5 Things We Learned About the 2016 Mazda CX-9

2016 Mazda CX-9
2016 Mazda CX-9 | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exactly how captivating can a three-row, family focused SUV be while remaining as practical and affordable as possible? This was the core question that Mazda had to ask itself when it came time to redesign its aging CX-9. Unlike the sport-tuned Toyota SE minivan we drove and reviewed recently, the family car you see here has been reforged from the ground up, and the results are quite impressive.

While award-winning cabin features were recycled to some extent and SkyActiv engine technologies were brought to bat, the majority of this car was previously unexplored by the automaker. Starting with a clean slate means that anything is possible, and the last time we checked, half-assing it isn’t one of Mazda’s mottos. The automaker wanted to go all-out and make a family car that didn’t just do its job, but also raised the bar in a segment that is increasingly competitive.

Mazda CX-9 cargo space
Mazda CX-9 cargo space | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Both members of the media and car buyers alike have been clamoring over the 2016 Mazda CX-9 ever since it was unveiled, and with its seductive “Kodo” styling, turbocharged powertrain, and outstanding interior, it’s easy to see why. In order to get a better feel for what Mazda is up to, I recently spent three days in San Francisco meeting with the designers and engineers who brought the SUV you see here to life, and in between drive time, I was able to come to grips with what makes this SUV so great.

The Hiroshima-based automaker hasn’t just created an engaging, sporty, and practical SUV, it has effortlessly jumped the fence and landed in the luxury SUV segment. Mazda doesn’t just want to give us the ultimate family car. It wants to form a fresh bond between man and machine, and in the process cause parents to fall in love with driving all over again.

The all-new CX-9 is crafted to be an emotional catalyst, a vehicle that drives you just as much as you drive it, and Mazda spared no expense in making it so. Here are five key takeaways from our time with a vehicle that’s keen on becoming one of the most awarded three-row SUVs in history.

1. Amazing materials

Wood working trim interior
Wood working trim interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Both internally and externally, the new Mazda CX-9 has a monolithic amount of world class materials, and once buyers upgrade to the $44,000 Signature series, it suddenly all comes standard. From the supple Napa leather and the finely crafted Japanese wood trim pieces that are hand selected and carved the old fashioned way, to the use of real aluminum cabin accents, the interior appointments here are outstanding. Not to be outdone, the shell of the car features carefully placed aluminum body panels, cleverly integrated LED lights, and paint jobs that require four coatings in order to get that layered liquid metal appearance.

2. Turbo torque

Turbo SkyActiv engine
Turbo SkyActiv engine | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

After secretly following around several soccer moms in order to analyze driving styles, Mazda’s engineers realized that a healthy torque curve was more commonly used than large amounts of top-end horsepower. This unorthodox approach to R&D led the team to design the CX-9’s turbocharged engine so that it could put down a hefty 310 foot-pounds of torque via the use of scavenging any lost power during the combustion process. With 250 horsepower still on tap up top, and the ability to use both regular and premium gasoline grades for either additional fuel savings or added oomph, drivers can pick and choose how their SUV performs.

3. Music matters

Bose audio
Bose audio | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

An early interest in competing with high end luxury European SUV automakers led the R&D team to tap Bose for the task of attacking all things audio related. By analyzing the most popular hits from the 1990s, 2000s, and today, the Mazda team was able to determine what sound quality and speaker components were necessary in order to bring the CX-9 to a level where it could punch well above its weight class.

The result is a 12-speaker sound system that features 9-inch subwoofers in the front doors, special sound-dispersing mesh grilles, and a clever digital amplifier. Mazda’s goal is to enhance the driving experience in any way possible, and since music moves all of us, they were able to prove that you don’t have to go European in order to get great audio.

4. Sexy sells

Mazda CX-9 grille
Mazda CX-9 grille | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

From the beginning, Mazda’s director of design, Julien Montousse, wanted to craft a car that was based around a notion called “Alluring Prestige.” With its trapezoidal proportions, sharp and lean surface lines, and integrated multi-dimensional material overlaps, this SUV is anything but bland. It’s a car that has been designed to appeal to both men and women as a sleek alternative to the rest of the unwieldy third-row segment, and by making a vehicle look sporty and sexy all at once, Mazda has found a way to evoke our emotions even before we step inside.

5. The Mazda CX-9 is American-minded

20-inch alloy wheels
20-inch alloy wheels | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

One of the biggest takeaways from our meetings with Mazda’s design and engineering team was that this SUV has been crafted from the ground up with the North American market in mind. The development of the new CX-9 was led by the automaker’s U.S. team so that every aspect of this SUV could be built to suit the needs of the typical American family. This is a major decision, especially for an internationally distributed auto manufacturer like Mazda. It further proves just how focused this SUV really is, and why it stands a good chance of becoming North America’s next SUV of the year.