2023 Mazda CX-9 Review

2023 Mazda CX-9 - Often overlooked by higher profile brands, the CX-9 is a worthy 3-row competitor.


Mazda joined the midsize three-row crossover segment back in 2007 with the introduction of the CX-9. A second generation launched in 2016 and styling has remained generally the same ever since.  Rolling into the 2023 model year, it has generally carried over unchanged other than the elimination of the base Sport model.  CX-9 is now offered in five trims including Touring, Touring Plus , Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature. Starting prices range from $38,750 up t o $48,460 (an increase over 2022). Included in the price is a long list of standard i-Activsense safety features such as Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop and Go, Smart Brake Support with collision warning, Advanced Smart City Brake Support with pedestrian detection, Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, and Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist. Other available features on higher trim models include rear smart city brake support, adaptive front-lighting system, and traffic sign recognition.

Under the hood of all models is a Skyactiv-G 2.5 turbo engine that pairs with a six-speed automatic transmission and i-Activ AWD standard. When running on premium 93 octane fuel, it will deliver 250 horsepower and 320 lb.ft. of torque. Opt for the more affordable 87 octane fuel and it will offer 227 horsepower and 310 lb.ft. of torque. Competition in this class includes the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Dodge Durango, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, and Volkswagen Atlas. I spent time in a CX-9 Signature and here's what stood out...

Styling (+)
While its styling hasn't been altered significantly in the past six years, the CX-9 still looks current and very sophisticated on the roads. Mazda's signature shield grill dominates the front end with slim headlights and available round LED lighting. The finish on the grill will vary based on the trim level. Available small LED fog lights are tucked into the lower corners of the front fascia adding to visibility at night. The side profile is very front forward with a more rounded roofline. The lower portion of this crossover is adorned in body cladding that also outlines the wheel arches. Countering the cladding is a chrome accent piece that outlines the windows.  Around back it maintains a clean look with slim taillights that are connected via a chrome strip above the Mazda emblem. Dual exhausts peak out under the rear bumper. Badging on the back of the vehicle will denote which trim level the vehicle is.

Wheels (+/-)
All except for the Touring models come with 20" aluminum alloy wheels in a variety of finishes such as black metallic, silver metallic or brilliant silver. Touring models are fitted with 18" gray metallic aluminum wheels. The wheels are sturdy, and the finishes have a premium quality to them. The wheel designs however, are middle of the road and don't wow nor distract from the rest of the CX-9's exterior. It's an area I think Mazda could improve by offering more compelling designs like those seen on brands like Volkswagen, Kia, and Hyundai.

Performance (+)
All trims get the same turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder that delivers up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb.ft. of torque. It's paired with a six-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Once again Mazda offers a vehicle that is fun-to-drive and the turbo four performs well. Acceleration is impressive with an estimated 0-60 time of 7.3 seconds. There's no noticeable turbo lag as it scoots around town with ease and agility.  Shifting through gears is smooth and quick allowing it to get going easily.

Steering is nicely weighted and precise as the CX-9 takes corners with minimal body lean in quick maneuvers. It's an agile crossover that is well-grounded to the pavement providing the driver a sense of confidence. The ride quality is smooth as it absorbs road imperfections and road noise is minimal. The CX-9 is the type of crossover best-suited for someone who wants a more engaging driving experience and interested in having some fun when taking the kids to school. While many competitors offer a V6, the Mazda's turbo keeps up with the pack and saves some at the pump.

Fuel Economy (+)
It will run on both premium or regular grade fuel, although the type of fuel will affect the performance noted above. EPA estimates are 20/26/23 MPG city/highway/combined. When it arrived with a full 19.5-gallon tank it offered a range of approximately 445 miles. After a week of primarily suburban driving in a mix of spring weather and snow, I averaged 22 MPG. Overall, these numbers are better than average in this class.

Quality (+)
Inside and out the CX-9 is well built. Gaps are minimal all around and Mazda has one of the best paint finishes out there. Regardless of pain color, the metallic looks and feels premium. The doors have some weight to them offering a sense of safety when they close tight. Inside is more of the same with soft-touch materials on the dash and doors, available Nappa leather, rosewood accents (Signature model), brushed aluminum and touches of brightwork that heighten its overall elegance. The materials found in this car could easily be dropped in a higher-priced luxury brand vehicle.

Signature Luxury (+)
Opt for the Signature trim for the ultimate luxury experience. As the highest model offering, the premium interior includes Nappa leather first and second-row seats, available in either Deep Chestnut or Parchment. The first and second-row seats have a unique quilting and piping that add to the elegance. The heated second-row captain's chairs provide a first-class feel with a center console with armrest storage compartment like in the first row, which provide convenient access to the heated seat buttons and cupholders. Other styling details include Santos Rosewood interior trim, patterned aluminum on the dash and door handle bezels, and unique stitching on the steering wheel. The exterior upgrades include 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels with a brilliant silver finish, a titanium gray metallic finished front grille with LED lighting accent, larger dual exhaust pipes, and a Signature badge affixed to the liftgate.

Interior Layout (+/-)
Mazda continues to place its infotainment display at the top of the dash that must be controlled by a dial in the center console. There's significant space between this display and the climate vents below it which gives the dash a very minimalist look. All the buttons and controls for climate, heated/ventilated seats, and heated steering wheel are tucked behind the traditional gear shifter. The control dial for the infotainment along with the audio dial are in front of the gear shifter in the center console. Everything is within reach, but the layout requires an acclimation period.

Technology (+)
At the center top portion of the dash is the 10.3" full-color infotainment display screen that utilizes the latest version of Mazda Connect. It integrates with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but a cable is needed. The infotainment screen is not a touchscreen and must be controlled via steering wheel buttons or the command knob in the center console. It takes some getting used to, but once you do, the knob is well positioned and intuitive. Sound is enhanced with the available Bose 12-speaker premium audio system. Other available tech features include wireless phone chargers, third-row USB charging ports, 360-degree view monitor, head-up display, and navigation. Another nice feature is a display that indicates which seats are occupied in the back... further indicating seatbelt status by lighting up green or red, this is a nice indicator for families with school aged children. Despite the lack of a touchscreen or wireless software integration, the Mazda Connect infotainment system works well and utilizes crisp graphics.

Interior Space (-)
The CX-9 is available in six or seven-passenger configurations. Front seats are very accommodating with plenty of head and legroom. Heated front seats are standard and ventilated seats are also available to further enhance the already comfortable seats. The Nappa leather seats in the Signature feature a unique quilted design that looks and feels great. Shoulder area up front feels tighter though as the overall cabin generally feels tighter than competitors like the Telluride, Palisade, Highlander or Atlas.

Moving back to the second row, either a bench seat or captain's chairs are available. Models equipped with the captain's chairs will have a center console with storage and cup holders between the seats. While this offers some convenience, it also adds to a more cramped feeling and limits access to the third row. The seats do slide forward and back to maximize legroom. Access to the third row requires folding the second-row seat forward which can be done via a handle at the top of the seat. This would be a problem though if there was a car seat in that seat. When equipped with captain's chairs, many kids will likely attempt to climb between the two seats on top of the console. The third row will only accommodate two passengers and the seats are tight. It's best suitable for kids who don't mind climbing into the back.

Cargo Space (-)
Along the same lines as passenger space, cargo space is also limited compared to some top-sellers in the three-row segment. There's 14.4 cu.ft. behind the third row, 38.2 cu.ft. with the third row folded flat and 71.2 cu.ft. with all the rear seats folded down. Overall, these ratings are less than average for the class. The seats easily fold flat so if you don't need the third row up, then cargo capacity is much better. It does feature a power liftgate and a hands-free power liftgate is also available.

Final Statement
The CX-9 is a crossover best-suited for someone who enjoys driving as it offers a more engaging ride than many of its competitors. Fuel economy is better than most and it's priced reasonably. The overall quality of this vehicle exceeds expectations for this segment with premium materials throughout and luxury vibes all around. Its biggest downfall is the actual passenger and cargo space inside which could be the dealbreaker for a family of five like my own. As much as I enjoy this vehicle, the six-passenger configuration with captain's chairs and tight third row just wouldn't cut it for our active family. If you don't need the third-row seating all the time, then this might just be the perfect fit. Look for an all-new three-row Mazda CX-90 to join the lineup later this year... possibly an eventual replacement for the CX-9.

First Impression Summary:

Test Vehicle:
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Exterior Color: Snowflake White Pearl
Interior Color: Deep Chestnut
Options: Pearl Paint Color ($395)
MSRP as tested: $50,130 (With Delivery/Destination)

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.