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A diesel option would be nice, but the 2018 Mazda CX-9 has more basic needs

What changes will make the 2018 Mazda CX-9 different?

A diesel-engine option is a near certainty. When is the question. Mazda has confirmed it’ll add a diesel option to its CX-5 compact crossover during 2017. The high-torque, high-mileage four-cylinder seems a natural fit for the automaker’s larger CX-9 midsize crossover. If it arrives for model-year 2018, it would easily qualify as the CX-9’s most significant change. If it doesn’t, this shapely seven-seater will continue little altered from the all-new 2016 model that launched today’s CX-9 design.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

To roll the dice that Mazda will add a diesel alternative to the carried-over gas engine. That would make the ’18 CX-9 the first seven-seat midsize crossover to offer a diesel engine, and only the second overall, after the five-seat Jeep Grand Cherokee. If you’re intrigued by the CX-9 but disinterested in a diesel, you probably shouldn’t wait for the ’18. Expect it to repeat the 2017 model lineup, beginning with the Sport version and ascending through Touring, Grand Touring, and top-line Signature grades. None will be materially different from its ’17 counterpart, though all are very apt to cost more.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes, if this smartly styled, cleverly engineered crossover fits your SUV needs, and those needs don’t include a diesel engine. Fully redesigned for model-year ’16, this second-generation CX-9 spearheads Mazda’s plan to move its brand upscale. For example, all but the Sport model comes with leather upholstery, while the Signature rivals premium-class crossovers with touches like real rosewood cabin trim supplied by the Japanese guitar maker, Fujigen. Nimble handling, a quiet cabin, and great fuel economy are other virtues. On the downside, if you’re predisposed to anything other than a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, you must look elsewhere. Similarly, there are some expected conveniences, such as a hands-free power liftgate, that the CX-9 doesn’t offer.

Will the styling be different?

Other than perhaps a new color choice or two, no. Replacing the bulkier 2007-2015 original, today’s CX-9 has a longer wheelbase but a shorter, lower body. Its proportions are sporty and sophisticated. All grades have slimline LED headlights and LED daytime running lights. Sport and Touring should return for 2018 with 18-inch alloy wheels, Grand Touring and Signature with 20s. Upscale airs continue inside, with attractive décor, a 7-inch dashboard infotainment screen for all models, and the aforementioned, liberal distribution of leather and wood. Unchanged dimensions will again mean very good room and comfort in the first two seating rows. Third-row passengers, however, get less room than in such rivals as the Toyota Highlander, Nissan Pathfinder, and Dodge Durango. Cargo volume is also at the low end of the competitive set.

Any mechanical changes?

The big news would be introduction of the diesel. It would add an alternative to the 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that became the CX-9’s sole engine with the 2016 redesign. Rated 227 horsepower (250 using 93-octane gas) and a stout 310 pound-feet of torque, it replaced a V-6 that had 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet. Mazda reasons the turbo four’s ability to generate torque at low rpm best suits the driving habits of midsize crossover owners. It may be right. Acceleration is strong off the line and satisfying around town. The engine feels taxed only when you want to merge with very fast-moving traffic or overtake at high speeds.

A turbodiesel option would mimic that behavior, but with even better fuel economy — although it could also add as much $3,000 to the purchase price. If Mazda uses the 2.2-liter slated for the CX-5, it would generate some 173 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. With either engine, the ’18 CX-9 would retain a six-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Will fuel economy improve?

Unlikely, without addition of a turbodiesel. Expect the 2018 CX-9 with the gas engine to retain 2017 EPA ratings of 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-drive and 20/26/23 mpg with AWD. That’s tops overall among three-row crossovers in this competitive set, edging out the turbo-four Ford Explorer and the four-cylinder GMC Acadia. Even Mazda acknowledges, though, that you should use the more expensive premium-octane gas to extract the full measure of the CX-9’s performance.

Will it have new features?

We hope it will, but whether Mazda will add anything depends on a host of factors, some unique to economic exigencies facing this relatively small-scale, independent Japanese automaker. Indeed, we’re struck by features the 2017 CX-9 doesn’t offer, features available on top rivals and even on many less expensive crossovers. You can’t get a power-folding third row seat, a power adjustable steering column, or a hands-free liftgate. You can’t get cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic moonroof, or front parking sensors.

To its credit, Mazda does covers the basics and many amenities well, as detailed below. It hardly skimps on safety, ether. For ’17, all but the entry-level Sport model came standard with a full array of driver aids, including the brand’s Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), which includes autonomous emergency braking to mitigate a frontal collision. Grand Touring and Signature also added lane-correcting automatic steering, adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, automatic high-beam headlights, and a head-up instrument display that projects key data onto the windshield

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’re likely to increase modestly. Mazda actually held the line on base prices for the 2017 Sport and Touring models. It increased them $300 for the Grand Touring and Signature, and it also hiked its destination fee $40, to $940. Interestingly, the automaker says Grand Touring and Signature models accounted for more than 50 of CX-9 sales. Early purchasers of redesigned vehicles often skew to the upper trim levels, though buyers are also likely responding to the upscale appeal of the CX-9 in Grand Touring and Signature trim. In any event, expect nominal increases across the board, and please note estimated base prices here include the destination fee.

Look for the Signature to again come standard with AWD, which otherwise can again be expected to add $1,800 to the front-drive-version base prices listed here.

Anticipate an estimated starting price for the 2018 CX-9 Sport of $32,760. It would again come with an electronic parking brake, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear backup camera, Mazda Connect infotainment with a central console control and a 7-inch color display. Optionally available again for around $950 should be the Sport Package, which would add a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and heated door mirrors.

Estimated base price for the 2018 CX-9 Touring is $37,200. Expect it to again built on the Sport model with a standard auto-dimming rearview mirror, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, Alert, SCBS, HomeLink garage door openers, black- or sand-colored leather upholstery, keyless entry with pushbutton start, a power liftgate, power front seats, and an 8-inch touchscreen. Expect the Touring Premium Package to return as a $1,745 option. It would again include a power moonroof, a navigation system, automatic on/off headlights, LED fog lights, premium 12-speaker Bose audio and satellite radio, rain-sensing windshield wipers, rear backup sensors, and second-row retractable sunshades.

Priced from an estimated $41,700, the ’18 Grand Touring model would enhance a Touring Premium Packaged-equipped CX-9 with standard steering-linked headlamps, aluminum interior trim, automatic high-beam headlamps, roof rails, and memory settings on the driver’s seat. As for model-year 2017, it probably would not offer any options. Neither would the ’18 CX-9 Signature. At an estimated base price of $45,600, it would again come with AWD and all the previously cited amenities, as well as LED signature accent grille lighting and LED accent lighting around the shift lever.

When will it come out?

Look for a release date for the 2018 CX-9 during the second quarter of 2017.

What changes would make it better?

Props to Mazda for extending Smart City Brake Support to the Touring version for model-year 2017. It would be grand if it were standard on the ’18 Sport model, too. Similarly, making available all those convenience extras you can get on top competitors would be in keeping with the automaker’s aspirations for what is essentially its brand flagship. Once first-generation CX-9s were fully cleared from dealer inventories, Mazda recorded a three-fold increase in CX-9 sales. The crossover is still a low-volume player in one of the industry’s most congested segments, but Mazda is undoubtedly calculating how many additional buyers a diesel-engine option might attract.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]