Mazda’s biggest vehicle is its three-row SUV, the CX-9. I just spent a week with this refreshed behemoth, putting it through the paces of our family life.
Pricing: 2013 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD
Base price (of specific trim): $44,750
Options: $2,500 Navigation package incl. power tailgate
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $49,245
Though it’s sitting on the same bones, Mazda says the CX-9 has a “sleek, re-designed figure”. Now the CX-9 was always one of the better-looking seven-passenger SUVs out there, in my opinion, and yes, the slightly aging look did get a little kick in the sagging pants. But it’s a mild refresh, not a redesign. Basically a handsome Mazda 6-like grille and some slick new headlight pods up front to make up the biggest change.
Other than that, I found round exhaust tips in the back, versus the old rectangular ones. So I think I’m OK to call them out for saying it’s a redesigned figure.
Anyway, the CX-9 is still a big boy. For your reference, it’s over a foot longer than the current Toyota Highlander, almost a foot longer than the Honda Pilot and a few inches longer than the Ford Explorer. Really, the only thing you’ll find that takes up more real estate is one of the GM triplets – the Traverse, Acadia or Enclave.
The smooth, clean lines (though not as striking as when they were new) are nicely offset by the monster 20″ rims.
What impressed me was how well the styling hides the size of this beast. When you see one drive by, it doesn’t seem nearly as big as it is, and I appreciate that.
Under the Hood
There’s one engine choice here and it remains unchanged. It’s a 3.7-litre V6, putting out 273 HP at 6250 RPM and 270 lb.ft of torque at 4250 RPM. The power is sent through a 6-speed automatic to all four corners via an active torque split full-time all-wheel drive system.
Fuel economy isn’t bad considering what you’re driving – the CX-9 is rated at 12.8L/100 km (18.3 mpg) in the city and 9.0 L/100 km (26 mpg) on the highway. I averaged 16.4 L/100 km (14 mpg) during exclusively city driving, with a couple of short freeway runs. That sucks. A lot. Now that I’ve complained about it, it’s actually in line with the competition – considering it’s a 4546 pound (2062 kg) 7-seater. It’s got a 76 litre tank, and can tow 3500 pounds.
Once you open the massive doors and step inside, you’ll find very basic and clean styling. It’s not a very exciting dash, but it works well. Sadly, you’ll also find acres of hard plastic on dash, making it feel way behind the competition in terms of quality. A nice touch is the alcantara, which they’ve splashed onto the door panels and small sections of the seats.
The cabin feels big and the headroom is good for my 5’10” frame. You feel like you’re sitting quite high, which I liked.
Speaking of sitting, the seats are upholstered in nice leather with perforated panels and are very comfortable. They even have decent bolstering! They are power-adjustable, heated and the driver’s seat has three memory settings.
I really enjoyed the steering wheel’s surprisingly small diameter which makes it less bus-like than other big SUVs. There are controls for the audio, driver information screen, handsfree and phone functions, as well as the cruise control.
The center stack starts with an old-school readout strip at the top, handling the clock, the climate control read-out, a variable driver information section – showing average speed, instant or average fuel consumption or fuel range – and outside temp.
Below that is a relatively small but easy to read touchscreen surrounded by a few hard buttons and a couple of knobs. It handles the audio system, the phone and the navigation systems as well as your backup camera.
The Bose system, which sounds very good, feeds off of AM, FM, satellite, CD, aux, USB, Bluetooth and Pandora sources. Under the screen is a dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The massive center console is a big visual divider – it comes up quite high and takes up a significant amount of real estate. On it are the shift lever, two huge cupholders under a flip-away lid and an armrest.
You get a power lift gate at the back, and a power tilt/slide sunroof overhead.
There’s a bit of driver assistance tech here – an excellent blind spot monitoring system as well as parking assistance.
Entry is keyless, and in an interesting twist, Mazda puts a faux key in the steering column – it’s not a push-start ignition – there’s a false key in the steering column that you twist like a normal one, it’s just not removable. Unique approach, but it works well.
Getting into the second row is easy – the doors open very wide and the step-in height is very accessible. Unfortunately, those wide-opening doors aren’t much fun in a parking lot.
The seats are very comfortable. There are three seats, three seatbelts and three headrests. The area feels very spacious and head and legroom are amazing. You can actually stretch out if you want to, thanks to the reclining seats. Fitting 3 kids across is no problem and there are 2 sets of LATCH connectors for their seats. A third adult (in the middle) will likely be uncomfortable for the long haul.
There are small door bins, 2 seatback map pockets, overhead reading lights and the middle seatback folds down to create an armrest with 2 cupholders and a lidded storage bin.
At the back of the center console is an automatic climate control system for a separate rear climate zone.
The seats also slide forward and back. As practical as that is, Mazda’s solution for the sliding seats issue is to provide tracks for them on the floor. Well, those tracks extend forward into your footspace. They’re open and exposed, meaning any sand, dirt, grit, spilled milk and food bits from your kids and other passengers will head straight for those open rails and will be difficult to clean out afterwards. I’m not sure I like the thinking behind that.
The third row offers two seats, two headrests and two seatbelts. Obviously it’s not as spacious as the second row. Headroom is just OK, but perfectly fine for kids. The seats themselves are surprisingly comfortable, especially compared to the afterthought that many third row seating areas are.
Legroom back there is tight for adults. Also, if you need enough room for adults to sit back there, you’ll need to slide the second row so far forward that it becomes too tight for adults.
There are a few storage options around the cabin. A small rubberized tray under the center stack (including a 12V plug), acceptable door bins, a smallish glove compartment and a useful storage space under the armrest’s clamshell lid. It’s carpeted and includes another 12V plug, as well as your USB and auxiliary connections.
The real space is in the trunk. You’ll find a reasonably useful 487 litres of room behind the third row. Strangely, Mazda doesn’t release figures for the cargo volume with the third row folded, which would be the most common configuration in my opinion. But, it’s good to know that if you folded both the second and third rows down, you could have your houseguests crash in the resulting 2851 litre apartment. Room for rent!
I was definitely impressed by the driving experience, in light of the mass you’re piloting around town. I wouldn’t say the CX-9 has the behavior of a sporty hatchback, but it’s pretty darn drivable!
First and foremost, this thing is smooooooth. I found everything it did was done very smoothly. The engine, the transmission and the ride were all exemplary – smooth and quiet.
Although it rides very well (treading somewhat into firm territory), it also handles surprisingly well. If you can ignore the minor body roll, you’ll enjoy the relatively sharp steering. It would be a great road-trip vehicle that wouldn’t complain at all when you throw it around some sweepers in the mountains. It feels as though it’s happy to play, which is unusual for a vehicle this big.
Around town, the CX-9 feels torquey, responsive and satisfying to drive. It’s a luxo-barge though, and it gets a little grumpy when you poke it. It’s happier taking its time to get to speed, and if you’re in a rush, or if you need to pass someone in a hurry, you’ll be frustrated. Put the hammer down, and you’ll get more noise and breathless wheezing than results, and it’s just not a particularly fast vehicle.
The smooth automatic transmission does offer a manual shifting mode, which is slow and seems a bit pointless on a vehicle like this. I thought the gearbox was well programmed and suited to this vehicle, and I was happy to let it do the shifting itself.
The visibility out is pretty good – the high seating position helps with that, but the rear view is restricted thanks to the multitude of headrests in the way. I was very impressed with the brakes – they’re easy to modulate and crisp right from the first touch of your foot. They’re outstanding for a vehicle like this.
I was very happy with the Mazda CX-9. It’s a smooth operator (cue Sade song here). You’ll find a comfortable SUV with plenty of room, a usable 3rd row for kids and fantastic handling.
I give the CX-9 a 7.5 out of 10, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re shopping in this class.
I appreciate that Mazda does things somewhat differently, and I like that they put their own touch on styling, performance and even the little things like electronics. The tech, sorely lacking as of last year, has caught up with this “redesign”.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was high. She loved how easy it was to a) get in, b) load up kids, and c) drive. She actually considered it a valid competitor to her beloved Honda Odyssey minivan. Something to think about. She did not enjoy the size, especially when parking, and indicated that it started to feel bigger the slower she drove it.
The CX-9’s good looks, poise and almost car-like road manner remain firmly in place and I’d say it’s still the easiest vehicle in the class to drive on a daily basis.
I would recommend putting it on your test-drive list if you need to buy something in the “land-leviathan” class.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Mazda Canada.
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