What is it: The CX-9 crossover is Mazda’s largest offering, and arguably its most luxurious. Predictive all-wheel drive and exclusive G-Vectoring Control heighten driving dynamics and for 2018 all CX-9s get automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert standard.
Key Competitors: Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Santa Fe, Ford Explorer
Base Price: $33,105 As-Tested Price: $45,555
Full review: Mazda CX-9 first drive
Highlights: The CX-9 has Mazda’s best interior ever, and levels of refinement that are unike anything the brand has offered before. The 2.5-liter turbo engine has great punch (250 hp) with respectable fuel economy (22/28). Its i-ACTIV all-wheel drive system calculates 27 different factors to decide where to send rear torque.
Smart City Brake Support, Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert are now standard on all 2018 Mazda CX-9 models. Automatic on/off headlights and rain-sensing windshield wipers are standard on Touring models.
Our Opinion: While you weren’t looking, Mazda started making some of the best cars and crossovers in its history. The Mazda 3 compact and CX-5 small crossover are far and away the sales leaders for the brand, but the CX-9 three-row utility is hugely significant if not in total volumes, in what it says about the brand’s direction moving forward. This is a beautifully designed, solidly built crossover that can compete with anything in the low $40K price range in which it competes.
The CX-9’s 2.5-liter turbo four is an absolute gem of an engine, perfectly matched with its 6-speed automatic transmission; if you have concerns about a four-cylinder utility, go drive a CX-9 –- with seven passengers aboard the Mazda has no problem blasting up on-ramps and passing slower traffic without straining. Ditch the weight and it’s downright quick, with trademark Mazda steering response and chassis composure on all surfaces. Plus the CX-9 returned a real-world 23.9 mpg in 60/40 highway/city driving.
My current family car is a 2014 Ford Explorer, not quite as well-optioned as this Mazda tester; still, the similarities invite comparison. While both are 3-row utilities, the Mazda is a half-size smaller inside despite approximately the same overall length. Total interior volume is 135 cu-ft, vs 151 cu-ft for the Explorer, a difference that’s particularly acute when comparing cargo space with the third-row up and folded (a 7- and 5-cu ft win for the Explorer, respectively). The new Chevy Traverse is even larger inside. Overall, the Mazda simply offers less cargo flexibility than some of its competitors, though the sliding second-row seats do help.
Space restrictions aside, my only other quibbles are exclusively ergonomic; if this list seems more critical or detailed that usual, chalk it up to the fact I got to know the CX-9 very well during a week of family vacation, during which I took it on a 600-mile road trip with passengers and luggage. To wit:
— There’s a tiny, innocuous LED in the overhead console with the sole job of illuminating the center console between the driver and passenger seats at night. It does this job exceedingly well, delivering the relative intensity of a full moon while driving at night; the dash dimming controls have no impact on its zeal. Fortunately one of the kids had a sticker book with them, but it still took two layers of Pokemon to make the LED dim enough to prevent distraction.
— The aforementioned center console is too high/wide. When set up for a taller driver, holding one’s hands at 9 and 3 results in the driver’s right elbow smacking into the side of the console lid during turns. On long stretches of driving, should you use the “two hands at the bottom of the wheel” relaxed placement, the right elbow is wedged uncomfortably between the console and the driver’s body. Note that another staffer didn’t have an issue with it, so your experience may vary.
— There are only two 12-volt sockets, one at the passenger’s left knee and the other in the back of the cargo compartment. The use of, say, a radar detector and a portable video system will require an adapter of some sort. At the very least, a socket for the second row should be mandatory for a family vehicle.
Keep in mind that, with the exception of the console height issue, these are pretty minute issues; even with them, the CX-9 makes my short list for our next family car thanks to its entertaining character and good real-world fuel economy. The fact it’s lovely to look at inside and out helps too.
—Andrew Stoy, digital editor
The 2018 Mazda CX-9 comes in three trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.
On Sale: Now
Base Price: $33,105
As Tested Price: $45,555
Powertrain: 2.5-liter DOHC turbocharged I4, AWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 227 hp @ 5,000 rpm (with 87 octane); 250 hp @ 5,000 rpm (with 93 oct); 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,361 lb
Fuel Economy: 20/26/23 mpg(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Observed Fuel Economy: 23.9 mpg
Pros: Wonderful powertrain; great looks inside and out; fun to drive
Cons: Ergonomic quirks; not as large inside as some competitors