument cluster houses a trip computer and data display. One omission: a glove-box light. There are center mid-row, face-level vents with automatic or manual controls.
The interior noise is muted. Mazda installed lots of sound-deadening material, including thick Styrofoam on the floor. It works.
Mazda’s infotainment system can be voice activated. There is a pleasant onboard tutorial. Using its rotary-knob interface, in contrast, can be maddening. For example, changing radio bands requires multiple steps, and then tuning stations requires further twisting, tapping and controller bumping.
For 2018, the CX-9 gets automatic citydriving emergency braking at speeds less than 19 mph, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, and vectoring control for improved steering precision.
The MSRP of the tested Grand Touring version: $43,810 including extra fees for special paint ($200), floor mats and delivery. The Signature version with wood veneer interior costs more, while the base FWD CX-9 starts at about $33,000. Think of the CX-9 as the designer kitchen of crossovers. As with Loewy’s refrigerators, it’s cool.
On the road in the Mazda CX-9.