“I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”
“I feel that life is measured in achievement, not in years alone.”
I was framing up a postcard shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then somebody parked a new Mazda CX-9 right in my shot. Jerks.
I was framing up a postcard shot of the Golden Gate Bridge, and then somebody parked a new Mazda CX-9 right in my shot. Jerks.

I’ve heard it time and time again, “X-Crossover isn’t vehicular punishment”. It’s a statement that is as profoundly annoying as it is painfully stupid. The whole concept of a crossover is to pair the drivability of a car with the functionality of an SUV, and if that’s akin to vehicular punishment, then based of crossover sales, a disproportionate number of Americans are into motorized sado masochism. Frankly this wouldn’t surprise me in the least, how else do you explain people who willingly buy a SAAB?

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For those that don’t enjoy the thrill of not knowing for sure if your car will make it home on any given day, or remain comfortable in any environment, may I humbly suggest you consider a 2016 Mazda CX-9 for your garage.

(Full Disclosure: Mazda wanted me to drive the new CX-9 so badly that they flew me from LA to SF on a jet...a jet was owned by Delta that had a bunch of other people on it. They put a roof over my head for two nights and offered sustenance in the form of donuts, fried oysters and whiskey. Mazda is A-ok in my book. )

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If the naysayers are to be believed, driving a crossover, particularly a 3-row crossover, means you’ve somehow settled instead of living your best life. You could be driving a pre-owned Cayman S on your road trips, all you have to do is pack light and leave your kids at home. Better yet, put your kids up for adoption, or go back in time and don’t have them at all. Anything to avoid the severe failure that is driving a 3-row crossover right?

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I understand that that by in large, the offerings in this segment aren’t the prettiest vehicles, and they’re not currently, nor will they ever be special, no matter how many option boxes are ticked in order to add sportiness. Convincing the public otherwise would be the greatest trick the automotive industry has ever pulled if it wasn’t for the whole luxury truck thing.

However, not every company is looking to pull one over on consumers. There are still a few manufacturers that genuinely care about building quality vehicles that are accessible to everyone, and from the moment you get into a 2016 CX-9, it’s obvious that Mazda is one of those brands.

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Again, there I was minding my own business, getting a shot of a interesting building, and some maroon parks another CX-9 right in front of me!
Again, there I was minding my own business, getting a shot of a interesting building, and some maroon parks another CX-9 right in front of me!

As an unmarried 30 year old automotive enthusaist with no dogs, or children, I’m hardly the type of person that needs a CX-9. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to get by with a two door sports car as my daily driver, though I’m not foolish enough to think that this lifestyle will last.

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I know a day will come when I need a more functional vehicle, and when it does I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t at least consider a CX-9. Would I love to be the cool dad who drives an E63 AMG Estate or CTS-V Wagon? Absofrigginloutely, but I know myself, and there’s no way I’d be 100% responsible, 100% of the time, and when you have kids in the car, that’s a requirement.

So, what’s an automotive enthusaist who wants to be a good parent, and still retain some street cred to do? Turn to a manufacturer that has consistently put driving dynamics ahead of raw power for years.

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Ok, this time I was trying to take a picture of the CX-9 and then this doggo wandered into the shot.
Ok, this time I was trying to take a picture of the CX-9 and then this doggo wandered into the shot.

There is a-lot to like about the new CX-9, more than I could have possibly anticipated. The main reason I was interested in being part of this press launch was because I wanted to see what the deal was with Mazda’s new 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G turbocharged engine. I’m one of those poor saps who still holds out hope that Mazda will bring the Mazdaspeed 3 back to life, not because I desperately want to own one, but because I want the WRX/STI to have some competition so Subaru will actually try instead of phoning it in like they’ve been doing for, well, far too long.

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In this application, the boosted 4-cylinder power plant makes 250-horsepower at 5000 rpm(with 93 octane, 227-horsepower on 87), and 310 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. All that twist down low, paired with a 198-lb weight reduction from the outgoing model, makes the new CX-9 a rather capable corner carver, as I found out firsthand on coastal roads north of San Francisco.

Will the average driver be frequently flirting with the limits of the vehicle? Unlikely, especially if they’re using it for the intended purposes of hauling people and cargo. However, on the off chance that you want to get home in a hurry after dropping the kids of at school, because you have to “drop the kids off at the pool”, the CX-9 is up to the task.

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If Mazda were to stick a variation of this engine in the rest of their products there would be no doubt as to what the best option in each segment they compete in would be. The CX-5, 3, and 6 are excellent vehicles as it stands, but with a torquey, fuel efficient, turbocharged mill under the hood, I know they’d be outstanding.

Illustration for article titled Not A Parent Trap: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature
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Though I was thoroughly impressed by the athleticism of the CX-9, it was the refinement of the interior that really stood out the most. Granted, I spent all of my time in a fully loaded vehicle, but the interior architecture is the same no matter the trim, and it’s excellent.

Everywhere you expect to find a plug for your wicked smaht devices, there’s a plug, two in the second row armrest on GT, Touring, and Signature models in fact. Third row occupants will have to reach back to use the 12V outlet in the rear cargo area, or beg for a cord to be passed through from the second row, but who cares about them anyway? They’re sitting in the third row, that’s basically steerage.

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Back up in first class, there’s nice stuff to touch everywhere, including real rosewood supplied by Japanese guitar maker Fujigen, aluminum trim, and Auburn colored Nappa leather. Soft white LED accent lighting around the center console is a nice touch to a piece that really ties the space together. If there is one thing I can point to that makes the CX-9 interior feel like that of a way more expensive vehicle, it would be the center console.

Because I’m mildly OCD I kept running my hand along this double stitching.
Because I’m mildly OCD I kept running my hand along this double stitching.
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By now I’m sure you’re wondering about the infotainment and safety systems in the CX-9, and you should be, after all, this is a family oriented vehicle. The Signature model I drove came with i-ACTIVSENSE, which provides a radar based adaptive cruise control system, blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, and lane departure warning. The ACC is available between 19-90 mph and was one of the best systems I’ve encountered thanks to how smoothly it operates. It’s quiet and not jarring when braking, unlike some systems I’ve come across in pricier vehicles.

As for the Mazda Connect infotainment system, it just works, and that’s all you can really ask for right? Connecting my phone via Bluetooth took no time at all, menus are easy to scroll through via the rotary knob on the center console, or if you like to mark your territory with fingerprints you can go the touchscreen route when parked. When I felt like using it, the navigation didn’t get me lost, switching between functions happens quickly, and overall the system comes across as well thought out.

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The most important function the monolith serves is acting as the access point to the part of the CX-9 that really won me over, the 12-speaker BOSE audio system.

It’s 3:36 PM, do you know where this CX-9 is?
It’s 3:36 PM, do you know where this CX-9 is?
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While many automakers are content to simply toss a loud and “bassy” system in their vehicles, Mazda chose to go with a setup from BOSE that offers impressive range and clarity. The bespoke 12 speaker system is starts with a mid/high range speaker in the center of the dash, flanked by two more at each corner, and tweeters at each corner of the instrument panel. These 3.25" and 1" units are the most important pieces of the system, as they’re what gives it the kind of clarity found in vehicles with ultra high end audio systems.

The mounting positions of these front units was given extra consideration by BOSE audio engineers in order to bring the listening experience closer to that of a live show on a stage. I know, that sounds audacious, but I put it to the test with a playlist I made (embedded below), and found that it actually lived up to the considerable amount of hype.

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I listened to songs over Bluetooth and through USB, as both low quality streaming files, and extreme quality downloaded files, and to my surprise, there wasn’t much of a difference. Usually I can tell right away if a song is streaming vs being a saved file, but I struggled to find a discernible difference between most of the tracks I listened to.

Illustration for article titled Not A Parent Trap: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature
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Credit is due as much to how the system processes audio as it is to the speakers themselves, perhaps more considering that this system does more with 12 speakers than others do with 18 or more. Centerpoint 2.0 takes a stereo signal and converts it to multiple channels, which makes for a broader listening experience by helping to separate instruments, and allow you to hear them as if they were arranged out in front of you on a stage. That’s great news for drivers and front seat occupants, but what about second and third row passengers?

In order to make sure those riding in the back don’t feel left out, Mazda employed the use of Surroundstage signal processing to bring balanced audio to every seat in the car. I reclined the second row seat and took in Jonathan Wilson’s Desert Raven and then Jeremiah’s Planez, both were as enjoyable as they were when I was seated up front.

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While my listening experience in the rear zone took place while stationary, I doubt there would be any drop off in quality while in motion since Mazda also employed the use of Audiopilot 2 Noise Compensation Technology. This system monitors audio conditions by way of a microphone mounted in the cabin, and adjusts levels as needed in order to maintain a consistent listening experience. The way you know a system like this is working is if you don’t notice it, and I found listening to My Morning Jacket’s One Big Holiday to be every bit as clear at elevated highway speeds as it was when parked at a lookout point above the Golden Gate bridge.

The system comes standard on Grand Touring and Signature models, and is available on the Touring model as part of a $1,745 Touring Premium Package, which includes a bunch of other goodies, but would be worth every penny even if it didn’t. Bottom line, this is a lust worthy audio system, one that should embarrass the hell out of many found in the premium luxury segment.

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I see shades of Macan/Cayenne in the rear styling of the CX-9. What do you see?
I see shades of Macan/Cayenne in the rear styling of the CX-9. What do you see?

Starting at $31,520 for a front wheel drive Sport, and ranging up to $44,015 for an Signature, the CX-9 has quite a spread between the base and top of the line model. I can’t give you a verdict on the Sport because I didn’t drive it, nor can I tell you about the $35,970 Touring or $40,170 Grand Touring. Since all models retain the same basic elements such as a solid chassis, a potent, fuel efficient engine, and the Mazda ethos of “less is more”, I’m comfortable saying that the CX-9 is good at any level.

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It’s not without it’s faults, though most of my complaints are related to exterior styling choices that most shoppers in the segment are unlikely to pick up on. Young parents aren’t going to lament the placement of a large strip of chrome across the tailgate or think about how much better the stance would be with all the wheels moved out by 15mm spacers.

No, what they care about is what you should care about if you’re the type of person who needs a crossover, safety, convenience, and value. The 2016 CX-9 hits all three points, and it does so with more accuracy than any other Mazda that I can think of. I’m sure some people will scoff at the very idea of shelling out $45k for a Mazda, but those people are quite happy with their heads firmly planted in the sand.

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For those that are willing to give things a chance, I think the new CX-9 Signature will be a pleasant surprise. It’s a much needed option in a segment full of vehicles that over-promise and under-deliver, not to mention ones that are overpriced. There’s nothing cooler than being the parent who drives a nice car, and has enough money left over to take your kids, and their friends to the movies, ballgame, or whatever other wholesome activities parents are asked to shell out for.

Well, maybe being the parent with a nice car as well as a really nice car is cooler, but we’re not all Rockerfellers. Some of us just have to make due with one nice car, and often times one crappy car. Do yourself a favor, be pragmatic when it comes to picking the nice car and don’t succumb to badge envy.

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Wheel wells real big, badge real big, grille real big, everything real big.
Wheel wells real big, badge real big, grille real big, everything real big.

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