Over the 25 plus years that I been lucky to have a weekly press test vehicle to evaluate there are certain brands that have special place in my heart. The Mazda brand has taken one of those spots as not only does the brand have a great lineup of vehicles all with sporting edge, but the folks at top of corporate ladder are true car people.

I have had the pleasure of interviewing folks like Mazda president Jim O”Sullivan dozens of times or VP Robert Davis also dozens of times. These are true car guys that live, sleep and eat Mazda.

I got extra drive time in the CX-9 Signature as the week I had the vehicle was the week Hurricane Mathew was moving into FL With horrible forecasts predicting that this would be the ” Hurricane Andrew” for central Florida my wife and 6-year-old daughter fled to Pensacola FL to escape the storm and visit with fellow syndicated automotive radio host Bobby Likis.

Our escape vehicle was the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD that comes standard with just about everything you need and more. Heated mirrors, a power liftgate with adjustable height stops, keyless ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal garage door opener, blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alerts, and heated front seats are all standard. We were also were with treated with Nappa leather upholstery and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar support (front passenger’s seat is four-way power). There is an 8-inch infotainment display and two USB ports in the second-row center armrest.

The CX-9 Signature trim also includes 20-inch wheels, adaptive headlights, LED foglights, automatic wipers, roof rails, a sunroof, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, rear parking sensors, frontal collision mitigation warnings, a heads-up display, driver seat memory functions, retractable sunshades for the middle row seats, aluminum interior trim, additional interior lighting, a navigation system, a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system, and satellite radio. If that’s not enough, LED accent lighting and rosewood interior trim finish out the range-topping Signature CX-9.

Stepping inside the CX-9 Signature reveals a cabin that is befitting of an entry-level luxury model. . The second-row seats are comfortable and offer lots of legroom for taller passengers. Passengers appreciated the pull down shades and the climate control vents for extra comfort.

The third row can seat two, but adults will feel tight, especially on longer trips. It’s well suited for the younger kids in the family, however. There’s 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. With the rear seats folded, capacity expands to 38.2 cubic feet. With both seats stowed, it opens up to 71.2 cubic feet.

The 2016 Mazda CX-9 puts the “zoom” into practical vehicles . If you want a mainstream 3-row SUV that is an adept family vehicle for school drop-offs and a rewarding personal vehicle for a spirited trip to the office or couples weekend getaway, this is it.
Like most Mazda vehicles, the CX-9 has long been the most athletic, fun-to-drive SUV in its class. That remains the case with the all-new version. The biggest difference is how Mazda’s 3-row SUV gets its motivation. Where the former version used a strong V6, this new model is powered by a small,hearty turbocharged 4-cylinder. Horsepower is down some, but torque is up translating into great off-the-line acceleration. Moreover, it’s more fuel efficient. The all-new Mazda CX-9 feels lighter, nimbler and even more athletic than its predecessor, while also boasting a quieter ride.

Thankfully, the new CX-9’s dynamic ways don’t come at the cost of a stiff suspension. T. Credit should also be given to the CX-9’s automatic transmission, a 6-speed that’s well-matched to this engine. Like other Mazda’s, this one has a Sport mode that optimizes the engine and transmission for zippier performance.

The front seats are roomy, and the area feels commanding thanks to a wide console. Nestled in that console is a rotary dial and auxiliary buttons controlling the CX-9’s standard dash-mounted infotainment display. I addition to receiving the SkyActiv treatment like the rest of Mazda’s lineup, the CX-9 now also gets Mazda’s “Soul of Motion” design philosophy emphasizing sweeping forms, organic shapes, and the idea of movement even at rest. The new CX-9 is striking from an exterior deign perspective.

That big grille up front adds to the premium cred, yet doesn’t seem overboard. The tapering roof and forward stance make this SUV appear smaller than it is, and even its rear is pretty thanks to a horizontal treatment of the taillights and rear lip beneath the window. A pair of integrated exhaust outlets further emphasize this SUV’s sporty nature.

The engine is impressive using a new SkyActiv 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder that replaces the former 3.7-liter V6. This new engine has fewer horsepower than the outgoing one, but greater torque. Horsepower, you’ll see two figures: 250 HP running on premium 93 octane. Most drivers will opt for regular unleaded, on which the engine makes 227 horsepower. Torque is the big story here the little powerplant churning out an amazing 310 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy is rated at 21 city and 27 for my AWD test vehicle. Price for the top line model comes in at $44,915

The CX-9 was easy to drive, I especially liked the heads-up display that you can see even with your sun glasses on, unlike some more expensive European models. The infotainment system was very intuitive with its rotary dial on the console.

The all-new 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature is a greatfamily transporter with a luxury feel and a little Mazda Zoom Zoom for the driver as well.

The Long Drive Rankings

Front Engine-AWD

Highlights

Styling

Comfort

Engine

On Road performance

Nappa Leather

Bose Sound System

Lowlights

Heated but not cooled seats

No CD player for CD fans

Scale 1 low-10 High

Exterior Styling 8

Interior styling and quality 8

Handling 8

Braking 7

Fuel Economy 9

Audio System 9

Performance 6

Trunk-Cargo Capacity 10

Navigation 9

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