EDITOR WES RAYNAL: This 2015 Mazda CX-9 is one of (if not the) most delightful three-row crossovers on the market -- good-looking inside and out, crisp handling, nice cockpit, and decent power.
It’s about perfect if you need minivan utility but don’t want a, well, minivan. As crossovers go, it’s fun and responsive with good steering and buttoned-down handling, and the 3.7-liter moves it along nicely. Frankly, it feels quite a bit lighter than it is.
It feels smaller, too. Here’s where packaging must be brought up, because it’s big enough to haul darn near anything, but for a three-row, it feels more CX-5 sized.
This is a Mazda after all, a company that knows how to do fun.
The interior is well laid-out and comfortable, and everything is intuitive to operate.
So, the 2015 Mazda CX-9 is fun(ish) to drive and practical. As I said, as three-row crossovers go, this is a winner.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: As the owner of a three-row crossover (daily driven by my wife), I’m less enamored of the CX-9 than Wes, but I’ll concede it offers quite a bit of car for the money, along with some of the sprightly handling Mazda is known for. Fundamentally, though, this is a stretched previous-generation Ford Edge and it drives a lot more like a big Ford than its smaller, Mazda-engineered siblings like the CX-5. Zoom-zoom isn’t really part of the equation here.
Mazda has imbued the CX-9 with a good feature set and decent interior materials quality, though some of the equipment appears included to check a required “features” box rather than as a cohesive ergonomic design. The navigation/infotainment screen looks like the same one in the CX-5, and the screen is far too small for a dash the size of the CX-9’s. The keyless start doesn’t use a “start” button, but instead has a plastic key-like insert in the exact spot you’d expect to find the ignition lock cylinder. You turn and crank the insert exactly like you would a standard key -- the only thing missing is the movement from pocket to lock cylinder. Everything is “there,” but it all feels vaguely aftermarket.
Those accustomed to the low-set sitting-in-a-bathtub driving experience found in crossovers like the Explorer and Chevrolet Traverse will appreciate the CX-9’s tall seating position and low beltline. The cockpit has an open, airy sense to it that helps hide this 4,500-pound truck’s mass. Relatively light handling and well-connected steering do a good job keeping everything in line, and while the 3.7-liter V6 will get the CX-9 moving without trouble, the tradeoff is poor fuel economy. The trip computer had me averaging 14.7 mpg over a couple days’ moderate driving in early-spring weather.
Do you like rooting for the underdog? The CX-9 should appeal -- Mazda sold just under 3,000 units through the end of February, compared to 35,000 Ford Explorers and 25,000 Honda Pilots during the same timeframe. There’s decent value here, though, so if the quirky feature layout and dated platform don’t bother you, try a Mazda CX-9 on for size before buying.
ONLINE FEATURES EDITOR JAKE LINGEMAN: So you’ve decided to go with a three-row SUV. Well, the good news is there are a ton of options from all corners of the world. You got your Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento, both less expensive than this CX-9, and you have your Chevy Tahoe and Suburban, both more expensive. Looking at the options, the CX-9 could be a perfect middle reliever. Gas mileage isn’t great, but it’s better than the Tahoe and Suburban. Surprisingly, it offers less passenger room than the Sorento and Santa Fe, so if that’s your only concern, check into those.
The 3.7-liter V6 provides enough power to cruise the expressway easily, and the six-speed trans is unbelievable smooth, at least at slow speeds. I was in third before I pulled out of the underground garage. I know because whether you’re in manual mode or not, it displays your gear. Speaking of that manual mode, I have to mention, Mazda does it right with the auto-stick, up for downshift, down for upshift, like a 1-2 gear change. Even on big downshifts, it doesn’t jerk you around.
This CX-9 is an easy driver. The guys above keep saying the steering is good, I would just say it’s easy. It’s easy to work around a parking lot, easy to squirt out into traffic and easy to three-point-turn in the middle of the street. The wheel feels a little thin in my hand, though. I feel like steering wheel size should correlate with engine size. V8s, get a 4-inch diameter, sixes get 3 and fours get a little piece of hanger that you hold onto with your index fingers. Maybe not that last one.
The switchgear is fine, not very notable. I like the Mazda center console setup, but like Andy points out, that center infotainment screen is kind of small. It also infuriated me that I couldn’t zoom in or zoom out while I was driving. I get it, you can’t type in an eight-digit Bluetooth number while you’re doing 90 mph on the expressway, but when I’m navigating unfamiliar side streets at 9 mph, I should be able to hit the minus button to zoom. The radio wouldn’t read my Apple iPhone through the USB, which is the most convenient way to play music and charge the battery. People need to remember to check that software before they buy. I ended up using Bluetooth and it worked fine, but still.
The seats are comfortable, look cool and keep you warm with integrated heaters. I found a good driving position quickly and it looks like the second row passengers would have a decent amount of room too. I don’t know about those peeps in the way back. I would say kids only.
Since there are less expensive cars with more space, and larger cars with more power, the CX-9 might be easy to pass up. It looks better than the Sorento and Santa Fe, and personally I think it looks better than the Suburban, too. If you’re looking for a three-row, it has to at least make the test-drive list.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: As many of you know, Mazda is my type of car company. Though I’m getting a little tired of the zoom-zoom tagline, I’ll never get tired of how its cars are tuned towards the sportier end of the spectrum. With the Mazda 3, you have a brilliant compact that’s exceptionally engaging for the class. The 6 is the same: light on its feet and entertaining. How about the CX-5? It’s probably the sharpest-driving small crossover on the market in my opinion.
Then we have this CX-9, which is a bigger third-row crossover. Even though it’s been around for a bit, I would argue that it still brings a lot to the table. Like Wes said, it doesn’t behave like a 4,500-pound vehicle. Credit the snappy steering response, well-sorted suspension and meaty 20-inch tires our Grand Touring model test vehicle sits on. It feels well-planted around turns and it doesn’t ride half bad down our bumpy Michigan roads. It’s not the least bit harsh.
There’s plenty of muscle from the 3.7-liter V6, as others have pointed out here. Buzzing up to freeway speeds is done easily and the six-speed automatic delivers fluid shifts. I filled the CX-9 twice and both times averaged in the 17-mpg range, which is a little above the EPA city fuel economy rating. There was some expressway mileage mixed in there, but most of it was city trekking. So the CX-9’s real-world fuel economy isn’t dreaded.
The cabin is quite spacious, and I packed it to the brim with a bunch of supplies for the family restaurant. The second and third rows of seats fold down easily to provide a healthy amount of cargo room.
I will have to agree with what was previously said about the small center infotainment screen. When vehicles like the Dodge Dart have center screens as big as an Apple iPad, you would expect a vehicle the size of the CX-9 to have something larger than a 5.8-inch display. The majority of the dashboard is hard plastic, but it features a nice finish so it doesn’t look super cheap. I’m sure a new generation CX-9 is in the works and things like a too small infotainment screen and hard plastic everywhere will most likely be addressed.
As is, it’s still a competitive three-row crossover with exterior sheetmetal that still looks fresh, and a drive character that’s at the top of the class. Would you rather have a Nissan Pathfinder and live with a CVT? I wouldn’t. The new Honda Pilot does look darn good from photos, though. But there are tons of options in this segment and this Mazda should be one that everyone should at least take for a test drive.
Options: GT tech package including Bose audio with 10 speakers, Sirius satellite radio with four-month subscription, full color touch-screen navigation and power moonroof ($2,435); recreational accessory package including roof rails, cargo net, cross bars, stainless steel rear bumper guard ($650); recreational accessory package discount (-$650)
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