The average consumer may rattle off several car brands before naming Mazda. This Japanese car company quietly goes about its business. They aren’t brash in their marketing approach. But, over the last couple of years, Mazda has been nailing it with their product line. Most of their sedans are driver-focused, and the little Miata roadster is still so much fun to drive.

Yeah, but how are their SUVs? That’s what really matters in the SUV-obsessed U.S. market. Well, Mazda has had the CX-9 for nearly a decade now. But for the 2016 model year, the CX-9 is redesigned and reinvigorated. Much like several other Mazda vehicles, I’ve driven, my week with the CX-9 was impressive.

EXTERIOR

On looks, the CX-9 is significantly better. It has a low profile, which makes getting in and out easy. But this low profile also gives the CX-9 more of a crossover vibe than a hulking SUV design. The seven-passenger CX-9 has a long front end. It gives it a luxurious and sporty look.

20-inch alloy wheels jazz up the side profile, which is underwhelming. A bulbous back end has a spoiler at the top and gives this SUV a sharp, distinctive appearance from behind.

POWERTRAIN

Following the trend of turbocharging 4-cylinder engines, Mazda puts a brand new engine in the CX-9. There’s now a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 227 horsepower and 310 lb./ft. of torque. These output numbers seem underwhelming, on paper. But as is the case with almost all Mazdas, the driver-focused engineering kicks in and the CX-9 is reasonably spry, especially off the line. The turbo really helps salvage this otherwise boring engine.

However, the six-speed automatic transmission is disappointing, and affects higher revs. As a well-documented hater of CVT engines, Mazda actually makes good CVTs, and it might’ve been nice to see how that would’ve functioned with this engine.

All-wheel drive is standard for the new Signature trim, which is what I tested. For a big SUV, the CX-9 drives small. Thanks to its squatty stature, the CX-9, with all-wheel drive, has responsive handling.

INTERIOR

Inside, this seven-passenger really separates itself from the competition. While the Toyota Highlander may outsell the CX-9, the interior of the Mazda is significantly better than its competition. With the special Signature trim, the CX-9 is downright special. The soft materials found throughout feel great, but look even better with red leather upholstery and aluminum trim.

Second row is just as comfortable and nice and offers ample legroom and headroom. There’s even a seat adjustment that allows for a slight reclining position. The third row is small, like almost every other seven-passenger SUV on the road. Storage room behind the third row is 14.4 cubic feet. With all seats folded, the cargo room improves to a total of 71.2 cubic feet.

Mazda’s Connect infotainment system integrates well with smartphones and devices, but can be cumbersome to manage. Once you master some of the unnecessary steps needed to do basic tasks, it is not as bad. The overall sound quality is excellent and the 8-inch touchscreen is responsive. The overall center stack is well organized with a good combination of buttons and knobs and good use of technology.

PRICING/TRIM

There are four trim levels for the CX-9. Sport, Touring and Grand Touring are continued from the previous model year and Signature is added as a new, top-of-the-line trim. This trim is more of an aesthetic offering with luxurious offerings. The Signature trim exclusively has LED accent lighting, Nappa red leather seats and rosewood and aluminum trim.

All of this luxury does come at a premium as the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature has a price of $45,215. Other trims can be had for much less as the CX-9 has a starting price in the low to mid $30s.

FUEL ECONOMY

With AWD, the CX-9 has an EPA rating of 21 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway. For a smaller engine, it would’ve been nice to see those numbers slightly higher. In a week’s worth of off-the-highway driving, I averaged 23 mpg.

With the redesigned CX-9, Mazda shows that they’re not just making nice, fun, and attractive cars, but that they also are cranking out some of the best SUVs for the American consumer.

SPECS

2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

Price/As tested price…………………………. $45,215/$45,215

Mileage…………………………………… 21 mpg/city; 27 mpg/hwy

Engine……………………………………… 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder

Horsepower……………………………. 227 hp/310 lbs./ft.

Transmission…………………………… Six-speed

Drive Wheels………………………….. All-wheel drive

Final Assembly Point……………………. Hiroshima, Japan

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Jimmy Dinsmore

For several years Jimmy Dinsmore has reviewed new vehicles, offering up a unique look and an interesting voice in his weekly column. Jimmy looks at vehicles from the consumer’s point of view. Light on the technical jargon, and lacking the cynicism that pervades many other auto reviews, Driver’s Side treats each vehicle fairly, offering a light-hearted take. Email him at - jimmydinsmore@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @driversside.

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