The 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature Is a Family Crossover for Those Who Don’t Want a Family Crossover

Good looks and cargo room, plus a healthy dose of the zoom-zoom.

Mazda CX-9 Review

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

WHAT THE HELL IS IT? Mazda's large-and-in-charge three-row crossover, here to prove that big family SUVs can be stylish and fun without a BMW-sized pricetag.

WHO IS IT FOR? The family man who quietly resents the fact that life has placed him in a position where he needs a big SUV instead of a hot hatch. So he springs for one that's stylish enough that the neighbors won't lump him in with the two-box crossover masses . . . and one that's fun enough to drive that he can have some fun behind the wheel.

WHERE DID WE TEST IT? The highways and byways of rural New England.

THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE IS: Damn, this thing looks good. Like, better than plenty of SUVs that cost twice the price. It's so sleek, so fluid, you don't realize how large it actually is until you're right next to it. The smooth lines and curves are all clearly the product of Mazda's Kodo design language, which calls for silky shapes that are universally sporty and unquestionably Japanese but without sacrificing usability. It easily sets the CX-9 apart from the me-too fleet of Pathfinders, Pilots, and Highlanders that dominate the American marketplace.

THING THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO NOTICE, BUT YOU DO ANYWAY: The gas mileage isn't all that great. Working that turbo four with any verve means you'll see fuel economy figures below 25 mpg.

CAR IS GOOD AT: Hauling people, being stylish, making casual observers think more highly of Mazda.

CAR IS BAD AT: Fitting tall people in its third row. Save it for young 'uns and luggage.

ON A SCALE FROM 1 (VERY POOR) TO 5 (EXCELLENT):

PERFORMANCE: 4

COMFORT: 3

LUXURY: 3

HAULING PEOPLE: 4

HAULING STUFF: 4

CURB APPEAL: 5

“WOW” FACTOR: 3

VALUE: 4

OVERALL: 3.75

WOULD I BUY IT? If I needed to cart around a wife and three kids who all carry a ton of gear and I didn't have the money for a GLS63 AMG, absolutely.

DEEP THOUGHTS: The CX-9 looks as fancy as a real luxury vehicle on the outside; in Signature trim, the interior lives up to that. The reddish-brown leather, the fine-grained Rosewood trim—it looks every bit as nice as the guts you'd find inside a high-end Mercedes or Audi. The leather may not be quite as nice to the touch, but considering this Mazda costs less than $50K, hey, I ain't gonna complain.

Likewise, the multi-layer Machine Gray Metallic paint—which Mazda says is designed to make the rig "look as if it’s machined from a solid piece of steel"—is complex and fancy enough that Mazda mentions it prominently on the CX-9's website. Did you ever think you'd use the terms "fancy paint" and "Mazda" in the same thought?

In a handy touch, Mazda tuned the engine so that it can take regular or premium gas without affecting the torque output, a figure more important to the average SUV driver than maximum horsepower. But switching to regular knocks the the horsepower down to a mere 227 ponies—fewer than a top-tier Ford Escape Titanium. Considering the CX-9 is already on the underpowered side for a medium-to-large crossover, I'd stick with the premium. Then again, I might not if I had to worry about bills for babysitters and pediatricians.

As with most Mazdas these days, it's the chassis that shines. The turbocharged four needs some goosing to get up to speed, but once the CX-9 is rolling, it'll wind its way down fast country roads with the verve of a Miata . . . or at least a Mazda3. Plenty of big SUVs are fast these days, but not many are fun-to-drive in the elemental sense of this Mazda.

SPECS:

Price (as tested): $44,915 ($45,215)

Powertrain: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four, 250 horsepower, 310 lb.-ft. of torque; six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 21 miles per gallon city, 27 miles per gallon hwy

Cargo volume (rear seats up/third row folded/second and third rows folded): 14.4 cubic feet / 38.2 cu. ft. / 71.2 cu. ft.

Little-appreciated feature that deserves more praise: The dark trim on top of the dash that cuts down on glare