If there’s a modern-day descendant of the sleeper-iffic turbocharged Dodge Caravan, perhaps it is the new 2016 Mazda CX-9. There’s three rows for people, all of whom you can terrify with the fun pedal. Maybe it, too, will someday be tuned into lunacy. Only you may want to live in Siberia if you get one.
(Full disclosure: Mazda wanted us to drive the new CX-9 so much that they dropped one off at my house with a full tank of gas.)
While offspring-averse folks like myself may not think twice about a seven-seat people-mover, this is a particularly important car for Mazda.
Until this year, the CX-9 has been on a shared platform with the Ford Edge and Ford Fusion. For this year, the CX-9 shed a few pounds in a complete redesign on a Mazda-only platform, and a new, more powerful turbocharged engine.
The redesign is handsome, and the car handles as well as a Mazda should, but the CX-9's real killer app lies under the hood. Mazda blessed that new inline-four 2.5-liter Skyactiv-G turbo engine with enough low grunt to satisfy even the biggest turbo haters in the city, while still having a nice, gradual turbo whoosh at higher revs for when you really need to show an on-ramp who’s boss. The motor puts out a silly 310 ft-lbs of torque and 227 horsepower.
Ours came in the many-bell-and-whistle’d Grand Touring trim with an MSRP of $43,170, however, you can pick up an AWD CX-9 with fewer options starting at $33,320. Not bad at all.
Like it or not, Americans these days are all about the crossover. Mazda’s new range of crossovers ultimately will determine whether the one company that not only makes fun a priority but is also accessible to the masses will be able to hold their own here.
Want to keep getting Miatas, enthusiast-oriented Mazdaspeed cars or perhaps a new rotary-powered coupe? Or better yet, you hope that Mazda sees the light and figures out a way to shoehorn the CX-9's engine into a Miata? You better hope Mazda’s more pedestrian, mass-market offerings sell well, then.
Fortunately, the CX-9 doesn’t just tick off a box for parents who’ve outgrown their Mazdaspeed3 anymore. It’s genuinely a joy to drive.
I Couldn’t Quit Driving This Thing
I’ve never had a vehicle this large that I didn’t want to quit driving.
Usually, size precludes fun in a way where I use the behemoth-mobile for its intended purpose—towing, hauling things, or what have you—and groan a bit when I feel compelled to use it for the rest of the week I’m testing it. With the CX-9, I found myself making excuses to go on twistier roads and longer drives. It’s that good.
Full throttle in the CX-9 is the kind of turbo-crazy kick in the face that far too many crossovers are content to neuter in the name of catering to The Normals. Your mom may not want to peel out at stoplights with a big stupid grin on her face, but you do.
This is a car built for dropping the kids off at the pool, but it absolutely doesn’t drive like one.
Get in to drive, try not to whack your head on the A-pillar if you’re short, and it just doesn’t feel like Mazda’s biggest offering. It feels like we expect a Mazda to these days— a fun practical car in a sea of deeply boring ones.
The CX-9 is a stupidly competent driver that you can toss into twisties like a lunatic. It passes the tight 32nd Street exit “moose test” without lifting from freeway speeds. Throw it around with reckless abandon. It just figures it out.
Some of that is thanks to Mazda’s trick all-wheel-drive system, which is an up-sized version of the system I drove on Mazda’s smaller crossovers in January. It’s front-wheel-drive-based, but a clever electromagnetic center differential sends power to the rear wheels almost instantaneously if it senses the front wheels start to spin.