by: Mike Ginsca,
Now in its second generation, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 takes a bold departure from being a mainstream SUV to knocking on the door of the luxury SUVs. New design, new chassis, new engine, and new features are what Mazda hope to set the CX-9 apart from the other mainstream manufacturers.
Engine – Starting with that new engine, it is no longer a V6. No, it’s not a V8 either. The CX-9 now only comes with a turbocharged 4 cylinder engine. Crazy, right? Considering that the Mazda CX-9 weighs in at nearly 2,000 kg, it would seem counter-intuitive to put a small 2.5L to move all that weight. But Mazda’s engineers managed to make it work. The engine outputs a maximum of 310 lb-ft of torque that is available at low rpms and is sustained throughout the rev range. It’s that ability for the engine to produce a lot of torque at low speeds that make the CX-9 feel lighter than it actually is and provide quick off the line acceleration.
There’s no hesitation when you apply the throttle thanks to a new type of turbocharger that Mazda calls a “Dynamic Pressure Turbo”. I’m not going to go into too much detail on how this new turbocharger works but it essentially combines a twin-scroll turbo and a variable geometry turbo into one. Car and Driver wrote a great article on how this turbo works in the link here. Power of the new engine depends on what type of fuel you use. Mazda recommends regular octane gas in which case the engine develops 227hp but if premium fuel is not as expensive as it is here in Vancouver, you’ll be getting 250hp to play with.
Transmission – With the Mazda CX-9 the only choice you have is a traditional 6-speed automatic. It seems a little strange that Mazda has not moved on to 8 or 9 or 10 speed transmissions like many of the competitors in an attempt to further improve fuel efficiency but the 6-speed in this this CX-9 shifts smoothly and quickly. At times you’d even be forgiven to think that it was a dual-clutch transmission as it is that good.
Handling – But this being a Mazda, you can also have some fun driving it around corners. Mazda has built a reputation of having a sporty model range and the CX-9 is no exception. For an SUV it can gracefully transfer from corner to corner on a twisty bit of road. It doesn’t have adjustable suspension like other SUVs but it has been dialed in to provide a good balance of a comfortable ride with minimal body roll. The steering feel is also commendable due to its good weight feel and responsiveness. During highway driving, the steering provides good straight line stability and does not require much input to keep the CX-9 in the middle of the lane. New for this year is standard G-Vectoring control. It’s a system that temporarily limits the engine’s torque output when entering a corner to shift the body weight to the front wheels for better traction. Then throughout the rest of the corner, the computer recovers engine drive torque to shift the weight to the back wheels thereby improving stability.
Ride Comfort – As mentioned earlier, the suspension is both sporty and supple. Everyday bumps and cracks on city streets are easily absorbed by the suspension giving the CX-9 and all its occupants a smooth ride. The front seats are also very comfortable for everyday use but they don’t provide quite as much side bolstering for when you’re wanting for some fun but then again, this isn’t a Porsche Cayenne.
Interior Design – The interior of the Mazda CX-9 is not only better than most other mainstream manufacturers but it’s on par with luxury brands as well. Soft leather along with aluminum and black piano trim line the cabin from top to bottom. From the pictures it does look like there’s too many different materials but they all work together giving a feeling of luxury. For some however, he cabin may feel a bit claustrophobic due to the black headliner that doesn’t give the feeling of openness. It’s also difficult to see out of the cabin due to the thick A pillars and the headrests in the third row (if they’re upright).
Odds and Ends
Gadgets – On this GT trim, there is an abundance of electronic gadgets and gizmos to play around with. Starting with the infotainment system, it is primarily controlled form the knob at the base of the center console but it also doubles as a touchscreen when the vehicle is in Park. For the most part using the knob with the quick buttons is fairly intuitive but entering an address in the navigation system is better done with the touchscreen. Navigating through the different menus is a breeze as is connecting your smartphone via Bluetooth but unfortunately Apple carPlay and AndroidAuto are not available.
Safety systems are standard on this GT trim but are optional on lower trims. For the most part Lane departure and keep assist work well but there are some instances when the system can’t detect the lines on the road and it will give a warning on the heads up display. Blind spot monitor and radar guided cruise control however work beautifully with no false alerts noticed during the one week of driving the CX-9.
Exterior Design – It is very easy to tell apart a Mazda from other manufacturers. The new-ish Kodo styling language that is evident across the Mazda range, still looks fresh to this day. The new CX-9 has a very prominent grille with a massive Mazda badge in the center (which doubles as the radar for the radar guided cruise control) and a funky LED outline in the lower half of the grille. The rear is reminiscent of the new MX-5 with the single round taillamps and curved trunk hatch. I bet if the badges were removed and asked people what type of make it was, most would say Acura or Infiniti or even BMW or Mercedes. It is a handsome SUV.
Overall though the 2018 Mazda CX-9 may not have a BMW or Mercedes or Infiniti badge but it might as well have one because it feels like it is more of a luxury vehicle rather than a mainstream vehicle.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Mazda.ca
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.