The police officer circled back to us saying, “I gotta stop you, man.”
My kids stopped putting their baseball gloves in the liftgate, where we were having ice-cold sodas from the cooler.
I thought maybe he was stopping to tell us the road was blocked by our doors, which were open to air out a 100-degree day of summer sun on black leather interior.
“Is that the new Mazda CX-9?” He asked, standing up his motorcycle and extending his hand.
Indeed it was.
For people like our officer friend, whose wife owns the discontinued CX-7, the distinct Kodo, or “soul of motion,” design philosophy of Mazda stands out from cookie-cutter crossovers and middling midsize sedans.
Mazda’s “muscular beauty” is defined by a wide wheelbase and stance typically called athletic, complemented by a long-but-low nose with the front windshield set back as in sports coupes.
No longer sharing platforms with Ford’s midsize crossover, the CX-9 looks better than the competition and its predecessor. Yet in profile the grille on that long nose hangs like an overbite of Mater proportions, even though it’s two inches shorter than the outgoing model.
Mazda calls the completely redesigned second-generation vehicle its flagship, and it is setting sail for people who like nice-looking, well-performing machines without getting gouged in price.
The black leather seats and soft dash materials infuse the cabin with comfort and style. The chrome band on the dash winds through the console controls, steering wheel and doors, offering a sleek and subtle contrast of sporty elegance.
It’s larger than compact crossovers jammed up with a third-row safety seat, but not as roomy as the Honda Pilot and Ford Explorer. But boy does it drive better.
The CX-9 comes with a turbocharged, four-cylinder engine in a class crowded with V-6 engines. Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain is similar to Ford’s EcoBoost lineup of direct injection turbo engines that do more with less, topping Ford for best-in-class fuel economy. It delivers a whopping 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm, providing plenty of punch and power, with an ability to tow 3,500 pounds.
There is a similar subtle grace on the inside. The light-weighting that accompanies SkyActiv powertrains has been said to cause a louder interior ride, but Mazda smoothed that out with interior padding.
2016 MAZDA CX-9
Base price: $33,320
As tested: $42,270
EPA fuel economy: 21 mpg city; 27 mpg highway
Engine: 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder
Power: 250 horsepower
Transmission: six-speed automatic
Height: 67.6 inches
Length: 199.4 inches
Width: 77.5 inches
Cargo capacity: 14 cubic feet
Bottom line: fun-to-drive three-row crossover