Slowly spinning on the Mazda stand at the Los Angeles Auto Show with a sharp new design that looks like it could give the Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot a serious run for their money, the all-new 2016 CX-9 is one formidable people-mover. Its targets may be lofty, but the Mazda CX-9 has long punched above its weight in the ultra-competitive midsize SUV segment despite its age (and sales numbers). And this all-new model could be a very, very big thing for the brand as it continues to overachieve in every segment it competes in.
For a little background: The current-generation CX-9 is old. In fact, when it was launched, Mazda was owned by Ford, TV was still broadcast with an analog signal, and few Americans had ever heard of a first-term senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. So it’s saying something that Mazda’s seven-seater has been able to hang in there as long as it has (nine years). But tasteful refreshes and good bones have yet to let the automaker down. Frankly, it’s ancient as far as current models go, but as Mazda is proud to point out: “When the Mazda CX-9 made its world debut back in 2006, it was an epiphany: A midsize three-row crossover SUV that defied the conventional design cues and cumbersome driving experience expected of vehicles in its class.”
That all may be true, but today, the CX-9 sits toward the bottom of the sales pack. It’s better than the also-aged Chevy Traverse, but only about one CX-9 moves off the lot for every nine Chevys sold. Still, Mazda is hardly the company it was in 2006, or even in 2013, when its biggest SUV received its last facelift. Since then, the Zoom-Zoom brand has gained serious traction in the American market, and if the CX-9 can gain the ground the Mazda3 and 5 have in recent years, 2016 could be a turning point for the brand.
With cars like the late, great RX-7, RX-8, Mazdaspeed models, and the Miata, Mazda has long been an enthusiast’s brand. But instead of isolating its sports car lineup, the company has spread the wealth across its lineup. As a result, it’s worked miracles, like making a lust-worthy midsize sedan, and a crossover that’s actually fun to drive without being polarizing enough to scare non-gearheads away. And that’s Mazda’s secret of late: build vehicles that are so good, even people who don’t care about cars will notice them. It’s a formula that most automakers would kill to stumble upon, and over the past few years, Mazda has gotten it down to a science.
For 2016, the CX-9 should do everything the old model did, but better. For enthusiasts, the CX-9 has a new “Athletic Stance,” which Mazda explains:
…engineers sought to instill driving dynamics befitting of a Mazda — agile handling, tight steering and a responsive, controllable powertrain. To do this, they found smart solutions to keep CX-9’s structure light, yet rigid, with SKYACTIV Technology. They developed a new turbocharged SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine that delivers instant throttle response, class-leading torque and an estimated around 20-percent increase in fuel- efficiency…
But prospective CX-9 owners aren’t necessarily the same people who would buy a Miata. Instead, Mazda says they’re: “…a caring husband or wife, a high-achiever, a busy parent — and, still, an individual with his or her own needs and aspirations.” For them, the company made the interior a focus, saying:
Its cachet is elevated with a proud front fascia that cascades into crisp lines that flow to the rear. Its interior is nothing short of breathtaking, with available Auburn-colored Nappa leather, Japanese rosewood and aluminum. The focus was on authenticity; an experience rather than simply another commodity conveyance.
Pretty strong stuff. For now, the only available powerplant is the aforementioned 2.5 liter turbocharged mill that will be good for 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque – likely more than enough to make the big SUV handle well in whatever light hauling of soft-roading you can throw at it. Thanks to a weight reduction in the 200-300 pound range (depending on 2WD or 4WD models), expect fuel economy to be significantly better than the outgoing model (Car and Driver estimates 20/28 for front wheel drive, and 21/29 for all-wheel). No word on pricing, but expect the base Sport model to start in the low-$30k range, while an all-new Signature premium model is likely to start on the north side of $40,000. Only time will tell whether or not the CX-9 can topple the big guns in the midsize SUV segment, but if we were in the market for a people mover, this Mazda would likely be at the top of our list.
Like classics? It’s always Throwback Thursday somewhere.
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