Interior view of the 2017 Mazda CX-9.

Where do you look first when shopping for your next vehicle? Do you peer in windows or peruse awards lists? Do you look first at the car’s list of technology features, or are you focused on safety features? If you’re the kind that banks on a car’s list of awards to help you decide, Mazda has captured a hefty sum with its flagship 2017 CX-9, writes our automotive editor Sally Miller Wyatt.

Not only has this three-row SUV received Car and Driver’s 10 Best Trucks and SUVs award – among many others—but it has also made the World Car list for the past two years, most recently earning a nomination for the ‘North American Utility Vehicle of the Year,’ and ‘World Car of the Year.’

And, it’s list of technology features is impressive, because Mazda knows that drivers crave connectivity with the outside world while they patrol their normal routes: from home to work, from school and play dates with the kids, and on to all those weekend adventures.

The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is available in the Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature trims. All have a clean, wind-swept design and offer owners a high level of comfort and refined features with plenty of room and modern conveniences. The CX-9 is, straight up, is a pleasure to drive, even in the most inclement weather, as we learned first-hand. Seriously. We were driving from the Bay Area to Sacramento during one of this winter’s most intense rain storms, seemingly under a red cell the entire way. The Mazda CX-9 effortlessly held its own under high winds and straight-line rain on bridges, and deftly clung to the road in flooding situations. Despite a scary drive, it was a very impressive performance, and definitely something to keep in mind as summer days make winter’s bad weather a distant memory.

Exterior view of the 2017 Mazda CX-9.

In the area of on-board technology, the Mazda CX-9 scores as well, even while adhering to Mazda’s philosophy of creating a focused, distraction-free driving experience. It starts with a “Heads-up Cockpit design” and MAZDA CONNECT. This works to offer that distraction-free driving experience while still allowing users to stream music, make hands-free calls and use other internet-based applications. For front seat driver and passenger, the system also has two USB ports and makes both Bluetooth and cable-based connections. Second-row passengers can use two 2.1-amp USB ports to charge smartphones or tablets, each mounted in the inboard passenger armrests. The Sport and Touring trims come with a seven-inch MAZDA CONNECT touchscreen infotainment system that is placed in the center console, and provides that connectivity through a multifunction Commander control knob. (The Grand Touring and Signature trims get an eight-inch touchscreen.) MAZDA CONNECT controls radio, phone, navigation, diagnostic and phone functions, as well as voice controls for many functions.

Mazda’s windshield-projected Active Driving Display allows the driver to keep their focus on the road, while navigational directions, lane guidance, street names, and prevailing speed limits are projected directly onto the windshield, just about four degrees below the driver’s immediate line of sight.

Exterior view of the 2017 Mazda CX-9.

As for safety features, the CX-9 is built on Mazda’s ultra-rigid SKYACTIV-BODY and SKYACTIV-CHASSIS that has six airbags to protect occupants in all three rows. Also on board is a Blind Spot Monitoring System and Rear Cross Traffic Alert, which warns you of obstacles when you are backing up. Lane Keep Assist alerts you when you start to drift.

For 2017 models, Mazda offers Smart City Brake Support (SCBS), a very nice feature to have in our crowded urban areas. Using infrared radar, SCBS works between 2 and 19 mph to cut power, prime the brakes or apply brakes when it senses an impending collision, as well as warn the driver. So, when a pedestrian steps out in front of you, the system helps to back up your own reflexes.

And, finally, for that impressive driving experience, you can thank Mazda’s Turbocharged SKYACTIV-G 2.5T engine. It offers 310 lb-ft torque at 2,000 rpm, and 250 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Mazda designed the SKYACTIV engine to provide not only great performance in everyday driving situations but also a better-than-average fuel economy. It’s a combination that has earned Mazda yet more awards: from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its fuel efficiency, as well as from Wards, who tapped it with their 2017 10 Best Engines award.

Exterior view of the 2017 Mazda CX-9.

So, how does the SKYACTIV-G 2.5T give you a truly spunky driving experience while keeping an eye on fuel economy?  Through a piece of technology that Mazda calls Dynamic Pressure Turbo, which has the ability to vary the degree of exhaust pulsation depending on engine speed, in a manner similar to when you put your thumb on a garden hose, to create a strong amount of pressure through a smaller outlet. This technology allows to the engine to produce a quicker response at engine speeds below 1,500 rpm.

If you have a need for a SUV with three rows of seats, and a craving for lots of creature comforts and high technology, the Mazda CX-9 is well worth a close look.