Competes with: Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe
Looks like: An evolutionary styling update hides big changes within
Drivetrain: 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed automatic transmission; front- or all-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Spring 2016
The second-generation Mazda CX-9 three-row SUV makes its debut today at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show. Sporting a more athletic appearance, a richly appointed interior and a new turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the seven-seat CX-9 has been overhauled to compete with fresh SUVs like the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Santa Fe. It arrives at dealerships in spring 2016.
There’s a clear connection between the 2016 CX-9’s styling and its predecessor’s, but Mazda has refined and sharpened the design to give it a more cohesive look. The grille’s presence is more commanding and the headlights have gotten slimmer, like the ones on the automaker’s MX-5 Miata roadster.
The CX-9 also has smooth body sides and the rear roof pillars are raked forward, which gives some extra athleticism to the design. Shoppers have a choice of 18- or 20-inch wheels, and all CX-9s have standard LED headlights.
The prior CX-9’s interior was definitely showing its age — it hadn’t changed all that much since the SUV went on sale for model-year 2007 — but Mazda has completely redone the cabin for 2016 in the style of the automaker’s Mazda6 midsize sedan. The dashboard has a slim profile with an aluminum bar separating the upper and lower sections; Nappa leather surfaces and Japanese rosewood trim are available.
Another distinctive aspect of the cabin is the Mazda Connect multimedia display protruding from the dashboard; it’s offered in 7- or 8-inch form. It’s a touch-screen that also responds to inputs from a knob controller and shortcut buttons on the center console. There are two USB ports in front and two more charging-only USB ports in the second row. A Bose premium stereo is available.
Under the Hood
The previous CX-9 had standard V-6 power but the 2016 CX-9 uses a new turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder that’s rated at 250 horsepower when running on 93-octane premium gas and 227 hp on regular gas. The engine also makes 310 pounds-feet of torque at just 2,000 rpm.
Horsepower is down slightly from the prior V-6’s 273-hp rating, but the new CX-9 is lighter; front-wheel-drive models weigh about 200 pounds less while all-wheel-drive versions are nearly 300 pounds less, according to Mazda.
Official fuel economy estimates haven’t been released, but Mazda expects the new CX-9 to be considerably more efficient than its predecessor, citing an increase of about 20 percent. The front-wheel-drive 2015 CX-9 gets an EPA-estimated 19 mpg in combined driving, which means if Mazda’s estimates are on target the redesigned CX-9 could see combined mpg jump to 22 or 23 mpg. The front-wheel-drive V-6-powered Pilot gets 23 mpg combined when fitted with the available nine-speed automatic transmission, while the front-drive Ford Explorer with the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder is rated at 22 mpg.
Available active safety features include blind spot warning, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and prevention, automatic high-beam headlights and forward collision warning with automatic braking.