Archive for the Products Category

Review: Nikon D3300 Camera

Posted in Products with tags on August 15, 2016 by itnerd

On my recent trip to India, I decided to take a camera along just in case I got the chance to see some of the country. Nikon hooked me up with their D3300 digital SLR. This camera has a bunch of things going for it:

  • It’s small and light. I was able to pack it easily and carrying it when I went out to see the Taj Mahal wasn’t a chore.
  • It does 1080P video at 60 frames per second with stereo sound. I recored a bunch of videos and the video and audio quality was very good.
  • Stills are taken at 24 megapixels and there was no noise that I could find in the hundreds of pictures that I took.
  • It has an amazing auto focus system. It uses 11 points of reference to focus, and it works really well.
  • I didn’t use it, but there’s an easy Panorama Mode that allows you to pan across the scene and get some really cool shots.
  • It is easy to hold and all the controls are clear.
  • It has the ability to do some basic picture editing. While it is not Photoshop by any means, you can do some basic work on photos without having to whip out a computer to do it.
  • For those who don’t know much about how to use a digital SLR, there’s a guide mode that describes the appropriate settings for the chosen scenario and then allows you to change the settings yourself. It’s seperate from the auto mode and can really help a novice to use this camera. It also means that someone who is familar with a digital SLR can buy this camera and you both can use it.

There’s also the ability to use WiFi with this camera, but you have to use an external dongle that is sold seperately. The point of having WiFi is that it allows you to send photos to your smartphone or tablet in almost real time. You can then Tweet, Instagram, or Facebook them. I didn’t test that feature on this trip. But I wish that I could have as this feature sounds useful.

I took a 55 – 200mm lens from Nikkor with me. While that didn’t help me when I went to Canada Residence as I found it difficult to get the shots that I wanted to, it really came into it’s own when I went to the Taj Mahal as I was able to get some really cool shots. But I really should have also taken an 18 – 55mm lens as well. All things considered, I can’t complain with the quality of the shots that I got on this trip. Ditto for the videos. The audio quality was great and so was the video quality based on the videos that I took on the way to the Taj Mahal. The automatic mode worked really well for the most part, but it’s not perfect. That was best illustrated when I tried to take a picture of the Taj Mahal through the north gate, which from where I was standing went from light to dark back to light, it coudn’t do it on automatic mode and I had to go to manual mode and set the ISO myself to make it happen. Low light performance was really good based on the photos that I took at the Cyber Hub.

You can frame your shots through the viewfinder or through an LCD screen which is viewable in all lighting conditons. However it affects your battery life. One thing that I should note is that it takes a few seconds for the camera to recycle when you’re using the LCD. You get much faster recycling when you use the viewfinder. When it comes to battery life, I was able to get more than a day’s usage out of the rechargable battery that the camera comes with every day that I used it except one. The day that I went to the Taj Mahal, it barely lasted the tour of the Taj Mahal. I chalk that up to almost exclusive usage of the LCD and taking lots of videos.

I really liked having the D3300 this week and except for the choice in lens hampering my ablity to use the camera (which by the way is totally on me), the pictures and videos came out very good. The camera retails for $469 CDN for the body or $599 CDN for the body and 18 – 55 mm lens. You get a choice of three colors as well. Personally, I would take black. But you get red and grey as color choices. If you want your first digital SLR, or you just want a digital SLR at a low price point, I would take a good hard look at the Nikon D3300. One you try it, I think you’ll be walking out of the store with one.

 

Review: Netatmo Welcome & Tags

Posted in Products with tags on July 27, 2016 by itnerd

A year ago, I introduced you to the Netatmo Welcome security camera. It was a different sort of camera that promised you the ability to recognize faces so that you could tell who was at home, and who wasn’t. Not to mention who shouldn’t be there. I found that the camera worked well enough. Though I did have some issues setting it up that required me to tweak the settings of my router after doing some detective work. Netatmo is back this year with a “new” version of their Welcome camera. I will explain why the word “new” is in quotes later:

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It doesn’t look any different than the one that I reviewed last year. It still doesn’t look like a camera. It’s still made of aluminum which dissipates the heat that the camera generates (which is normal according to Netatmo). And before anyone asks, gold is still the only color available. It still comes with 8GB of storage that you can upgrade via a MicroSD card. And it still can be operated via Ethernet and WiFi. The real changes are under the hood:

  • This version promises faster and better facial recognition.
  • You can now store your videos on DropBox or an FTP site. Which means that you don’t nave to pay Netatmo to store your videos unlike many other security camera manufacturers.

The big news however is that it also supports an add on device called Tags. They look like this:

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These are waterproof motion sensors that are powered by AAA batteries that work with the Netatmo Welcome to detect when doors and windows are opened. You get three in a box and they throw in the batteries which is cool.

Setup of the Welcome camera was very easy and one thing that I should highlight is that if you need to open ports on your router, the Welcome app (available in iOS and Android versions) tells you what ports you need to open (as I had to). That means that you won’t get the cryptic error messages that I got when I tried this last year and may negate the need to send an e-mail or call to tech support. That is, unless you are not familiar with how to open ports on your router. Adding the tags is equally as simple and the instructions provided by the Welcome app guide you through the process. If you can pair your smartphone to your car, you should be able to add a Tag or two as it’s really not that difficult. At the end, the app will prompt you to calibrate the Tag so that it knows what direction it is oriented in.

Now the combo of facial recognition and the Tags should make the Netatmo Welcome with Tags a unbeatable combo as it should recognize people that it knows so that you know who is home and who isn’t. Also, it should alert you to anyone who shouldn’t be in your home as their face would be unknown to the camera. Thus it should reduce the amount of false positives. The Tags extend this by monitoring windows and doors that are within 80m of the camera. So if a ground floor window that should be closed suddenly opens and nobody is home, you know something is up. As a added bonus, once you tell the Tag that it is on a door or a window, you can check to see what state it is in. That way you will know if you left a window open for example.

To test if this was true or not, I tested the Welcome camera by placing it facing the main door of my condo, and I placed a Tag on the door in question. Once it was all set up, I was able to get notifications whenever that door was opened. In terms of the facial recognition, it recognized my face after seeing me three times. That’s way faster than my last experience with the Welcome camera. It also means that the camera was immediately useful as the last time around, it took some time to get to that state. One thing that I did note is that the better lit the area, the better the facial recognition tends to be. I say that because under the right conditions, the Welcome camera may only detect motion and not detect a face. The only thing that I got in the way of false positives is when vibrations on the door (because someone down the hall slammed a door or something) that generated alerts on my phone. But to be fair, it was easy to see that was the case as the Welcome app would tell me that vibrations were detected. Conversely, if the door was opened, it would clearly say that. Thus there was no guesswork as to what was going on at home.

I tested the ability to transfer recorded videos to Dropbox and I found the setup was not only easy, but that videos would appear relatively quickly after being recorded. The use case for this feature is the fact that the video is off-site. That way if the camera is trashed or stolen by a thief, you still have video of the scumbag in question.

One other cool thing that I should note is that the Netatmo Welcome can “hear” alarms and alert you if one goes off. That way it’s a further supplement to any security system that you might have. To test this, I purposely set off my smoke detector and I got an alarm alert within a couple of minutes on my phone. Now this isn’t just theory. As I was writing this review, Netatmo posted a press release on how the Welcome camera saved a home from a fire [Warning: PDF].

Now back to the fact that I wrote the word “new” in quotes. This functionality for improved facial recognition came out as part of an software upgrade earlier this year. The ability to store files on an FTP server or Dropbox account as well as support for Tags appeared in June. So if you already own the Netatmo Welcome, you can get this functionality by upgrading the software on the camera and on your smartphone.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the price. The Welcome camera is $219 CDN and the Tags are $99 CDN for a pack of three. Pricey? Yes. But given the improvements that Netatmo has made, it’s money well spent if you want to keep your home safe and secure.

Review: Sony Xperia X Performance

Posted in Products with tags on July 25, 2016 by itnerd

Sony hasn’t exactly been a name in the smartphone game in a while. But when I reviewed Sony’s past efforts, I’ve always found them to be pretty good phones with great camera optics. Now Sony is back and I am looking at their flagship, the Sony Xperia X Performance.

At a high level, you get more processing power into the Performance, along with speedier LTE 4G connectivity and a slightly bigger battery. Plus you get a 5-inch full HD screen and a the 23-megapixel camera on the rear. I found it to be very easy to hold and easy to use with one hand, which is something that I really appreciate. It is water and dust proof. It’s rated IP65/68, which means you can not only splash the thing, you could leave it under a metre of water for 30 minutes. Not that I tested that as this isn’t my phone. It also looks very sleek and elegant. I got a white one for testing, but it comes in black. Both of them don’t retain fingerprints on the body, and fingerprints on the screen don’t really affect the clarity of the screen. In bright light, the screen is difficult to see. However it is sharp and clear in every other lighting condition.

Under the hood, here’s what you get:

  • A Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor
  • 23 megapixel rear camera with predictive hybrid autofocus
  • 13 megapiel front-facing camera
  • 5-inch 1080p IPS LCD display
  • 3GB RAM
  • 32GB internal storage
  • Micro SD slot
  • Android 6.0
  • LTE, Bluetooth and WiFi 802.11ac

The phone feels exceptionally slick and fast. Apps open rapidly and navigating is smooth as silk. This is handy as you can use it with your PS4 to do remote play sessions. This speed even transfers over to the fingerprint sensor. Built into the power button like previous Xperia models, this is the most reliable and quick biometric security I’ve ever used on a phone. Using a Fido SIM card, I got an average 45.78 Mbps downstream and 5.65 Mbps upstream on LTE.

Now one big selling feature of the Xperia X Performance is the camera. It quite simply is impressive based my testing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport as well as having used the camera to do videos for a overview of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as snapping all the pictures of my recent review of the Mazda CX-9. First, here’s the still photos:

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When it comes to the pictures of the planes that were landing, there was no way I could take a bad photo. Autofocus and image stabilization worked perfectly. You’ll also note that these photos were taken as the sun was setting, but they still look great.

Now, here’s the videos. Set them to full screen and 1080P to see them as they were shot:

These videos are very good as they are clear and sharp with great sound quality.

If there’s one element of the Xperia X Performance that didn’t impress me, it’s the battery life. Scoring on average just over a day during my tests. I really wished that it was longer as that’s what one expects from a flagship phone. But in fairness, it does have the ability to stretch the battery life if you do use that functionality. I didn’t and that likely affected the battery life that I got as I tend to be a constant user of whatever phone I have at the moment. Thus your mileage may vary on that front. The price point however is a win. Rogers and Bell both have the Sony Xperia X Performance is $199.99 on a 2-year contract, or $699.99 no-term.

The bottom line? The camera on the Sony Xperia X Performance impresses. So does the speed in pretty much every area. The battery life may be its only weakness depending on whom you are. But even with that, it’s clear that Sony is back in the smartphone game and you should take a look at them if you’re in the market for a flagship phone.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD – Part 5

Posted in Products with tags on July 22, 2016 by itnerd

So I’ve come to the end of my week long review of the Mazda CX-9. Now, what does it compete against? The Infiniti QX60, Acura MDX, Nissan Pathfinder, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Hylander could be considered competitors. But I really think that there are four reasons why the CX-9 in the Signature trim level beats all of them:

  • Fuel economy is better in the CX-9 than in any of those vehicles.
  • The torque of the engine is better in the CX-9 than in any of those vehicles.
  • In my opinion, the exterior of the CX-9 looks better than any of those vehicles.

The fourth and most important reason is the interior. If you take the moonroof out of the mix which caused some amount of discussion amongst those who saw it, it has the best interior that I have seen in a car or SUV lately. One look and you’ll be impressed.

My final fuel economy was 10.6 L/100KM’s which is outstanding for a vehicle of this site. I did drive in a mix of city roads and highways, not to mention rush hour traffic. Thus the Skyactiv magic clearly works in the CX-9 very fuel efficient. And that 2.5L turbo engine really does motivate the CX-9.

Now the CX-9 Signature goes for $50,400. But you can get a CX-9 for $35,300. At that price range, that puts the CX-9 into the range of many shoppers who want a 7 passenger SUV. If that’s you, this is one SUV that you need to take a serious look at because quite frankly, Mazda has a winner in the form of the CX-9, and anything that competes against it is going to look like an also ran.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD – Part 4

Posted in Products with tags on July 21, 2016 by itnerd

If you’re looking for technology in the Mazda CX-9, there’s a lot of it. Some of it which is really different. Let’s start with the safety technology:

  • Blind Spot Monitoring: This system keeps an eye out for cars in your blind spots so that you don’t hit them when changing lanes. It works well as the area of detection was large enough to keep me safe, but not so large that it created false positives.
  • Lane Departure Warning With Lane Keep Assist: If you cross over into another lane, this system will buzz you on either the right or the left side. The buzz really gets your attention I must say. You can also set it to vibrate the steering wheel. However, it has one extra trick, the system will proactively guide the CX-9 back onto its intended path if the system thinks you’re getting out of shape. I have to admit that the first couple of times that it intervened, it was kind of freaky as I am not used to driving a vehicle that does this. It took most of the week that I had the CX-9 to get used to it.
  • Rear Cross Traffic Alert: If you back out of a parking space in a busy shopping mall and you have limited visibility to your left and right, you’ll love this system as you will be warned of any cars that cross into your path.
  • Adaptive Front Lighting System and High Beam Control: I wrote about this previously and I have to admit that on some of the back roads that I drive at night, this feature comes in handy. I was always able to see what was in front of me clearly. One thing that I really appreciated was the fact that the LED headlights were very bright.
  • Radar Based Cruise Control: I really liked this feature as you can set the speed you want and the distance that you want to have between yourself and the car in front of you, and you can pretty much let it slow down and speed up depending on the conditions. It’s very handy on long highway drives.
  • Smart City Brake Support: Let’s say that you you do not react in time to a car that panic stops in front of you. This Mazda is capable of coming to a stop on it’s own, or slowing down to make the impact less severe. You can get more details on this system here.
  • Rear Backup Camera: The camera is a fisheye camera that has an impressive degree of clarity. You can see anything and everything that is behind you when you’re backing up. One thing to note is that the camera is exposed, so I have to wonder how clear it will be when it is dirty.
  • Mazda Active Driving Display: Previous iterations of this had a green piece of plastic that flipped up from the dash when you start the car that put various pieces of info in the drivers line of sight. This iteration projects vehicle speed, chosen cruise-control speed, information from the navigation system (including turn-by-turn directions, distance and lane guidance) as well as notifications for the blind spot monitoring system, land departure warning system, and road signs onto the windscreen. All of this information is within the line of sight of the driver, which means you never have to look away from the road. That’s why I consider it to be a piece of safety tech. Once I tweaked my seat position as well as the position of the display, I found it to be extremely useful.
  • You get anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, and electronic brake force distribution. Plus you get hill launch assist which keeps you from rolling backwards when you’re on a hill.
  • Finally, you get dual front air bags, dual front side air bags and dual side air curtains.

 

The best piece of technology that is in the Mazda CX-9 is the inclusion of Mazda Connect. The combination of the 8″ touchscreen  and the HMI (Human Machine Interface) Commander Switch gives the driver a easy to learn, easy to use infotainment system. I wrote about it in detail here and this iteration seems to be a bit faster than I have found it to be in the past.

The Mazda CX-9 has an 12 speaker Bose sound system that I have to admit that regardless where in the CX-9 I happened to be sitting, the sound was excellent as the highs and lows were perfect and the audio was well balanced. Phone calls were clear on both ends of the conversation as well. I should note that there is no CD player in the CX-9, but I don’t think you’ll miss it.

The final part of this review will tie up some loose ends and I’ll give you my final verdict. Watch for it on Friday.

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD – Part 3

Posted in Products with tags on July 20, 2016 by itnerd

The interior of the Mazda CX-9 is stunning. So good in fact that you may want to keep your kids out of it. Though it did have one thing that became a talking point which I will get to in a bit. Let’s get started with the drivers seat.

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You’re looking at the driver’s seat which is 8 way adjustable and covered in high quality leather. These seats are extremely comfortable and there are no complaints in this area. The front seats are heated.

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You get two memory settings for the drivers seat and I have to note that the controls for adjusting the seats look very classy and upscale.

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Here’s the drivers door. There’s lots of leather, chrome, rosewood, soft touch material, and shiny black plastic that continue the classy and upscale look.

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Here’s another shot of the door that shows the rosewood along with one of the Bose speakers. There’s also a door pocket that will hold water bottles.

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The inside of the doors are also lit which is a very upscale feature.

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Here’s one of the air vents which is surrounded by leather. Below that, you can see the buttons that control the rear hatch and electronic overseers.

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One of the key things that I’d like to point out is that the CX-9 comes with a substantial dead pedal which makes long drives very comfortable.

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The instrument cluster is clear and sharp. On the right cluster pod, there’s information that can be customized via the controls on the steering wheel.

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Speaking of the steering wheel, it is leather wrapped and feels good in your hands. It has controls for the cruise control system and the infotainment system. The steering wheel is heated.

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Here’s a shot of the 8″ touchscreen along with the HVAC controls below it and the shifter which has the sport button to the left of it which makes the CX-9 more “entertaining” to drive. One thing that I should note is that the dash has lots of leather on it which really makes the CX-9 look upscale.

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Here you can get a better look at the HMI Commander Switch that controls the infotainment system. You also get another look at the leather and rosewood that continue the upscale theme. I also like the black plastic that surrounds the shifter as it really adds to the upscale theme.

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You get a decent sized glovebox.

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On the front passenger side, you get a 12V outlet.

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The center console opens in two parts and is lined. Plus it has two USB ports and a 1/8″ audio jack as well.

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As you can see, the cupholders will hold a Starbucks Venti coffee easily. However, the location of these cupholders requires you to reach back a bit to get your coffee and reach down a bit to get it. Not an impossible thing to do. But not ideal. you also get a better shot of the HMI Commander Switch as well as the electronic parking break to the left.

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The CX-9 has a power moonroof which generated some interesting reactions from people who saw it. Some of them thought it was on the small side seeing as there are a number of vehicles with panoramic sun/moon roofs. I have to admit that they might have a point as having a panoramic sun/moon roof would have taken an outstanding interior and made it perfect.

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Now to the second row. It will seat three, but the middle occupant will have to deal with the hump for the rear driveshaft which is not insignificant. These seats not only tilt back and forth, but you can slide them for and aft to get more legroom for those passengers or those behind them in the third row. As you can see, if you don’t need that middle seat, you can flip down these hand to have cupholders and storage area behind them which has this handy feature….

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…It has two USB ports in it. That will prove very handy for families.

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The CX-9 has tri-zone climate control and here are the controls for the second row passengers.

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Entry into the third row is straightforward. You pull a lever at the top of the second row seat (which split 60/40 by the way) flips down partially and the seat slides forward.

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Here’s the third row. I’m six feet tall and I had no headroom back here. Assuming I had nobody my size in front of me, I did have enough legroom. But you should really consider this row for emergency use for short distances if you are not a kid.

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For the third row passengers, you get cupholders and some degree of storage.

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Each of the rear doors has a handy sunscreen that retracts into the door.

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With the third row up, you get a decent amount of storage. To be precise, you get 407L.DSC_0033

But if you flip the third row down, you get a healthy amount of storage. To be precise, 1082LDSC_0034

Flip down the second row and you get a 2017L of storage. Handy for trips to Home Depot or for moving your friends. It all folds flat, but I will note that between the second and third rows, there is about 3 or 4 inches of space between the seats which might make sliding things in along the folded seats and the floor a challenge because it might get caught in that space.

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One handy feature is that there is storage under the floor.

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The storage that the CX-9 has came in handy when my wife and I went to the farmer’s market in St. Jacob’s Ontario.

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Besides having a button to close the power hatch, it has a handle on the inside which is handy for keeping your hands clean.

Overall the interior is very upscale and well executed. Mazda really did a great job putting the interior together as it competes very well against others in the 7 passenger SUV space  in almost every way. I should also note that there’s very good vision in every direction for the driver. Though I will note that when you have the third row seats up, the headrests cut off some of your rear vision. No rattles, squeaks, or other annoyances were noted during my week with the CX-9.

Tomorrow, I will be taking a look at the technology in the CX-9 which is very extensive. Stay tuned.

 

Review: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD – Part 2

Posted in Products with tags on July 19, 2016 by itnerd

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This is the 2.5l turbocharged 4 cylinder engine that powers the Mazda CX-9. It’s Mazda’s first turbocharged engine with Skyactiv technology in it. Though I will not that Mazda has done turbo engines before with the Mazdaspeed variants of their cars (Does that mean that there’s going to be new Mazdaspeed product hitting showrooms soon? I asked Mazda Canada and they didn’t exactly go out of their way to say no. But they didn’t exactly go out of their way to say yes either. Read into that what you will). It puts out 227 horsepower and 310 pound feet of torque. But if you use premium instead of regular fuel, it puts out 250 horsepower. The torque remains the same.

Let me stop here and deal with the elephant in the room. This is a seven passenger SUV that doesn’t come with a V6 (or a V8 for that matter). That should be a #fail. Right? I’ll admit that up front, I was thinking “this is going to either surprise me, or this will really suck.”

It didn’t suck.

It won’t quite snap your neck back when you hit the go pedal, but there’s more than enough power here to keep you happy. This was true when I was the only occupant. But would it be true with more than one occupant? So, in the interest of science, I nominated myself to be the designated driver on pub night and took for adults home afterwards. The result? There was still more than enough here to deal with most situations. I was pretty impressed. So how did Mazda pull this off? Here’s my guess:

  • The CX-9 has shaved about 150 kg’s versus the previous iteration
  • The previous iteration of the CX-9 had a 3.7l V6 that had 270 pound feet of torque at 4250 RPM. For the record, it also had 273 horsepower as well. The engine in this CX-9 has the 310 pound feet of torque show up at 2200 RPM.

So what that means is that there’s more torque in the new version, and it shows up much earlier in the RPM range. That’s a big deal because torque and not horsepower is what gets your vehicle off the line. Thus it’s the number that you should care about when looking at a car or SUV. Plus the engine under the hood has to motivate less weight as well which helps with acceleration. Mazda engineers clearly got an “A” in physics class. But if Mazda wanted to make it perfect, here’s one thing I would suggest. If they could get that peak torque a bit lower in the rev range, the CX-9 would likely be a rocket. But I’m nit picking here. The average person will find little to fault here.

The power gets delivered to all four wheels via a six speed automatic with a sport mode (which by the way makes the CX-9 fun to drive) and an all wheel drive system that can throw all the torque to the front wheels or split it 50:50. It works transparently which is a good thing. In terms of handling, it’s feels very sporting which is surprising given that this is not a small vehicle. The suspension is firm and only the most severe bumps make it to your behind. There’s even a decent amount of road feel which surprised me as I don’t usually get that with a vehicle of this size. One other thing to note is that this is an amazing highway cruiser. If you road trip a lot, you’ll love the  CX-9.

One thing that I have to say is the CX-9 is insanely quiet. Wind noise? No. Road noise? Didn’t really hear any. This was true at highway speeds or in the city. One thing that I should highlight is that when I picked up the CX-9 at Mazda HQ in Richmond Hill Ontario and started it for the first time, I could barely hear the engine start. I had to look at the tachometer to see if it was running. Clearly someone worked overtime to make the CX-9 one of the quietest vehicles that I’ve driven in at least three years.

Fuel economy? At present, I am getting 12.3 L / 100 KM’s in mostly stop and go driving. I’m okay with it so far. But it will be interesting to see how the fuel economy plays out over then next few days.

Tomorrow, I’m going to take a look at the interior. But I’ll give you a bit of a spoiler. It is stunning. Tune in tomorrow to find out why I say that.

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