Mazda's midsize crossover carries over for one more year in anticipation of the all-new CX-90 for 2024. The current CX-9 was introduced in 2016 and offers three rows of seats for total passenger capacity of seven. 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 five trim levels: Touring, Touring Plus, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and Signature. Gone for 2023 is the Sport trim. All come with a turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Sole transmission offering is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode. All-wheel drive is newly standard across the board. Maximum towing capacity is 3500 pounds.
Prices range from $40,000 to more than $49,000. Standard on all models are 10.25-inch infotainment screen, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning with brake intervention, blind-spot monitor, lane-keeping assist and tri-zone automatic climate control. The Touring Plus brings a dark-finish grille, 20-inch black-alloy wheels, third-row USB ports, ventilated front seats, and driver memory settings.
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 310 pound-feet of torque provides 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. Another note, while Mazda doesn't require premium-grade gasoline, it is necessary for maximum engine performance.
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.
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 25 MPG overall. If you are stuck in the city all day, that number will more likely be close to 21 MPG. The 19-gallon fuel tank gives that CX-9 an impressive highway range of almost 450 miles.
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 only flub it the clumsy jog dial used to control the infotainment system. 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. Second-row seats are also nicely padded and provide adult-size comfort. The seats fold flat and also slide fore-and-aft. 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 - Though a bit long in the tooth, the CX-9 sits at the top of the class in terms of refinement, materials and overall execution. For that reason alone, 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.