Driving Mazda's CX-9 | Function for the whole family

Tue, 01/27/2015 - 13:59
Last refreshed for model year 2013, Mazda’s CX-9 has become a fan favorite, providing a just-right blend of practicality, function and value. We first laid eyes on the company’s seven-seater in December 2012 during a private media preview of the car. Then, it was evident that the CX-9 would be a great value for families looking to fit the kids and grandparents comfortably in the same vehicle without having to shell out $50,000 to $60,000. The CX-9 we drove was painted Titanium Flash with Sand interior, similar to this one we built on the MazdaUSA.com website.

Practiality. Function. Value.

On the outside, the design of the Mazda CX-9 has certainly progressed since its debut in 2007, keeping it updated and in line with the “family genes” that Mazda has been refining over the past few years. The interior, however, could use some updating as far as technology is concerned. Mazda is lagging behind its competitors with available integrations for smartphones and a smaller-than-average display screen in the dash. But even so, CX-9 buyers may not be prioritizing technological conveniences as much as their precious cargo. As one of the few truly affordable large sport utility vehicles, Mazda’s CX-9 ticks the box for most folks in need of three rows of seats, fuel economy and safety all in one package. Toyota’s Highlander is likely its biggest competitor; the jury is still out on whether we like the overhauled exterior design as much as the outgoing model. Those changes, however, made improvements to the Highlander’s rear row access, which was pretty impossible before. Other considerations for buyers needing three rows without sticker shock could include the Buick Enclave and Dodge Durango.

Mazda’s CX-9 stays true to the brand, and its customer

Best Cars Guide spent some time with the 2015 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring All Wheel Drive (AWD). Our Mazda included all the standard features for this trim level plus a full-color touchscreen navigation, power moonroof, Bose sound system with 10 speakers and Sirius satellite radio (a four-month trial comes with the car). All this brought the CX-9 we tested to $39,890 MSRP, including the $890 for destination. Think about it, this is a three-row SUV for under 40 grand we’re talking about. It looks good. It’s functional (including passing the one-hand test for access to the third row). And it generally gets the job done. This ute is easy to drive. Mazda has done well to make its interface easy-to-use. Simple is not a bad thing when you’ve got crying babies and griping parents seated behind you. We think that in this case, when evaluating the daily experience for a CX-9 driver, less is definitely more.

Hangups from our perspective

Aspects we had a difficult time digesting included the odd turn knob that replaced both a traditional key ignition and the now ubiquitous start push button ignition. I would take either of those options over this awkward knob. The driver’s area is a bit too “mommy mobile” for our tastes (not that there’s anything wrong with a mommy mobile!)–the combination of a high belt-line and tall center console left us feeling short and a little too enclosed. The 3.7L V6 engine could use a bit more pep in its step. While the six-speed automatic transmission is perfectly capable with an empty cabin, we think that upping the gears and increasing torque would provide a smoother, more confident ride for a fully loaded down CX-9 with 7 passengers and their luggage (presumably mounted safely to the car’s roof racks–more on that in a moment).

Room for improvement…behind the third row

Storage is great if you keep the third row folded down, which is how we imagine the majority of CX-9 buyers would roll most of the time. The back row does seat normal-sized adults, so props to Mazda for that. Also, the middle row is on a track, making it easy to glide it forward for extra legroom for those way in the back. If you’re planning to use all seven seats regularly, then hopefully it’s to dinner or soccer practice as there’s very little room behind the back row to accommodate much luggage and equipment. This is an issue with all three-row SUV’s, however, and not unique to Mazda. Plus, the likelihood of a family using all three rows all the time is probably slim–that’s what minivans are for. So, we say the cost savings on this vehicle makes it worth investing in a high quality, aerodynamic cargo carrier for long road trips and vacations. Image credit: MazdaUSA.com

Concluding Thoughts

Are you looking for your next family car at a great value? Then you should at least consider the Mazda CX-9. It seats seven, so load up the kids and the grandparents–or all nine of your dogs (they’re family, too, right?). Mazda’s CX-9 is one of the best values for a large SUV on the market, and the brand’s track record for performance, safety, reliability and family-friendly vehicles make this ute worth the test drive.

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