Mazda has toed the line between sportiness and utility beautifully

CX-9 brings Mazda's fun driving experience to the three row crossover

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By —— Bio and Archives May 18, 2017

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It’s big and it only sports a four banger engine, but the Mazda CX-9 SUV/crossover is one of the best driving vehicles in the class.

In other words, it’s a typical Mazda.

Mazda is a relatively small car company, and for the last few years the Hiroshima-headquartered Japanese carmaker has had to forge its own path without another carmaker having its back (Ford used to be a partner). Yet it consistently comes up with vehicles - sedans, SUV/crossovers and, of course, sports coupes - that are just plain fun, yet are also featured fully and exude an air of quality that makes them seem more expensive than they are. 

The CX-9 is Mazda’s biggest vehicle, but slip this baby into sport mode via the little rocker switch on the centre console and the vehicle seems to shrink a tad, just enough to make it sit up and take notice that you’re looking to play. It still feels big, of course - even Mazda can’t change the laws of physics - but it goes from feeling like a nice, big SUV to a nice, big Mazda SUV, and all the “Zoom-Zoom” that brings.

When the current CX-9 came out last year, I was worried that the sudden lack of a V6 engine - replaced by a “dynamic turbo” four - might cut that “Zoom-Zoom” thing to a single Zoom, or less. That worry proved to be warrantless, however, because while the horsepower might be down compared to the old engine, the torque is way up, and it’s the torque that pushes you back into your seat when you drive. Mazda also cut the vehicle’s weight, which also helps maintain the double Zoom.

The engine was Mazda’s first turbocharged SKYACTIV unit, and its 227 horses and wonderful 310 lb.-ft. of torque (which is available from only 2,000 rpm), are very smooth and quiet - and it goes like heck! And if those 227 horses aren’t enough, you can burn premium fuel in the CX-9 and Mazda says you’ll get 250 horses instead. Good thing there’s lots of storage space in the big SUV so you can keep all those extra nags somewhere!

To see how the power plant change affected the CX-9, I enlisted an acquaintance for last year’s review, a guy who owned the previous, V6 version. And he told me he preferred the new CX-9 to the one he’d purchased. It was mostly because of that low end torque, which he noted was better than his V6 model’s 270 torquey-like things. Just goes to show that horsepower isn’t everything. He also liked the more upscale interior in the new model, by the way.

Torque is all well and good, but if you put it in a wallowing vehicle it’s not going to create a wonderful driving experience; the vehicle also needs to handle well. Fortunately, the CX-9 does this. So what you’re getting is a large, comfortable and efficient vehicle that’s also an interesting experience from behind the steering wheel.

Speaking of steering, the CX-9 feels better than a vehicle of this heft should when it comes to the times when your hands are on that steering wheel. The feel is light and tight and the turning circle is darn good for a vehicle that seems as long as a school bus.

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