As is often the case with Mazda vehicles, the CX-9 three-row crossover is the sports car of its competitive set. Along with engaging dynamics, it offers plentiful cargo space and a versatile, well-designed cabin.
Three-row crossovers are created to be pack mules and people haulers, but for obvious reasons, these big beasts are rarely designed with driving thrills in mind. However, the Mazda CX-9 is an exception to the rule.
Despite its generous dimensions, the CX-9 handles more like a sporty sedan than a capacious crossover thanks to a cleverly tuned suspension, sharp steering and responsive brakes. It's a family vehicle that's legitimately fun on the backroads.
Mazda didn't forget why most folks buy these vehicles, though, and the CX-9 also shines when it comes time to transport people and cargo. Seating capacity maxes out at seven passengers, and even adults can fit in the rearmost row due to second-row captains chairs that slide forward to maximize legroom for those sitting behind. Ingress and egress is particularly easy due to extra-long rear door openings and the aforementioned sliding seats.
Behind the third-row seats, there's sufficient space for 17.2 cubic feet of gear. Fold down the third row, and 48.3 cubic feet are available, while an impressive 100.7 cubes can be had by stowing all but the first row.
Up front, the driver enjoys a sporty three-spoke steering wheel and large gauges that are a model of clarity. Aside from a smattering of downmarket plastics, material quality is generally excellent inside. A 5.8-inch touchscreen display for the sound system is standard, and extras like a navigation system, Bose stereo and power tailgate can be spec'd for a heightened level of luxury.
The CX-9 is motivated by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Channeled through a six-speed automatic transmission, that output is enough to allow a zero-to-60 mph sprint in the mid-seven-second range. Front-wheel-drive is standard and yields 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. The optional all-wheel-drive is available across the trim levels and returns 16/22 mpg.
Towing capacity for the FWD model is rated at 2,000 lbs, though a Tow Prep Package ups that figure to 3,500 lbs. All AWD models can lug 3,500 lbs.
Trim Level Breakdown
The CX-9 is available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring.
The CX-9 Sport comes well equipped with standard three-zone automatic climate control, a 5.8-inch touchscreen display, a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/HD radio stereo with AUX and USB inputs, Bluetooth connectivity with streaming audio, cruise control, full power accessories, keyless entry and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Upgrading to the CX-9 Touring trim level yields leather upholstery, heated front seats, an eight-way power adjustable driver's, seat a four-way power adjustable front passenger seat, auto on/off headlights, a rearview camera, rear parking sensors, a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross traffic alert system.
The premium trim level designated by the Grand Touring moniker delivers upgraded 20-inch wheels, Xenon headlamps, halogen fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers, driver's seat memory and available rear-entertainment system, Blind Spot Monitoring, imitation wood interior trim, a wunroof, an alarm system, a proximity key, a power tailgate and LED daytime running lights.
The Touring and Grand Touring trim levels are available with a Technology Package that brings a navigation system, 10-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio and (for the Touring only, as they are standard on the Grand Touring) foglights and a sunroof.
The Grand Touring model can be outfitted with a rear-seat DVD entertainment system that comes bundled with all of the Technology Package's goodies plus a 115-volt power outlet.
Standard safety features on the CX-9 include dual front, side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
Although no three-row crossover is quite as sporty as the CX-9, viable alternatives to Mazda's big crossover include the Hyundai Santa Fe, the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango and the Toyota Highlander.