Low-end turbo torque + front-drive = burnout bandit!
We often contend that the vast majority of drivers, even those in the far north who don’t contend with many hills, can get along just fine with front-wheel drive and possibly a set of winter tires. Why waste energy on the extra weight and friction of all-wheel-drive if you don’t absolutely need it? Well, we may have to rethink that contention for Mazda’s all new CX-9. Its equally new Skyactiv 2.5-liter direct-injected turbo four-cylinder makes so much more low-end torque than the V-6 in its predecessor (and those in most rival three-row CUVs for that matter), that it tugs impetuously at the steering wheel and quickly overwhelms the friction available at the front tires, taxing the traction control system considerably. Turn the latter off, and you can lay rubber like an over-boosted rice rocket with a fart can.
Okay, our second-tier “Touring” grade test car came shod in base 18-inch Yokohama Geolandar H/T tires that clearly paw the pavement with slightly duller claws than do the 20-inch Falken Ziex CT50s on a recent top-tier Signature AWD model tester. This largely explains the 7-foot stretch in 60-0-mph braking (130 versus 123 feet), and the slide in lateral grip (to 0.79 g from 0.82). This traction deficit also does most of the explaining where the acceleration results are concerned, because this front-driver just couldn’t match the hole-shot its AWD sibling managed, resulting in a 0.4-second gap in 0-30-mph (0-48.3 km/h) time (2.7 versus 2.4 seconds). It spent the rest of the quarter-mile leveraging its five-percent weight-to-power advantage to play catch-up, hitting 60 mph in 7.5 seconds to the Signature’s 7.4 and crossing the quarter-mile in 15.9 sec @ 87.3 mph (140.5 km/h) (0.2 second behind but 1.2 mph (1.9 km/h) ahead of the Signature). Throw braking, turning, and acceleration all together and the traction-challenged front-drive CX-9 gives up 0.9 second to its heftier AWD sibling in the Motor Trend figure-eight test (27.6 sec @ 0.62 g versus 26.7 sec @ 0.65 g).
Why were we thrashing it hard on a handling track—another thing three-row CUVers never do? Because this chassis fairly begs for a jolly good rogering. The steering was almost universally hailed as among the best in this class and possibly a few adjacent classes in terms of road feel and feedback (which does come at the slight expense of higher-than-average effort and a bit of kickback in bumpy corners). The body rolls a bit (like a Miata’s!), but takes a nice set with a more neutral attitude than most. It will let its tail run a bit wide, prompting some stability control intervention, but most of us prefer this approach to the grinding understeer norm.
One more caveat about the Skyactiv 2.5-liter. It enjoys near best-in-class EPA fuel economy ratings— 22/28/25 mpg (10.7/8.4/9.4 L/100km) for front-drive, 21/27/23 mpg (11.2/8.7/10.2 L/100km) for all-wheel drive (city/hwy/combined), but your chances of duplicating those numbers may be lower than average in the real world, if our Real MPG data is to believed (as we think it is). We somehow recorded 18.0/25.0/20.6 mpg (13.1/9.4/11.4 L/100km) for the front-drive CX-9, which inexplicably undercuts the heavier Signature AWD model’s 18.7/25.8/21.3 mpg (12.6/9.1/11 L/100km). This time there’s no blaming the tires. Perhaps more disturbing is the fact that there’s a larger, roomier, quicker, V-6-powered three-row CUV that out-performs both Mazdas in our Real MPG testing—the Honda Pilot (18.7/26.5/21.5) (12.6/8.9/10.9 L/100km).
Yes, but the Honda looks like a box and is trimmed like an entry family appliance, whereas the CX-9 looks and feels much more special inside and out, if a bit less so in the Touring grade than in the Signature duds. Once again Mazda has produced a vehicle that doesn’t aim to attract the Consumer Reports subscribing Toyhonda masses. Rather, the CX-9 targets the lunatic fringe for whom the driving is as important as the getting there.
|2016 Mazda CX-9 Touring (FWD)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$38,915|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.5L/227-hp/310-lb-ft turbo DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,112 lb (56/44%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||199.4 x 77.2 x 67.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.9 sec @ 87.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||130 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.6 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/28/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.80 lb/mile|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||18.0/25.0/20.6 mpg|