Text and photos by Donny Halliwell
On a trip that threw almost any situation an SUV might encounter in its lifetime, over the course of 5000 km in 10 days, the CX-9 handled them all without breaking a sweat.
Spring break is almost upon us, and with that comes melting snow and a flock of families preparing to hit the streets on weeklong road trips. Some will seek out the last bit of snow on the slopes and others will be seeking that warm southern sunshine. In this review, I get adventurous and seek out both. Read on to get my take on the outgoing 2015 Mazda CX-9.
For those of you paying attention, you’ll know that auto show season is also well under way around the World and all eyes are on the latest models, concepts, and exotic vehicles like the stunning Aston Martin DB11. While it’s nice to dream, most of us in Canada are just looking for a reliable ride, which suits our needs and most importantly, hits the budget. Mazda will likely be showing off a full line up of vehicles that do just that on the auto show circuit, including the highly anticipated all-new 2016 CX-9. It will be a few more months before it hits showroom floors, but I was able to snag a ride in the current outgoing model, a highly capable, full-size SUV with third-row, to get a sense for what a Mazda CX-9 is all about.
In order to get a full sense, I escaped the cold grips of winter and ventured from Toronto to Naples, Florida on a 10-day, 5,000km road trip with four adults in tow. Read on to see how the 2015 Mazda CX-9 fared on this (hopefully) annual trip that I will now officially dub “SUV Boot Camp”.
Putting the ‘SU’ in SUV
There are a few considerations on a road trip that includes not one, but two 24-hour non-stop legs: Comfort, storage, fuel economy, entertainment, handling and performance. When shopping around for a vehicle capable of handling these, along with the changing conditions from blizzard to beach, there are very few that actually tick all the boxes. I’m happy to report that the Mazda CX-9 gets full marks across the board on virtually all criteria. This vehicle provides the sport, the utility and the “Shut up and drive” factor desperately needed when confined to a vehicle with four adults for a long period of time.
Whether we were all awake and jamming out to the Bose speaker system, or one of us was white-knuckling it through the mountains while the others slept soundly, one thing we unanimously agreed upon was that we genuinely loved this vehicle.
Blends in Anywhere
The CX-9 looks the part whether you’re schlepping your family to various activities, or volunteering to drive seven people for a night on the town. It’s got, dare I say, minivan functionality, but with style that feels right at home tossing the keys to a valet.
Having recently undergone a facelift, the front end matches the design language from others in the Mazda lineup including the Mazda 6. It looks modern and elegant, which is to say it looks nice, without being too bold. It’s difficult to disguise the proportions of a vehicle this large, but Mazda has done well to make it appear sleek, if not a little slim. Around back, things are a bit dated, but when a model is nearing the end of its cycle, these things happen. Queue my comment about the remote-operated, power lift gate as a welcomed distraction and all is forgotten. I don’t think I ever tired from watching it go up and down with the press of a button.
What’s on the Inside Counts
As one would expect in a full-size SUV the interior was spacious and, with the third row stowed, storage was ample. The leather-adorned seats were supportive and fully adjustable to suit any passenger. The rear bench both tilts and slides, features that are handy when trying to catch some much-needed zzz’s between driving shifts. The cabin was also surprisingly quite and well insulated from road noise, again, an important detail when locked up inside one for 24 straight hours.
Entertainment options were plenty, and simple to use, whether we were streaming playlists via Bluetooth, had an iPod plugged in, or just wanted to listen to some deep cuts on CD.
I must give full marks to the navigation system as well. We opted to throw caution to the wind and venture out on a 5,000km round trip journey without a paper map. The system managed to get us there, monitor traffic for delays, all while politely accepting voice commands. If only it could manage snacks and coffee it would be the ultimate co-pilot.
All Good Under the Hood
One of my favorite terms in automotive writing is “passing power” which essentially describes how a vehicle will acts when you mash the gas pedal at high way speeds. For most vehicles, you get a relatively muted response, with gradual unimpressive acceleration. For some vehicles in this class, you get virtually no response. The CX-9 equipped with AWD and a surprisingly powerful 3.7L V6 engine, however, has passing power in spades. It could, at a moments notice, pass anything in its path. Whether we were cruising through the flat Florida everglades, or the scenic mountains of the Virginias, this thing could pull. I recall passing a convoy of lifted pickup trucks up a steep mountain incline, and feeling like I owned the world. I might not go as far as ‘hair raising’, but for an SUV in this class, the 273hp was certainly satisfying.
As is often the case in vehicles this size, the ride was smooth and well-dampened. The suspension ate up bumps for breakfast and swallowed potholes for dinner all without disturbing us inside. Parking and otherwise maneuvering the Mazda CX-9 was a breeze with both a rear-view camera and sonar system in place to avoid dents, dings and scratches.
It is as at home around town as it is on the highway, and fuel economy was on the lighter side of average despite all that uphill pedal mashing I was doing. We were pleasantly surprised at how few times we had to stop, and how reasonable it was to fill up . . . especially through some parts of South Carolina where we paid sub- $0.50/L prices for fuel. All things considered, the Mazda CX-9 is easy on the wallet, providing plenty of value both at purchase, and at the pumps.
Wrap Up and Final Thoughts
On a trip that threw almost any situation an SUV might encounter in its lifetime, over the course of 5000 km in 10 days, the CX-9 handled them all without breaking a sweat. In the inaugural SUV Boot Camp the Mazda CX-9 was forced to overcome snow-covered mountain roads, carrying four sleep-deprived adults and their luggage, while managing to look good while strutting down palm-lined beach roads. Any vehicle that survives this with such ease is worthy of consideration and definitely earns a “would buy” rating in my books. With an experience as enjoyable as this in an established model, I’m very much eager to get behind the wheel of the next generation CX-9 to see if Mazda can once again step up its game.