- Sporty look
- Space-efficient tall-wagon interior
- Comfortable seats
- Responsive handling, refined ride
- Available active-safety features
- Harsh ride, especially with optional 20-inch wheels
- With the third row up, not much cargo space
features & specs
The 2015 Mazda CX-9 isn't as efficient as Mazda's latest offerings, but it manages to put the same kind of smile on the driver's face as the brand's smaller offerings.
The 2015 Mazda CX-9 is an outlier compared to Mazda's newest products. It's by far the brand's largest vehicle, it's the only Mazda to come with a V-6 engine, and it doesn't benefit from the automaker's recent focus on making lighter, more-efficient cars and crossovers. Like other Mazdas past and present, however, the CX-9 puts emphasis on pleasing the driver as well as the passengers. It ranks as one of the better three-row crossover options and satisfies with its nimble dynamics, even if fuel economy isn't top-notch.
For 2013, the CX-9 received a modest set of styling updates, with a new snout that closely matches the front-end look of the new CX-5 compact crossover and the latest versions of the Mazda 6 sedan and Mazda 3 compacts. Mazda calls the latest design language Kodo 'Soul of Motion,' and it has been nicely grafted onto the large crossover, especially considering that only the front and rear ends were touched. The CX-9's cabin also received some minor touches, with the center-stack area redesigned to accommodate a 5.8-inch touch screen. While clearly carried over, the rest of the interior's design is still handsome.
Mazda hasn't touched the CX-9's powertrain for a while, and that's no bad thing in terms of performance. The 3.7-liter 'MZR' V-6 still makes 273 horsepower, runs on regular gas, and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission; in all it's a combination that we've found punchy yet refined, with plenty of torque to confidently carry a full load. You can't make power without using fuel, however, and as we've noted that's one of the CX-9's sore spots—all-wheel-drive versions get just 16 mpg city, 22 highway, while front-drive models are rated at 17/24 mpg.
The rather firm suspension tuning and quick-ratio steering are the real keys to the CX-9's sportier-than-average feel, though. The big guy is surprisingly fun to drive on a curvier road, relative to just about any other vehicle with three rows of seating. Just beware that ride comfort can be a little busy, even harsh at times--especially if you go with the optional 20-inch wheels.
Between the front two rows of seating, you can easily fit five adults. The third row is really only for kids, and even they might be a bit challenged by the narrow gap provided for entry and exit. Keep those rearmost seatbacks folded, and you have space for a large load of groceries. Even with the 2013 improvements, the CX-9 cabin doesn't feel luxury-caliber, yet it's nicely detailed and well put-together in general.
Standard equipment is typical for a three-row crossover without a luxury badge. All CX-9s include three-zone automatic climate control, steering-wheel audio and cruise controls, a 5.8-inch touch-screen infotainment system, six speakers, a six-disc changer, USB and aux-in ports, and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as HD Radio technology. Farther up the model line, you can get SMS text delivery, voice commands, satellite radio, Bose Centerpoint sound, and a DVD entertainment system for those in back. Top Grand Touring models include leather seating, heated front seats, power front seats, and heated side mirrors, among many other extras, but when optioned with the works (DVD, Bose audio, nav, an A/C outlet), the price tops $40k.
For 2015, Mazda has made a few more minor changes to the CX-9, all of them dealing with packaged options. The base model, which is called Sport, now includes power instead of manual lumbar adjustment for the driver's seat. Both of the packages offered for Touring and Grand Touring models now include the contents of the Recreational Accessory Package—roof rails, cross bars, a rear cargo net, and a rear bumper guard.
The CX-9 got several new active-safety features for 2013, including Forward Obstruction Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System, and High Beam Control System; and this year Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA) has been added. Since the CX-9's structure hasn't changed in many years, it's saddled with a worrisome 'marginal' IIHS roof rating. Things look better in the NHTSA's testing, with four stars overall, but it only scores three stars in frontal crash with the feds.