Automotive enthusiasts tend to obsess over spec sheets. How else could we know which cars and trucks are the quickest in a straight line, hold the road with the greatest tenacity, or tow the biggest trailers? More succinctly, what ammunition would we have in the seemingly endless back-and-forth of Internet forums if it weren't for specifications? Mazda's engineers think they've found a better way. The 2016 CX-9 has less horsepower than its primary competitors. The only engine available is a turbocharged four-cylinder, hooked to a six-speed automatic. Drivers won't miss the 23 horsepower (or more, as we'll soon explain) lost in the changeover from 2015 to 2016, because Mazda applied its holistic Skyactiv approach to the largest vehicle it offers. That means less weight and, ultimately, more fun. Or so they say. Are they right? Yes. And no. Most of the time, in normal on-road driving conditions, the 2016 CX-9 is the most fun you can have with three rows. But the real-world tradeoff didn't go off completely without a hitch. Reasoning that real-world performance is more important than ultimate horsepower, Mazda specified a four-cylinder for its big, three-row SUV instead of a more traditional V6. Let's get those all-important specifications out of the way: All 2016 Mazda CX-9s are fitted with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 250 horsepower and, impressively, 310 pound-feet of torque at just 2,000 rpm. Unless you decide to use 87 octane, in which case you'll be limited to 227 horsepower. Mazda doesn't think owners will actually notice the difference in power levels, so there's no Premium Fuel Recommended sticker on the back of the fuel door. Mazda utilized some clever turbo trickery to deliver a diesel-like torque curve from its gasoline-fueled engine, which makes the small-displacement powerplant feel lively at low engine speeds. The flipside is that the CX-9 runs out of breath as the needle swings across the upper reaches of the tach. While that simply wouldn't do for a sportscar like the MX-5, in the CX-9 it's not necessarily a deal breaker. One benefit to the downsized engine is that it doesn't guzzle fuel. The EPA rates the CX-9 at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway. Drop one mpg all around for the all-wheel-drive model. Those figures beat out all the CX-9's most natural competitors, including the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The turbo-four Ford Explorer matches the 28-mpg highway figure, but loses by three in the city. We couldn't accurately gauge fuel mileage during our short stint behind the wheel, but Mazda promises class-leading efficiency for actual owners on actual roads. It's all part of vehicle development engineer Dave Coleman's stated goal of "ignoring competitive specs and focusing on the real world." Based on the inherent goodness of Mazda's previous Skyactiv efforts, we have a feeling that's more than just marketing bluster. We can say for certain that the CX-9 beats its rivals when it comes to ride and handling. Mazda's three-row crossover rides seriously smooth, …
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|MPG||22 City / 28 Hwy|
|Transmission||6-spd auto w/OD|
|Power||227 @ 5000 rpm|
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