OK, let’s just get this out of the way. The new CX-9 looks fantastic. From every angle. I don’t think Mazda designers left anything to chance here – it appears they made sure they got it right. The first thing I noticed as I walked up to it from the side was that the roof appears to be significantly lower, giving it a much sleeker appearance. The stance is muscular, but somehow it looks elegant and sophisticated too.

Likewise, the front and rear styling is very well done. I liked the interesting use of chrome strips on both the front and rear fascias, and the front looks downright menacing thanks to that massive grille. There are LED lights everywhere! Headlights, fog lights, tail lights and front and rear “signature” lights.

The CX-9 has a powerful presence and the whole package is augmented by nice, fat 255-50-sized rubber wrapped around massive 20-inch rims.

I found the top of the front door frame to be a bit low. I’m not a very tall person and I still whacked my cranium on it a couple of times until I learned to duck when I was getting in. That’s a bit weird in a large three-row crossover. Once in, I really appreciated the new styling inside. It’s clean and functional, and complemented by a very handsome (and bold) two-tone colour scheme crafted out of soft-touch materials. In this trim, you get a few authentic rosewood accents which look fantastic.

The power-adjustable and heated seats are very comfortable, and very supportive. This Signature-trim perforated Nappa leather upholstery is really nice with its contrasting inserts and piping and stitching details. I also loved the heated steering wheel – it’s relatively small and sporty, with a fat, grippy rim and excellent ergonomics.

You’ll find a wide 8.0-inch touchscreen jutting out of the dash – it can also be controlled by a rotary joystick dial, which is surrounded by some hard buttons for major functions. It handles all the usual stuff – navigation, phone, audio (played through an excellent-sounding 12-speaker Bose system!) and vehicle settings. Overall, I found the system to be user-friendly (once you figure it out) and it works pretty well. Except for one thing – I thought the system’s response time was often sluggish, and it felt ponderous because of it.

I found the centre console flared out too much toward the front and intruded into my leg space. I wish it was an inch or so narrower, which would make for a much more comfortable drive – for me anyway.

In-Depth: Mazda CX-9’s Skyactiv Technology

If you like your gadgets and driver assistance technology, you’ll find plenty of it in the CX-9, especially in the Signature trim. A back-up camera with rear parking sensors, adaptive front lighting system with high-beam control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, smart brake support (which will slam on your brakes to avoid collisions), dynamic cruise control and lane departure warning and assist. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the fantastic heads-up display, which can be loaded up with information – I had a tach, speedometer, gear selection as well as blind-spot monitoring and lane departure assist warnings when applicable. All that stuff, and the display still worked well and didn’t feel cluttered. And no, this isn’t the goofy pop-up piece of plastic you’ve seen in other Mazdas. This is a colour windshield-projected system, as it should be.

Mazda’s attention to cargo space is not bad – but not great. In the front I found a deep open drop-in bin at the front of the centre console, and a small carpeted bin under the armrest’s clamshell lid. That’s about it other than the glove compartment.

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