First, let’s look at the exterior of the CX-9, which is among the best-looking SUVs out there. The front has a unique setup where the grille juts out a bit from the rest of the vehicle, sort of an overbite look, but it works well. The window lines flow well along the vehicle, and it’s generally an eye-pleasing vehicle.
Heading inside, the leather-trimmed upholstery in my test vehicle made for a comfortable ride and also looked great. The inside is well-designed, with the second row having a good amount of legroom. Third row, like most of the vehicles in this class, is very tight, and is for kids only. Headroom is good all around, even for tall folks And the sunroof is a nice option to enhance your drive.
One downside; The storage capacity on the CX-9 is not best in class.
On the plus side, you can get heated seats in both the front and second row seats, which is a nice touch for drivers in cold climates.
HOW'S THE RIDE?
One powerplant is offered in the 2018 CX-9 -- a 2.5-liter turbo four-cylinder engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower numbers are either 227 or 250 (depending if you use regular or premium fuel); and you’ll get 310 lb.-ft. of torque. The CX-9 comes with FWD as standard; but AWD is an option (it’s standard on top trim level).
To get to the point, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 is more agile and quicker than most three-row SUVs you will find. There’s even a sport mode to make the ride even more enjoyable.
It handled well throughout my time in the vehicle, and my only possible complaint in the performance area is that engine could be a bit too noisy/whiny at times. In the grand scheme of themes, if the performance is there, that’s a minor complaint.
This performance is not an accident, as ride quality is a focus of Mazda vehicles across the board; from the little Miata up to the CX-9, which is its largest offering. For example, G-Vectoring control is standard on the CX-9, and it manipulates the torque during and after turns to help with cornering and overall responsiveness.
Starting up front with the infotainment setup in the CX-9, the center console is set up well for user-friendly operation. With the screen mounted front-and-center, the rotary dial system does the job for controlling it, and is easy to use even while driving. Voice commands mostly work, though I encountered occasional hiccups. Navigation works well, and can help you find POIs like coffee shops, restaurants, etc., when you’re in unfamiliar territory or traveling.
On the safety side, emergency braking is standard and worked very well during my time in the CX-9, kicking in when there was even a hint of something possibly going wrong.
Other safety options include: Blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, plus an array of front and side airbags are included along with radar cruise control.
The official fuel mileage numbers on the CX-9 are 20 city/26 highway/23 combined. During my time in the vehicle, I tested on the low end of that, averaging 19 mpg, though I wasn’t really trying to drive in a way that stretched the fuel, rather the opposite, so I’m sure they would be accurate. Compared to other three-row SUVs, these numbers are among the best you’ll find, and that’s in part due to Mazda’s constant efforts to trim weight wherever it can from its vehicles.
PRICE, BOTTOM LINE
The CX-9 I tested (a Grand Touring AWD model) came in just under $44,000, and there is one more trim level about the one I tested that’s a few thousand more. Base price starts about $32K, you have a pretty big price range here depending how fancy/luxurious you want to go.
If you love to drive and need a three-row SUV, you probably think your hopes are slim to meet all your goals, but the CX-9 proves that thought wrong. It’s another strong effort from the automaker, and provides the type of experience you’d normally experience in smaller vehicles -- which is quite an achievement.
Matt Myftiu can be found on Twitter @MattMyftiu.