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.
The CX-9 received a long-overdue redesign for the most recent model year. New from the ground up, the CX-9 now sports a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a significantly lighter chassis.
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 captain's 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.
Mazda's three-row CUV is not only sportier, it's more refined. With the redesign, Mazda put an emphasis on premium styling and materials both inside and out. Available options such as wood trim and premium leather set the CX-9 apart from some of its more volume-oriented competition.
Practicality is still important, however. The new CX-9 sports 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row and 38.2 cubes with the third row folded. Fold down both rear rows and you get a whopping 71.2 cubic feet.
An all-new turbocharged 2.5L SkyActiv four-cylinder replaces the V6 that lived under the hood of the previous-generation CX-9. The new engine produces 227 horsepower on 87-octane fuel or 250 on 93-octane. No matter what you pick at the pump, you get 310lb-ft of torque.
Power goes to either the front or all four feels by way of a six-speed SkyActiv automatic transmission. Mazda's SkyActiv gearboxes are lightweight and direct, providing a shift feel more akin to a dual-clutch unit than a typical torque converter automatic.
Front-wheel-drive models are rated at 22 MPG in the city and 28 on the highway. Ticking the AWD box drops those figures to 21 city/27 highway--still impressive for the CX-9's size.
Since three-row crossovers are expected to be practical, Mazda has rated the CX-9 to tow 3,500lbs.
Trim Level Breakdown
The CX-9 is available in four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature.
The CX-9 Sport comes well equipped with standard three-zone automatic climate control, a 7-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, LED headlamps and 18-inch alloy wheels.
A heated driver's seat and side mirrors can be added to Sport models as an extra package.
Touring models add heated outdoor mirrors, a power lift gate with adjustable opening height, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated and power-adjustable front leather seats, an 8-inch infotainment display, second row USB inputs and advanced keyless entry.
A Premium package adds navigation, Bose audio, a power moonroof and rain-sensing wipers.
Grand Touring models gain 20" wheels, adaptive headlamps with auto on/off, chrome exterior trim, a power moonroof, rain-sensing wipers, aluminum roof rails, a HUD, Bose premium audio, navigation, aluminum interior trim, second-row sunshades, door pocket and pull handle LED illumination and LED overhead lighting.
Signature models top out the range, adding LED accent lighting in the grille, Nappa leather, unique steering wheel stitching, Rosewood interior trim and additional LED accent lighting.
Grand Touring and Signature models also receive a safety and autonomy suite which includes distance recognition support, high beam control, lane keep assist, radar-guided cruise control, rear backup sensors and braking assist.
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.
Grand Touring and Signature models also receive a safety and autonomy suite which includes distance recognition support, high beam control, lane keep assist, radar-guided cruise control, rear backup sensors and braking assist. Some components of this can be added to Touring models as part of the Premium package.
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.