2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature

Mazda has always stressed that driving should be fun - no matter what type of vehicle you choose. The company's big family hauler, the CX-9, proves that's still true.

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I’ve always been impressed with the full-size Mazda CX-9 crossover, but the all-new version becomes best in class, even topping brands costing much more.

Available in four trims, this review CX-9 is the top-of-the-line Signature model with standard all-wheel-drive. All-wheel is an option on lesser trims.

It’s just a gorgeous machine fusing art with function. LED headlights are standard.

The Signature compares well with true luxury crossovers. Premium leather, real rosewood trim, and Bose 12-speaker sound with sub-woofer are included. Navigation still looks tacked on but works well. Driving aids like radar cruise, cross traffic alert, and blind spot warning are included.

Row two is roomy in all dimensions. Access to the standard row 3 is good, but only kids will be comfortable back there. Even with row 3 in use, there’s usable cargo space. An underfloor compartment helps. Folding row 3 is easy.

The CX-9’s 2.5-liter turbo four with 227 horsepower on regular gas has good low RPM punch. That means good acceleration when you need it. Cruising is much quieter than the old CX-9. Handling makes it feel like you’re driving a much smaller vehicle.

So for the 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature all-wheel-drive, I say thumbs up to the comfort, styling, and handling; thumbs down to the tight row 3 seats.

I averaged about 25 miles-per-gallon. The as-tested sticker is $45,215.

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