The new Mazda CX-9 is Mazda’s brand new 3-row crossover. It replaces the somewhat tired CX-9 that, based on casual observation, never sold in huge numbers here in Canada, and brings the last model expected to live past 2016 into Mazda’s SkyActiv era. SkyActiv is Mazda’s snazzy marketing term for a collection of technologies aimed at improving efficiency (and gas mileage). Lighter weight and more efficient engines and transmissions are typically the hallmarks of Mazda’s “SkyActiv technology”. The outgoing CX-9 was hundreds of pounds heavier and was hauled around by a far less sophisticated motor. The new one, brings the formula up to date.
The new CX-9 is important for Mazda because the 3-row crossover is essentially the new minivan. Let’s face it, anybody who even occasionally needs more than 5 seats in their car has to make a hard choice: live with the minivan stigma, or go with the 3-row. And for most families, this is going to be their reality. So if Mazda wants to have a place for its formerly childless buyers to go within their lineup when they have kids now that the Mazda 5 is being discontinued, the CX-9 is going to be it.
On the outside
If you’re going to cave in and get a big vehicle, the CX-9 brings plenty of style lube to help squeeze you into that new reality. The CX-9 is very pretty. It’s another home run for Mazda’s styling department. Our GS-L trim level tester had smaller wheels, and an anonymous exterior colour (Sonic Silver Metallic), but it still looked really nice. The long hood and prominent grille gives it a very sporty appearance. It’s smoother and more subtle than the Toyota Hylander, sleeker and more lithe than the somewhat bloated looking Honda Pilot, and it’s more classy looking than the Ford Explorer and Dodge Durango.
On the inside
Inside, the CX-9 doesn’t disappoint. Like the other models, the CX-9 has a feel that is far more premium than you’d expect in a mid-range vehicle of this size costing $41,500 before freight and PDI. All interiors across the industry are turning up the wick, but Mazda has handily kept pace, and in my opinion, produces interiors closer to Audi and BMW than its price-based rivals. Opt for Mazda’s new “Signature” trim level, and rich leather and a myriad of small details will push you even further into premium car territory, both in style and price.
Mazda’s focus on driving seems to have led it towards cleaner, less cluttered interiors. There’s no sea of buttons, only the bare minimum number of controls to get the job done in an intuitive and ergonomic way.
I did have one nit to pick with the interior design, however. The CX-9’s window and side mirror switchgear are mounted in a hard enclosure on the door that lands right where my knee naturally wants to rest. It’s not terribly uncomfortable, but It bothered me enough to make note of it.
Seating and utility
The seating is comfortable, and my kids tell me the second and third row are more spacious than in our 2012 Mazda 5. They loved the second row climate controls, which they found a way to fight over, naturally.
The third row seats fold *mostly* flat to form a fairly high load floor. Folding the second row down would give you copious amount of space to load large items, however the rear opening isn’t as tall or wide as you might expect from a vehicle this size. This is no doubt a side effect of the sleek design, and probably a reasonable trade off unless you’re in the habit of moving refrigerators on weekends.
Mazda’s Skyactive philosophy plays a serious role here. The CX-9 doesn’t have an available V6, or high-output optional motors, like its competitors. Instead it has a single engine choice: a turbocharged, 2.5L 4 cylinder unit. It has a host of efficiency technologies in the motor and the transmission at play and produces 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel. The CX-9 feels amply powerful for this 1,917kg crossover. It pulls smoothly from a stop or during passing. Stomp your foot down and you’ll get a satisfying growl and turbocharger whine as the car briskly takes you to posted limit speeds. All but the high horsepower addicts will be totally satisfied by this singular engine choice.
Sure, an optional motor with 350hp and 400lb-ft of torque would have made the CX-9 as quick as it looks, but Mazda’s a small manufacturer, and simplification is probably necessary to keep costs down on their relatively small volumes.
The GS-L tester handled well around town, but didn’t make me think “this is the Mazda of 3-rows” It was more like a 3-row that exhibited Mazda-like tendencies. Quiet, comfortable, and balanced? For sure. Exciting to toss around corners? Not so much.
The Mazda-ness of the CX-9 is clearly evident in the exterior and interior styling, which are totally on point. The power train is clearly holding true to the Mazda philosophy, too, with the emphasis on efficiency and real world driving needs. It fits the CX-9 well, and the single engine option puts a stop to any FOMO you might otherwise have experienced if a larger motor option did exist. The handling, however, leaves you wondering if Mazda rounded the edges, or watered down the wine. But perhaps making a large 3-row truly engaging around corners isn’t time well spent… Is anybody aside from those willing to plunk down Cayenne or X5 amounts of money really expecting their 3-row to carve corners? I think in this space, okay handling is good, and good handling is great, and the CX-9 is certainly good. For truly great handling, you’ll need to lower your seating position, and climb into an MX-5.
Now, my brain knows the CX-9 is a good corporate decision. Everybody loves crossovers. Still, I hold out hope that Mazda will decide to update the Mazda 5. This smaller 3-row, Mazda 3-based wagon is a stellar deal for families and seemed to be fully marinated in the quirky, zoom-zoom ethos that people fell in love with in the early 2000s. And this brings me back to cargo capacity. Staring into the CX-9 through the open rear hatch, I know the cargo volume numbers tell me it’s larger, but the Mazda 5 feels bigger. With a lower load height, the Mazda 5’s cargo space is more practical, too. Best of all, the Mazda 5 is a healthy $10,000-$15,000 cheaper than the CX-9, too.
Base Price: $41,500.00
A/C Tax & Destination: $1,790.00
As Tested: $43,290.00