For a company that prides itself on delivering emotion, Mazda’s ideas about human rationality are almost adorable. Case in point, the power output levels for the new CX-9’s 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder, a new heartbeat for the company’s flagship seven-passenger crossover. Using premium fuel, 250 hp is available; switch to regular and you’ll get just 227 hp, the same as a first-generation WRX.

If you think people complained about the published horsepower figures for the fourth generation MX-5, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Here we have a large crossover aimed to compete with the likes of the Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot, and it’s down on oomph versus both. Does that make any sense for a company with the tagline, “If it’s not worth driving, it’s not worth building”?

However, much as with the new MX-5, the proof of any Mazda is in the driving, and there’s another figure that deserves examination: 310 lb-ft of torque at just 2,000 rpm. That’s a very stout figure, about what BMW gets out of their turbo’d straight-six, and no one ever complained about a so-equipped X5’s ability to scoot. Let’s leave the bench-racing and forum-bashing aside for a moment to get a camouflaged pre-production version out on the streets of Los Angeles and see what’s what.

Mazda’s CX-9 arrives to us with the same suite of design and engineering upgrades that the rest of the fleet has benefited from over the years. From the Skyactiv side, we get a useful curb weight reduction (90 kg less in FWD models, 130 kg less for AWD), and a general strengthening and stiffening of the chassis. From the Kodo design language, we get a fresh exterior that’s remarkably well executed.

This isn’t a bigger CX-5 so much as it is the mothership for a fleet of CX-3s. Mazda’s three-row gets the LED headlight and taillight treatment, the flowing hunched flanks, and an overall impression dominated by the shield-shaped front grille. It does sort of look a bit like the disapproving Sam the Eagle from the Muppets, but rotating on the auto show stage in glittering Machine Grey, this is a very handsome car.

Inside, the CX-9 gets a materials and styling treatment intended to push both this specific vehicle and the brand upscale. The use of real metal and wood throughout the cabin is not unlike Cadillac’s efforts to stay fresh, and the seats of the top level Signature grade are particularly welcoming. The way the infotainment screen protrudes from the dash will doubtless find a few critics, but at least it’s the same easy-to-use system you find throughout the Mazda lineup.

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