2017 Mazda CX-9

25
2019
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Which major car company only sells four cylinder-powered cars?'17 CX-9 lead

The answer is surprising.

It’s Mazda.

It’s surprising because Mazda is the “zoom zoom” brand – and four cylinder engines are not generally known for having much of that.

Particularly when installed in a full-size (three row) crossover SUV like the CX-9.

It is the only big crossover SUV that doesn’t at least offer V6 power. Several of its rivals – models like the Honda Pilot and Hyundai Sante Fe – come standard with V6 power.

None of the others are four cylinder-only.

But is this a bad thing?

Or a practical thing?

And is that a good thing?

WHAT IT IS'17 CX-9 cabin 1

The CX-9 is a full-size/three-row crossover SUV – like the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and Hyundai Sante Fe, among others.

Like them, it has a lot of space for people and cargo.

You can go FWD or AWD.

But, you can only buy a CX-9 with a four cylinder engine.

The others all offer – or come standard with – a V6.

Mazda’s thinking – which is contrary to its previous thinking –  is that most people who buy plus-sized family-haulers like the CX-9 don’t need the superfluous power of a big V6, but might like the better mileage a smaller four is capable of.'17 CX long shot

It’s a bold – and risky – move for a brand that’s (up to now) been all about emotion in emotion.

Base price is $31,520 for a FWD CX-9 Sport; adding all-wheel-drive bumps the MSRP to $33,320. There are are also Touring and Gran Touring trims, with the range topping out at $44,015 for a Signature trim with AWD and luxury-class amenities, including real Rosewood trim plates and premium leather upholstery.

Cross-shops include the Ford Explorer ($31,160-$45,205), GMC Acadia ($29,070-$43,750) and Hyundai Sante Fe ($30,800-$41,150) among others.

WHAT’S NEW'17 Mazda CX-9 cut-away

It’s lighter – and smaller than before.

Still three rows – and about the same room for people (up to seven, notwithstanding the “9” in the name) but much less room for cargo. The old model had 17.2 cubic feet behind its third row and 100.7 cubic feet with the second and third row folded down. The new CX-9 only has 14.4 cubic feet behind its third row – and 71.2 cubic feet of total capacity with both rows folded.

It also has less engine.

The previously standard 3.7 liter V6 has been retired in favor of a 2.5 liter four. It’s turbocharged, to make up for its small size – but horsepower is still down vs. previously: 250 hp (on premium; the number drops to 227 if you feed it regular) vs. 273 before.

On the other hand, fuel efficiency is up – and acceleration is slightly better.

More on this below.

There’s also a new look – with themes now lined up with other newer Mazda models like the 6 sedan.   

WHAT’S GOOD'17 CX-9 console detail

It looks “zoom zoom.”

No real perfomance penalty as a result of the engine downsizing.

Better mileage stats vs. previous V6-powered CX-9.

About the same room in all its rows for people as rivals offer in theirs.

Cabin design (and amenities) compare well to higher-priced luxury-badge crossover SUVs from brands like Audi, Lexus, Infiniti and Acura.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD'17 CX third row cargo

It performs … sensibly.

New engine is torquey… but not very punchy.

If you “zoom zoom,” expect real-world mileage to be about what you’d get with a big V6.

Less cargo room than before.

Signature trim costs almost as much as an Audi, Lexus, Infiniti, or Acura… but it’s still a Mazda.

UNDER THE HOOD

When something is inevitable, fighting it is pointless. Better to accept – and make the best of it.'17 CX-9 engine 1

This appears to be at least one half of Mazda’s thinking with regard to the decision to nix the CX-9’s V6.

To nix sixes across the entire model lineup.

And so it is that the 4,054 (FWD) seven-passenger CX-9 has an engine only slightly larger than the 2,332 lb. two-seater Miata’s:

2.5 liters vs. 2.0 in the Miata.

About the same engine – displacement-wise – in a vehicle that displaces about twice as much.

But, the CX-9’s engine is turbocharged – which makes up for the lost cylinders (and displacement) when you put your right foot down. It makes as much as 250 hp (and 310 ft.-lbs. of torque) when fed premium gas.

On regular, the horsepower dips to 227 (but the torque number stays the same).'17 CX-9 engine 2

These are not bad numbers. And neither are the other numbers – acceleration and miles-per-gallon.

The new/four cylinder CX-9 is slightly quicker, zero to 60 than the old/V6-powered CX-9. The FWD version taking about 7.4 seconds to make the run vs. 7.5 for the previous CX with the 3.7 liter, 273 hp V6.

It helps that the new CX is lighter by several hundred pounds (it’s also smaller; more on that below) and also that the turbo four makes more torque (40 ft.-lbs. more, which is no small difference) and sooner (at 2,000 RPM vs. 4,250 RPM for the 3.7 V6).

Mazda did some customer driving habits surveying and figured out that most people who buy rides like the CX-9 (which isn’t a Miata) tend not to wring out the engine. Specifically, they discovered that most family-mobile drivers rarely spin the engine above 3,500 – implying a need for strong mid-range torque rather than high-RPM power.

Enter the turbo four – and good-bye, thirsty six.'17 CX-9 sport mode detail

And it was very thirsty.

The previous CX-9 consumed oceans of fuel: 16 city, 22 highway for the AWD-equipped version. That is worse mileage than a V8-powered Chevy Tahoe (16 city, 23 highway) and – more relevant – much worse than segment rivals like the Explorer, Acadia, Pilot and Sante Fe.

If the old CX had been quick (like the twin-turbo V6 Explorer, for instance, which nails 60 in just over six seconds) the atrocious mileage could be forgiven. But the old CX-9’s 0-60 run was mid-pack at best.

The new CX is still mid-pack, as far as acceleration – but it is now among the most fuel-sippy large crossover SUVs on the market: 22 city, 28 highway for the FWD version and 21 city, 28 MPG for one with AWD.

This is better than the Explorer with its base V6 (17 city, 24 highway), its next-up (and extra-cost) turbo four (19 city, 27 highway) and much better than the mileage you get with the Ford’s top-of-the-line (and even more extra-cost) 3.5 liter turbo V6, which posts a muscle car V8-esque 16 city, 22 highway.'17 CX-9 gauges

But at least the V6 Ford is quick – and can tow up to 5,000 lbs.

The V6 Hyundai Sante Fe has a hearty appetite, too: 18 city, 25 highway with FWD and 18 city, 24 highway with AWD.

But it’s slow.

The four cylinder version of the 2017 GMC Acadia (a V6 is optional) is likewise none-too-impressive at the pump: 21 city, 26 highway with FWD and 21 city, 25 with AWD.

It’s really slow, too. High eights, low nines to 60.

So, Mazda may be on to something here.

The new CX-9 isn’t the fastest and most furious of the bunch. But it’s not a gas hog or a road turd, either.

It may be just enough. Which could be just the ticket.

At least, in theory.

ON THE ROAD'17 CX-9 road 1

As for practice… .

I averaged just over 20 MPG during a week in the CX-9.

Granted, I drive faster – and harder – than most.

Still.

The turbo four’s mileage was disappointing. You may have the same experience. Small displacement turbocharged engines sound like the proverbial free lunch … on paper. You get the potential fuel efficiency of a small engine if you can keep your foot out of it – and power on demand, when you need to slingshot into traffic or get around a slow-moving Clover.

But the gas mileage advantage part of this deal only comes through if you avoid asking the engine for power.

Which is like trying to lose weight while living right next to an ice cream store.'17 CX-9 mode detail

It’s right there, after all.

Hard to resist indulging.

And if you do indulge – the turbo, I mean – you can expect to get about the same mileage as you would have with the larger engine. Which wouldn’t need the turbo to make the power when needed.

Which is better? The simpler (and probably less expensive and more long-term reliable) if thirstier-on-paper V6?

Or the more expensive and complicated – and just about as thirsty if you use it – turbo four?

Well, no matter how we feel about it, small turbo fours are the future.'17 CX-9 road 3

Regardless of the mileage we get in real-world driving.

It’s the mileage these things post on the EPA’s test loop that matters as far as helping a car company meet the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency mandatory minimums.

Sixes are going away as mass-market engines, just as V8s already have gone away as mass market engines.

Thankfully, Mazda did not go Full Monte and pair the four with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic. These are also becoming popular because they are a bit more efficient (on paper) than a conventional automatic like the Mazda’s six-speed.

CVTs are also noisier – or rather, they make the engine noisier – by screaming it to high RPM (and holding it there) during acceleration runs. An automatic like the CX-9’s with fixed forward gears, lowers engine speed with each successive upshift – reducing engine noise.

The transmission has manual (driver controlled up and downshifts) as well as Sport and Normal modes, with Sport mode particularly noticeable when descending a curvy road. It’ll hold third or fourth, providing an engine braking effect, rather than up-shifting to fifth or sixth (and forcing you to ride the brakes).'17 CX-9 road 5

The four has a nice mid-range, as Mazda intended. This is not a revvy engine. Redline is 6,000 (low, for a Mazda engine) and the computer usphifts the transmission well before it reaches redline – at around 5,600-5,800 RPM.

Even in manual mode.   

But this is in line with reality.

Because the CX-9 is not a Miata.

Same goes for the handling. The emphasis here – the racy looks notwithstanding – is on ride quality. Which is very calm but not very “zoom zoom,” either.17 CX-9 HUD

But – again – reality check.

The CX-9 is for going to Disneyland. Or the water park.

Not the track.

In keeping with this,  the electrically assisted steering is very light – and is further assisted (in Grand Touring and Signature trims) by a Lane Keep Assist system with a steering nudge feature that semi-steers the car automatically. You’ll feel a light vibration if you wander over the double yellow lines to snap you back into attention – and the wheel itself will turn a little on its own to keep the car tracking straight within its lane.

It’s not set up for driving fast, but it is a pleasure to drive – especially on long (boring) highway trips.

Which is just what Mazda intended.

Because it’s what most buyers are looking for, whether they realize it or not.

So long as the thing looks like it has a pulse.   

AT THE CURB'17 CX-9 curb one

Which, it does.

While the CX-9’s power/performance don’t especially get your motor running, its appearance just  might

This is a good-looking thing – which is a rare thing in this class.

The others aren’t ugly. But they aren’t exactly sexy.

This one is.

Like the Mazda6 sedan – which seems to have been the stylistic inspiration for the new CX-9. The front clips are similar and the two share the suggestive curvature that almost makes you want to run your fingers along the flanks. Whoops. I have to remember I’m not writing for Penthouse Forum.'17 CX-9 interior wide angle

Anyhow, the point is it looks really nice.

Part of the trick being to increase the wheelbase relative to the length. The new CX-9 is 199.4 inches long overall, with a 115.3 inch wheelbase. The previous CX-9  was 200.6 inches but had a much shorter (113.2 inch) wheelbase. Pushing the axle center lines farther apart helps ride quality but has the additional perk of making the vehicle look higher-rent. Like high-end sedans, for example – all of which are long wheelbase things.

A long wheelbase also usually means a bit more usable interior space – especially if the overall length of the thing is about the same, as it is here.'17 CX-9 cargo floor

However, the new CX – while it has about the same first and second row space as before – has a lot less space for cargo behind its third row: 14.4 cubic feet vs. 17.2 cubic feet. And with both the second and third row down, the total space available is only 71.2 cubic feet vs. 100.7 cubic feet before.

On the upside, the third row – while still cramped – is now more viable for other-than-ten-year-olds. It’s not exactly adult-friendly back there. But it is adult-usable.

For short hops, anyhow.

Also, the new CX’s cargo stats are par for the class.

The Explorer, for example, has a bit more space (21 cubic feet behind its third row; 81.7 total) but it’s not a huge difference. The Hyundai Sante Fe has less space (13.5 cubic feet behind its third row). And the new (just redesigned) 2017 GMC Acadia only has 12.8 cubic feet behind its third row (and 79 cubic feet overall).

The Honda Pilot is one of the few that has a lot more space than all of these: 18.5 cubic feet behind its third row and 109.2 cubic feet overall. The Pilot is also – interestingly – only 194.5 inches long overall, or about half a foot shorter than the CX-9.

But, the Honda is about as sexy as Hillary Clinton.

The Mazda, meanwhile… .'17 CX-9 screen

Standard amenities include 18 inch wheels, three-zone climate control, surround-sound audio rig and a “floating” seven-inch LCD touchscreen as nice as any you’d find in a BMW.

Touring trims (and top-of-the-line Signature trims) add an eight-inch LCD screen.

The Grand Touring (and Signature) trims get 20 inch wheels, LED headlights with “adaptive” fog lights that track with the steering wheel in curves, side privacy shades, a 12 speaker Bose audio rig, a heads-up (HUD) display and the full roster of electronic safety asists, including adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and collision mitigation/brake assist.

The Signature adds ultra-premium leather and real Rosewood interior trim, plus additional LED exterior lighting.

THE REST

If you need SUV-ish towing capacity – or muscle car acceleration – the Ford Explorer has the edge.

If you need maximum cargo room, the Pilot’s at the top of the list.

But perhaps you don’t really need any of those things.

Or, need less of them.

And want more of other things.

THE BOTTOM LINE

This is a daring experiment. And maybe a very smart move.

Mazda has made a more practical CX-9 that doesn’t look it.

The others strut around hugely – or have huge power. But are either really necessary?

On the other hand, everyone likes to look good.

Sexy is always in.

And the CX-9 has that to spare.

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25 COMMENTS

  1. It’s certainly a looker compared to the competition. Driveability shouldn’t be too bad either IMO. I once drove a Mazda 5 rental, and it handled better than most of the rental sedans I have driven.
    Wish you would make fewer Hilary Clinton references though.

    • Hi Escher,

      I can’t help it… she haunts my waking dreams…. but maybe we will luck out and she will keel over before (s)election day….

  2. “Specifically, they discovered that most family-mobile drivers rarely spin the engine above 3,500 – implying a need for strong mid-range torque rather than high-RPM power.”

    That’s a real shocker there considering most people, and esp the fairer sex won’t go near the floor, ever, not even with impending doom, probable head on. They probably suggest rpm ranges with one being “no more than 3500 rpm) and those who answered with knowledge answered that and those without a clue probably asked someone who did know what the answer would be. Plus the fact that nearly everything out there is an automatic and most people don’t even pay attention to the tach so the manufacturers use that rpm as their fairly much top engine speed and adjust the engine to make power for 1500-3500 rpm range. Engine never gets stressed, they don’t use much fuel run that way and there’s no real noise being made. You know the manufacturers would like for nobody to ever run an engine faster than that. Most of them, esp. V-6’s would last forever between 2000 and 3500.

  3. You’re right about it being really nice looking.

    And 7.4 seconds 0-60 isn’t that bad.

    But $44K for a loaded version? NO WAY!

    The only “Mazda” I’d EVER pay that much for would be an RX-9!

    • Sure, if they get their rotary problems squared away. The RX-8 was a bit of a nightmare. Turns out that the rotary + government = new motors at 60K.

      But, I agree with you. This is far and away the best looking of these types.

      • “…rotary + government = new motors at 60K.”

        Actually it’s more like “…rotary + uninformed customer = new motor…”

        Wankels are actually quite durable when the driver knows how to use them, and takes just a little more maintenance and fuel if you set it up right (which is not how it’s done from the factory). I’ve seen more than a few friends with 100k plus on their 8s, and even had 130k on my own RX7 before swapping out the motor.

        They’re different though, that’s for sure.

        • Yeah, I had an RX-7, as well. Mine still had fewer than 100K when I sold it (like an idiot, I might add). Trouble free in the time I owned it.

          I was under the impression that some of the problem was trying to mitigate emissions issues by limiting the oil burn. My ’84 happily burned a shitload of oil and was very healthy.

          Still a very cool motor that will likely be in my garage again some day.

          • From what I understand, Mazda was switching their motor from “top” exhaust ports to side exhaust ports to prevent “leaks” in the combustion chamber (hard to explain without pictures), which would in turn increase emissions. Oil might have been a part of that, I don’t know because I premixed all my Wankel cars.

            But the main issue wasn’t that, it was dropping the price of the RX7 ($35,000 ish) to ($22,000 ish) with the RX8 and making it a 4 door 4 seater to appeal to more of a mass market of people. It was these people had no idea was a rotary engine was, no idea why you needed to add oil (or use premix like me), and no idea how smoothly the engine could rev and how easily you could burn through massive amounts of fuel, and subsequently didn’t take well to the new technology.

    • Hi Mike,

      I agree; 7.4 to 60 is actually pretty quick… quicker than my Trans-Am was when it was new!

      And, the thing does look good. The interior even more so.

      But, damn, the money….

      • I guess “quickness” is subjective. For a large CUV that gets potentially good mileage, I guess 7.4 is quite good.

        But when V-6 Camrys can break into the upper fives, I’m not calling anything “pretty quick” until it runs under 7 seconds.

        • When I read these numbers I have to wonder how many people will ever floor it and hold it to 60. Cars a great deal slower have enough acceleration to speed up to blend in with traffic.

          • “Cars a great deal slower have enough acceleration to speed up to blend in with traffic.”

            If “blending in with traffic” is the highest requirement one’s car will ever need to satisfy, a VW original Beetle will suffice. IMO, that seems way below minimum current standards.

            Out here, we have plenty of room to safely rip from 0 to…(well, ‘faster than’) 60mph. I’m not talking about sustained driving at really high speed. But a nice acceleration rush is one of the most fun virtues a car can offer.

            We’re talking at least sub-7 seconds. What’s “enough?” For me, sub-5 would probably would do. 🙂

            • Oh, give me a good tire burner and I’ll enjoy making some smoke and noise and a thrill to something well beyond 60 but for the main part I just want to be able to cruise somewhere well beyond the speed limit at times. Handling and braking are the things I really look for in a normal sort of vehicle.

              I guess my needs have changed in my old age. Every time I get out from behind the wheel of a big rig I think I’m driving a hot rod go-cart if it’s rear wheel drive. FWD is boring and is merely an appliance since I never spent enough time in one to learn to push them to the max. I don’t even like the paddle shifters. I like something that I can actually feel those gears.

              My idea of hard driving is left foot braking and right foot gear changing.

        • A 2007 V6 Camry will outperform most older “muscle cars”.

          Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec
          Standing ¼-mile: 14.3 sec @ 99 mph
          Top speed (governor limited): 145 mph

          The top speed of 145 mph required V rated tires from the factory.

          • Hi Libertyx,

            Yup – incredible, isn’t? The Camry’s stats would have qualified for 1,000 word blowjobs in Hot Rod magazine circa 1984.

            The downside is very few Camry (or other drivers) ever use the power/performance these cars have. They might as well be driving a 1984 Aries K car….

      • Yeah, but I don’t like the fact that there are like 30 cubic feet less interior space than before. That’s stupid. The fact that it is yet another turbo four is crap as well. I liked the 3.7L 6 cylinder.

        • Hi Swamp,

          Yeah; I also would prefer the V6.

          PS: Your magnets got bounced back to me. Send me an e-mail… apparently, I wrote the address down incorrectly. Or, you’ve moved!

  4. In my view Mazda’s have always had the defect of low power making for “appliance-like” driving.

    In 2004 my choice of a new vehicle (hatchback) was between a Mazda and a Chevrolet Malibu Maxx. The Maxx was a new model based on a Saab, with a 200hp V6, remote start, adjustable pedals, and oil change, computer based, reminder. Maxx is still running strong – one of GM’s best unknowns.

  5. 20 mpg, that’s quite good actually consider the size and height of the thing.

    Normally I’d agree that keeping the V6 in a lineup would be the most sensible thing to do, but something about Mazdas V6s never seemed to be quite right, all the way back from the MX-6 with it’s appetite for revs (and fuel), to the Miller cycle Millenia…which I’m still unsure of it’s original purpose.

    The 4 bangers on the other hand have generally been rock solid (except the Ford versions), so in this case I actually think the turbo 4 is good and gels well with the Mazda imagine.

    • Hi AJ,

      I like that they’ve shaved weight – and wish they could shave more. This is the real problem in re “fuel efficiency.” The engines are very efficient. But the cars are just too heavy (because Uncle) which defeats the purpose. Light weight was the reason why several cars from the early ’80s were capable of 40 MPG despite having carbureted engines and non-overdrive transmissions.

  6. “CVTs are also noisier – or rather, they make the engine noisier – by screaming it to high RPM (and holding it there) during acceleration runs.”

    To be fair — they are only noisy if you put your foot all the way down and then hold it, trying to wring every bit of power out of the engine. And, unlike non-CVT automatics, CVTs if set up right actually achieve maximum possible acceleration out of an underpowered engine.

    Which seems to me to be a feature, not a bug. The bug is the underpowered engine that then is affixed to the CVT to meet Uncle’s CAFE fatwa, necessitating putting your foot into it on a regular basis.

    • Hi Jim,

      I’ve test driven probably 100-plus different new cars with CVTs. They are all thrashy, unless you drive like a Clover 🙂

      The engine will rev and hold a fairly high RPM – near redline, if you floor it and keep it floored. But even half pedal will do the same, typically.

      Just sayin’ – based on my real-world experience in many dozens of CVT-equipped vehicles.

      • I drove a CVT equipped Nissan Sentra rental car on vacation near Cape Cod, and on those super low speed limit roads (top was like 55 MPH), don’t think the bitty little 1.6 liter nonturboed engine went over 4K RPMs more than a few times. It was fascinating watching the MPG counter respond in real time, hitting 100 MPGs max whenever coasting unless crawling along.

        Dunno if that was Clovering, since I certainly wasn’t holding up any other drivers on those jam packed roads.

        I’d say that to make you happy, they’d need to tweak the CVT so it only ran the engine near redline if you put your foot in it for a second or more. Not sure why the car companies don’t respond to the criticism on this and git er done.

        Kind of like the fucking cruise control in my car, that if you try to go about 5 MPH faster on a slight hill, it downshifts twice to around 4,500 or 5,000 RPM for a couple seconds, instead of just gradually increasing speed in high gear for a few seconds.

        Sometimes robots just aren’t as smart as people.

        • ^^The Sentra is a bit optimistic though with it’s computer. Lovely thing to commute in for comfort, but several times I’ve pegged 40 mpg on the computer only to get 34-35 mpg real world.

          And re: cruise control, etc. It’s all about getting used to how the machine responds. My “modern” daily driver is a 1.6 CVT, and I can easily keep it below 2.5k for 100% of the time without being a clover. It’s all about realizing when the computer compensates for the throttle input and how it does so. Once you get that down you can take full advantage of the great fuel economy a CVT can offer.

          Now if only the damn things were easier to rebuild…

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