2018 Mazda CX-9 Driving Impressions

For all it’s sporty slant, we’re not as entertained on the road as we should be. That’s unlike the CX-5, which we declared to be the most fun compact crossover we’ve ever driven. What was especially no fun was the Lane Keep Assist constantly telling us we were about to run off the curving two-lane road when we promise you, we were not.

The turbocharged 2.5-liter engine responds smoothly and quickly to make the most of its 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, but the engine needs high-test gas to get that power. It runs fine on regular, but only makes 227 horsepower. Mazda says the difference only occurs above 4500 rpm, so it’s not something you’ll notice around town or even cruising on the freeway, just when you’re very hard on the throttle. There, it growls and strains a bit when it’s carrying five people. Some competitors with V6 engines are more powerful.

When it’s carrying just one, it feels super smooth and fast, accelerating onto the freeway.

The turbocharger was designed by Mazda, to respond without the lag that inherently comes with turbos, and the engineers succeeded in their goal. When you floor it from idle it lags for a second, but you don’t drive like that.

The CX-9 uses a simple suspension, struts in front and multilink in rear, to deliver a well-controlled ride with the standard 18-inch wheels. The brakes inspire confidence.

The steering is on the heavy side, with a medium amount of feel, making it a pleasure to drive on twisty roads. But the optional 20-inch alloy wheels deliver a firm ride that turns twitchy on rough roads. That’s because the sidewalls of the tires aren’t as wide as the standard 18-inchers, so there’s less absorption of the bumps. They run the dampers out of range.

With only six gears in the automatic transmission, against rivals that have as many as 10, the CX-9 looks behind them, but not necessarily. The 6-speed automatic easily keeps the engine in its powerband, and shifts smoother than some with more speeds, whose programming is more complicated, with more choices to get wrong.

Mazda’s G-vectoring is not the same as other cars’ torque vectoring. Torque vectoring uses the brakes on one side of a car to give a greater sense of grip or mitigate the effects of understeer. One consequence of that is the driver loses a sense of steering feel. G-Vectoring, on the other hand, cuts ignition spark to put a minimal amount of extra weight on the front tires, effectively creating a wider contact patch, stiffening the tire sidewall and creating more stable steering feel, both in straight lines and corners.

There is a transmission sport mode that raises the shift points, but there are no driving modes to change the throttle and steering response.

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