The outside temperature gauge read 38 degrees Celsius and the climate control, set at cozy 22 degrees Celsius was struggling with the heat. One starts to wonder: if the CX-9 was already having difficulty maintaining the temperature inside, how much more in the engine bay? Fitted with the first turbocharged Skyactiv-G engine, the engine temperature kept on rising—middle, slightly above middle, and finally three-quarters to red. This impromptu road trip, it seems, could spell vindication or disaster for the much-vaunted Mazda CX-9.
Before that though, let’s talk about the other aspects of the CX-9.
For starters, it looks great. Eschewing the typical boxy and brash styling of its competitors, the CX-9 shows luxury and elegance through restraint. Instead of overemphasizing its size like a pompous male luring a female in heat, the swoopy, organic lines create a well-balanced, well-proportioned design. It’s so good that the girth is hidden in plain sight (it’s slightly larger than the Ford Explorer with more ground clearance to boot).
The CX-9’s excellent sense of proportions are then peppered with just the right amount of gravitas. The large wing-shaped grille that juts well ahead of the slim headlights give a strong road presence, as do the 20-inch wheels.
Next up, when climbing aboard, it’s immediately noticeable that Mazda has put a lot of attention to make the interior look and feel luxurious. The panel gaps are consistently tight and all the trims line up with an obsessive attention to detail. The plastics are soft to the touch that they actually pass for leather in some places (the upper dash panel for one). And then, there’s the brushed aluminum inserts, high gloss piano black accents, plush leather—they all come together to create a cabin that shames any vehicle twice the CX-9’s price. It’s nicely kitted too with a sunroof and a 12-speaker Bose sound system.
As with any other Mazda, the CX-9’s worked out its driving position to a tee. The steering wheel offers an excellent amount of adjustment, as do the firm and supportive seats. The pedals also fall naturally into place making this large crossover feel no different than something like the Mazda6 from the driver’s seat. All the controls—from the instrument cluster to the various switches and buttons are easily understood and all fall within an arm’s reach away.
Moving back to the second row, the CX-9 also provides excellent space for three adults, provided they slide the split bench all the way back. There’s a separate climate control, A/C vents by the center console, and retractable sun shades, offering some degree of pampering to executives or VIPs. However, if all three rows have to be utilized, everyone has to make compromises. Still, head- and headroom is decent even for those in the third row, but honestly the rearmost accommodations aren’t that comfortable—it’s truly a knees-up affair back there. Plus, there are no ceiling handgrips or A/C vents to speak of. Oh, and while the luggage space is decent, it’s on the smaller end of the three-row crossover spectrum (fitting the luggage of 4 adults is a challenge) and power-folding seats aren’t available.
Onto the driving aspect, the CX-9 comes with Mazda’s first turbocharged Skyctiv-G engine. Displacing 2.5 liters, it generates 231 horsepower and 420 Nm of torque. Admittedly, the horsepower output is a downer, but at least it performs pretty well in real life. The secret ingredient here is when peak torque comes in: at just 2,000 rpm. With that, it feels punchy from low revs and together with a nice, burly engine note, it makes short work of overtaking maneuvers.
Having said that, not everything is rosy with Mazda’s first modern forced-induction motor. And for that, it’s time to go back to the opening paragraph. Apparently, the CX-9’s engine components are susceptible to heat soak, especially when driven at high speeds for an extended period of time (in this case, a steady 100-110 km/h for about 4 hours). Whether its due to the high ambient temperature or not, what matters is that the engine temperature rose steadily, resting at about three-quarters to red (110 degrees Celsius according to the gauge cluster). At this time, any jab of the throttle won’t produce any kick from the turbo. Instead, it’ll behave pretty much like a normally-aspirated engine lugging a 1,908-kilogram body. Additionally, fuel economy could be better. Despite all the hype surrounding this Dynamic Pressure Turbo, fuel economy in city traffic is stuck at 5.21 km/L improving to just 11.65 km/L during highway driving.
Problems with the engine aside, the rest of the CX-9 experience goes without a hitch. The steering is light and accurate, and surprisingly, is very easy to place on the road. The suspension tuning itself is on the firm side, but supple enough to mitigate any patch of rough road before it reaches the cabin. It also takes mountain switchbacks and transitionary maneuvers well—it has none of the cumbersome behavior commonly associated with three-row SUVs or crossovers. The gearbox itself is also responsive, but once or twice, paddle shifters would have been welcome. The best part of the entire drive though has to be the CX-9’s quietness—it’s easily the best in class.
Those prioritizing safety, the CX-9 does offer a full suite of driver assistive systems including blind spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and correction, and front and rear clearance sensors with a reverse camera. This is on top of the usual 6 airbags, anti-lock brakes, and stability control. It’s pretty much a complete package though having a radar-based active cruise control could have sealed the deal.
All in all, the CX-9 continues to deliver Mazda’s promise of delivering a driver-centric experience. Although it does give up some practicality and there maybe some questions about that turbocharged engine, it makes it up with class-leading styling and handling. At P 2,830,000 it may seem a tad more expensive than its most direct rival, the Explorer 2.3 Limited. But considering that the CX-9 does offer all-wheel drive as standard and it’s built on better stuff, the Mazda wins not just hearts, but minds as well.
2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Sport
|Ownership||2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Sport|
|Vehicle Classification||Mid-sized Crossover|
|Body Type||5-door SUV|
|Engine / Drive||F/AWD|
|Under the Hood|
|Fuel Delivery||Direct Injection|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||231 @ 5,000|
|Nm @ rpm||420 @ 2,000|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~|
|Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed||5.21 km/L @ 15 km/h,
11.65 km/L @ 68 km/h
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,908|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, Multi-link|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Tires||Falken Ziex CT50 A/S 255/50 R 20 V M+S (f & r)|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes, with EBD|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Parking Sensors||Yes, Front and Rear, with Camera|
|Other Safety Features||Hill Hold Assist
Lane Departure Warning
Lane Keep Assist
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjust||Tilt/Telescopic|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Seating Adjustment||Electric (front)|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes, 60/40 (2nd row); 50/50 (3rd row)|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold|
|Climate Control||Dual Zone (front), Single Zone (rear)|
|# of Speakers||12, Bose|