The Mazda CX-9 is a midsize crossover with three rows of seats and 6- or 7-passenger capacity. It was first introduced for the 2006 model year and most recently redesigned in 2016. For 2020, Mazda has cut prices, upped engine torque, added an available 9-inch touch screen for the infotainment system and is now offering second-row captain's chairs. Front- and all-wheel-drive models are offered. Competitors include the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Santa Fe XL, Kia Sorento, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota Highlander.
CX-9 comes in one of four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. All come with a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. Sole transmission offering is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Front-drive is standard on all models save the Signature. All-wheel drive is standard on the Signature and optional on all others. Maximum towing capacity is 3500 pounds.
Standard on the $33,890 Sport are 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, three-zone automatic climate control, rear-view camera, Bluetooth, 7-inch infotainment screen, push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, blind-spot monitor, cross-traffic alert and forward-collision warning with braking. Touring lists for $35,710 and adds, power liftgate, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, heated front seats, leather-trimmed seating, Android Auto and Apple Car Play support and keyless entry and start.
Grand Touring starts at $41,550 and adds 20-inch wheels, moonroof, Bose audio system, navigation, 360-degree monitor, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, LED interior illumination and front and rear parking sensors. Signature lists for $46,215 and adds power folding side-view mirrors, aluminum roof rails, rear-door courtesy lights, adaptive front-lighting system, LED fog lights and windshield wiper de-icer. The newly available captain's chairs are offered on the Grand Touring and Signature and come with a second-row console as well.
In a segment where V6 engines reign supreme, the CX-9, with its turbocharged 4-cylinder, is one of the quickest vehicles in the class. When pressed, the engine will accelerate the CX-9 from 0 to 60 MPH in a scant 7.1 seconds. More impressively, the engine's 320 pound-feet of torque provide instant response at almost any speed. The 6-speed automatic, though down a few gears to competitors, provides smooth upshifts and prompt downshifts. It does lack slick steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for manual mode, though.
The CX-9's all-wheel-drive system does not have a low range and is not intended for severe off-road use. The all-wheel-drive system does allow more wheel spin than you might expect when scrambling for traction. If you aren't sold on the Signature model, perhaps you will want to stick with front drive and purchase a quality set of all-season or winter tires for the colder months. You save a few bucks that way and, unless you live on a dirt road, you probably won't miss the all-wheel-drive system.
EPA estimates for the all-wheel-drive CX-9 come in at 20 MPG city, 26 MPG highway and 23 MPG combined. Believe it or not, those are among the best numbers in the class. Most vehicles miss the 20 MPG city rating by a mile or two. In routine suburban commuting expect to average about 26 MPG overall. If you are stuck in the city all day, that number will more likely be close to 22 MPG. The 19-gallon fuel tank gives that CX-9 an impressive highway range of almost 450 miles. Unfortunately, to get maximum power, Mazda recommends premium-grade fuel. Though it is noted the CX-9 can run regular-grade fuel, just with reduced performance.
The CX-9's suspension provides a near-perfect blend of comfort and control. In fact, it's a vehicle that feels as though it shrinks around the driver the more you drive it. Helping things along, the steering has excellent straight-line tracking on the highway and provides good feedback in turns. Especially impressive is the way the steering seems to build in effort as you dial in more turning angle. Braking distances were admirably short and the pedal is quite sensitive to input.
Though a bit firmer than the class norm, the CX-9's ride is quite comfortable. You will certainly feel the bumps a bit more than in, say, a Chevrolet Traverse, but the ride is never upset or harsh on badly-broken roads. Plus, the impressively solid structure helps quell and smother impacts and reduce unwanted suspension boom. Secondary motions are nicely quelled and there is only modest body lean in quick maneuvers.
The CX-9 is one quiet highway cruiser. There's nary a hint of engine noise and wind rush and tire noise are nicely suppressed.
Mazda really stepped up its game for the CX-9 interior. It is far and above the nicest in class, both in terms of materials and design. In fact, the CX-9 interior would not seem out of place in a BMW or Audi. Driver's face a trio of standard analog gauges that are instantly readable day or night. The center stack is topped by a display screen for the infotainment system. Below are controls for the automatic climate control. The addition of the new 9-inch touch screen rectifies a weakness when compared to the old jog-dial-controlled screen. Ancillary controls are thoughtfully placed and well-marked.
The front seats are nicely shaped and provide both ample support and long-distance comfort. Head and leg room are more than adequate. The second-row bench is also nicely padded and provide adult-size comfort. The seats fold flat and also slide fore-and-aft. Available captain's chairs are nicely appointed and a welcome addition to the option list for those so inclined. Third-row seats are compromised in both room and positioning and useful only for children.
Entry/exit is quite easy thanks to a somewhat higher build and nice wide-opening doors. Access to the third-row seats can be tricky and is best left to the children that will use them anyway. Visibility is good forward but thickish rear pillars block the view aft.
The CX-9's rakish roofline somewhat compromises overall utility. Cargo space tops out at just 71 cubic feet. Most others in the class easily exceed that number. Plus, there's just a scant 14 cubic feet behind the third-row seats. Thankfully the liftover is low and seats can be quickly folded to create a flat load floor. Interior storage is compromised because of the large shift lever and aforementioned jog dial. Still there's a nice center console bin and large map pockets.
Bottom Line -- Clearly at the top of the class in terms of refinement, materials and overall execution, the CX-9 should be at the top of everyone's shopping list. It excels in all the right areas -- ride, comfort, economy and performance -- and only stumbles in overall utility. Prices are competitive, as well. If you are in the market for a large crossover, make sure to take the CX-9 for a test drive.