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If you need three rows of seating for family needs, the Mazda CX-9 is one of many crossover-vehicle options. But if you'd really rather be in a more stylish, nimble vehicle, we can think of few three-row wagons that are both as exciting to look at and as exciting to drive as the Mazda CX-9.
We've already found the CX-9 to be among the better-looking vehicles in its class, and based on early pictures we've seen of the 2013 model, due late this fall, the facelift it's getting will bring an even sportier look. In the 2013 CX-9, Mazda has adopted its Kodo 'soul of motion' design language, manifesting in a new design theme for both the front and rear end. The front end in particular, based on early pictures, provides a much more aggressive look and helps punctuate the rest of the CX-9 design—even though the CX-9 carries over with essentially the same side profile and exterior sheetmetal. Inside, look for some substantial changes beyond just trims and materials, to match the new look and better fit with the somewhat more upright yet cockpit-influenced design in the CX-5.
Performance-wise, expect very little to change about the new CX-9; Mazda's 'MZR' V-6—a 3.7-liter that for 2012 made 273 horsepower—is expected to carry over, along with the same six-speed automatic transmission. We've found performance in prior model years to be responsive yet refined, with enough torque to carry a full load in confidence. But the key to why the CX-9 stands out in its class from a fun-to-drive standpoint has been its rather firm (yet just compliant enough) suspension tuning, as well as its quick-ratio steering. Our only complaint on the current versions has been the harsh ride of those with the available 20-inch wheels.
Expect interior packaging to be mostly the same—meaning that five adults will fit quite well in the first two rows, while the rearmost row is mostly for kids. Getting into the third row is challenging, too, but with the rear seatbacks folded you have space for a large load of groceries. We've described interior appointments in the past as definitely not luxury-caliber, but nicely detailed, and we anticipate that the 2013 Mazda CX-9 will get some material and trim upgrades.
In addition to the CX-9's respectable safety set, Mazda promises a number of new active-safety features available in the 2013 CX-9—including Forward Obstruction Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System, and High Beam Control System. The current version achieves only a 'marginal' IIHS roof rating, and we're not yet clear whether this version brings some structural changes that may improve on that one blemish.
Mazda hasn't yet provided any feature details for the U.S., but the automaker has noted audio and navigation upgrades, along with a voice-command system.
- Sporty, aggressive look
- Roomy tall-wagon interior
- Responsive yet refined
- New active-safety features
- Harsh ride with 20-inch wheels (2012 model)
- Not much cargo space behind third row