Blandness… mind-numbing, all-pervading blandness. This is what the average car buyer who doesn’t have the budget to step up to premium brands has been offered all these years. Ever since mainstream brands started ditching passion and the pursuit of excellence in engineering and design in favour of pure commercial gains, the financially less-endowed car buyer had no choice but to live with characterless econoboxes churned out in the millions. And you couldn’t pin the blame on a particular carmaker; almost every non-premium brand from Japan, Korea, America and Europe fell into this rut of dreariness and mediocrity. This included Mazda, which also followed this trend with its lackluster models like the 323 and 626. However, the Japanese brand took the bold step of breaking free from this cycle of tediousness by revealing its Shinari concept in 2010. The four-door, four-seat, sports coupé introduced the design concept of ‘Kodo — Soul of Motion’, which found its way into the CX-5 in 2012, and subsequently into every car in the manufacturer’s stable. This, along with the engineering advances made under the ‘Skyactiv’ banner, came as a whiff of excitement in the mainstream car market.

The all-new CX-9 takes this theme a step ahead, and the results are just stunning. Anchoring the exterior is a large chrome grille that sticks out aggressively, which in profile, gives the CX-9 a ‘ready-to-pounce’ look similar to recent Jaguars. The headlights and taillights are sleeker in design than before and feature signature LED graphics, which add to the SUV’s unmistakable presence at night. The rest of the car is also elegantly contoured, and exudes a level of sculpted grace that you will generally find in vehicles from premium badges.

The same level of perceived premiumness is maintained in the cabin as well, with its large, comfortable seats finished in supple leather, and high-quality, soft-touch plastics, wood and brushed aluminium trims. While the previous model’s dashboard was plain and simple, here,  it’s characterised by fine design touches and a great layout. Attention to detail is impeccable, so is the craftsmanship, that it feels you’re sitting in a car much pricier than it really is.

Although it’s taller and wider than before at 1,716mm and 1,969mm respectively, at 5,075mm, the new CX-9 is a tad shorter in overall length than its predecessor. However, the generous wheelbase of 2,930mm frees up impressive amounts of space inside, especially in the first and second rows. The third row seats are best reserved for kids though, as even average-sized adults will feel cramped and claustrophobic in there.

The CX-9 has always been one of the best-driving three-row SUVs, offering better dynamics than rivals like the Honda Pilot and the Ford Explorer. I’m happy to report that in the new iteration, it still remains the most engaging to drive in its class. The steering is light and easy, and the turning radius is good for a car this size, that you don’t feel you’re piloting a three-row SUV. There are big changes in the mechanicals too, with the old 3.7-litre V6 having been replaced by a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine. The old mill was good for 273bhp and 367Nm of torque, and was one of the smoothest and most refined of six-cylinder mills. But Mazda has chosen to follow the downsizing trend that’s very much in vogue now. The new, force-fed unit is less powerful at 230bhp, but serves up considerably more torque at 420Nm. This increase in twist is apparent in the way the engine responds to throttle inputs right from the lower revs. The only trade-off with the new engine is the slightly coarser note that seeps into the cabin, but that’s only when you accelerate. Otherwise, the interior is nicely insulated and quiet.

There’s a Sport mode, which keeps the engine revving at a higher band, while firming up the steering and suspension settings. Even when pushed hard, the CX-9 manages to keep its composure, quell roll, and feel much less unwieldy than many rivals of this size.

And like all other Mazda models of late, the CX-9 also comes equipped with a raft of driver-assistance systems that are usually seen in models a notch higher in price and positioning. These include radar-based adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and prevention, correction, adaptive headlights, smart brake support, front, side and curtain airbags, rain-sensing wipers, and a head-up display, among others.

Once again, Mazda has come out with a great new model, a flagship worthy of showcasing its commendable efforts in design and technology. It’s one of the best looking seven-seater SUVs around, and deserves to be at the very top of your list of prospective family SUV choices.