Overview

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Overview (Final Score: C+)

Three-row crossovers have become the de facto choice for families since they can carry kids and cargo without issues. But for some, a three-row crossover is seen as a sort of punishment. A fair number aren't stylish or exciting to drive.

There are exceptions and one of them is the Mazda CX-9. The Japanese automaker is known for building vehicles that provide driving fun and the CX-9 is no different. It also features a distinctive design. But be aware that the CX-9 has some compromises that may be off-putting.

What We Love About the 2018 Mazda CX-9:


  • Impressive handling for a crossover

  • Design and materials you'd expect in a luxury car

  • Potent engine


 

What We Don't Love About the 2018 Mazda CX-9:


  • Middling predicted reliability

  • Small cargo area

  • Missing some features found in competitors


 

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Exterior View (9/10)

The CX-9 takes the already distinctive Kodo design language used on other Mazda models and gives it some tweaks. Most changes are for the front end where there is a wider grille, slimmer headlights and more aggressive bumper treatment. These changes are beginning to roll out onto other Mazda models for 2018 and beyond.

Move to the side to see the long front end and 20-inch wheels that come standard on the Grand Touring and Signature. Sport and Touring models make do with smaller 18-inch wheels. Mazda's designers thankfully restrained themselves from going completely overboard with the chrome trim. It is very subtle, with chrome used along the windows, lower door trim and rear tailgate.

During our week with the CX-9, some people asked if we were driving an Audi. We're sure Mazda would consider that a compliment.

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Interior Comfort, Quality, and Ease of Use (7/10)

Mazda has been raising the bar when it comes to interiors for volume brands. The CX-9 is a prime example of this, with a handsome design you would expect to find in a luxury car. Materials are top notch, with leather upholstery, brushed metal trim, and soft-touch plastics with graining. Controls are easy to find at a glance, and are within easy reach for both driver and passenger.

Those sitting up front will find an average amount of head and legroom. A set of power adjustments that come standard on the Grand Touring means passengers of any size will have no issue finding a correct position. Heated seats are available, but ventilated seats are nowhere to be seen.

The second row provides an abundance of legroom, but headroom is surprisingly tight. Also, the CX-9's second-row is only available as a bench. Those wanting captain chairs will need to look elsewhere. The third-row seat is best reserved for small kids, with its minimal amount of headroom and legroom. Those wanting to use the third row to carry adults should look at the redesigned Buick Enclave or Chevrolet Traverse.

Mazda also loses out in cargo space. The CX-9 offers 14.4 cubic feet of space with all three rows up, 38.2 cubic with third-row folded, and 71.2 cubic feet with the second row folded. Honda's Pilot crossover comes with 16.5 cubic feet with all rows up and climbs to 83.9 cubic feet with the rear two rows folded. The CX-9 does claw some points back with the numerous storage spaces for small items throughout the interior.

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Technology (7/10)

The CX-9 comes with either a 7- or 8-inch touchscreen with the Mazda Connect infotainment system. Along with the touchscreen, Mazda also provides a control knob and shortcut buttons in the center console. Our Grand Touring tester came with the larger 8-inch system.

We like the intuitive menu layout and control knob that makes using the system not as painful as others. We what we don't like is the touchscreen, as it's difficult to tell which parts of Mazda Connect are touch-enabled and which aren't. Also, don't expect to find Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration.

Fuel Economy (8/10)

Mazda tops the class, in terms of fuel economy. EPA fuel economy figures for the CX-9 AWD stand at 20 City/26 Highway/23 Combined. Front-wheel models return slightly higher fuel economy figures of 22/28/24. Our average for the week in our CX-9 AWD tester landed at 22.5 in mostly city driving.

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Predicted Reliability, Initial Quality Ratings (6/10)

Consumer Reports gives the 2018 Mazda CX-9 a poor rating in their predicted reliability ratings. J.D. Power hasn't issued their reliability rating for the 2018 CX-9, but gave the 2017 model an average rating.

At the time of this writing, J.D. Power hasn't issued an initial quality rating for the CX-9. Mazda as a whole doesn't fare so well in J.D. Power's initial quality study. In 2017, Mazda was toward the bottom in their ratings.

Safety (9/10)

For 2018, Mazda is improving the CX-9's already stellar safety record by adding more active safety equipment. All models now get forward collision warning with low-speed automatic braking and blind spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert as standard. This is on top of a full set of airbags, traction and stability control, brake assist, and a backup camera. The Touring adds automatic high beams, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and radar cruise control with stop-start. Grand Touring and Signature models include parking sensors for the front and rear.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is the only group to crash test the CX-9, where it was named a Top Safety Pick.

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Performance (8/10)

Unlike most competitors that have a V6 under the hood, Mazda took a big gamble by installing a 2.5L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Power figures stand at 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. With premium fuel, horsepower climbs to 250. This is paired up with a six-speed automatic and the choice of front or all-wheel drive.

Step on the throttle and the engine responds with a smooth and linear power delivery. The engine responds quickly when power is needed quickly, such as making a pass. The only downside to the engine is it sounding slightly rough during hard acceleration compared to V6-powered models. The automatic delivers silky-smooth shifts in the standard driving mode, but provides quicker ones when put into the sport mode.

For being such a large crossover, the CX-9 is surprisingly agile. With a firm suspension and decently weighted steering, the CX-9 feels smaller, with little body roll and inspiring confidence for a driver. The ride does let in a few bumps, but it isn't anything passengers will complain about. Road and wind noise are kept to very acceptable levels.

Pricing and Value (8/10)

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 kicks off at $32,130 for the base Sport FWD and climbs to $44,315 for the Signature AWD. Our CX-9 Grand Touring AWD tester carried a base price of $42,270. With a couple of options, the as-tested price came to $43,905.

The smart buy in the CX-9 lineup is the Touring, which begins at $34,960 for the FWD model and $36,760 for the AWD model. It comes with everything you could possibly want and need, such as radar cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, heated front seats, keyless entry and push-button start.

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Total Score and Competitive Comparison (62/80, 78%)

If carrying your family in comfort or having a lot of cargo space is one of your priorities, then consider the Honda Pilot. It may lack the sharp looks and driving excitement of the CX-9, but it excels in other areas. The Pilot is toward the top when it comes to cargo space and offers one of the smoothest rides in the class. The V6 engine provides plenty of grunt and can tow up to 5,000 pounds when properly equipped; the CX-9 can only tow up to 3,500 pounds. There are some issues to be aware of. For starters, Honda's infotainment system is not user friendly with its slow-response times, a somewhat confusing interface, and many of the controls being capacitive-touch versus regular buttons and knobs. The optional nine-speed automatic provides very abrupt shifts and an unrefined stop-start system.

The Dodge Durango comes close to matching the CX-9 in terms of driving fun, and also provides a very composed ride. An optional V8 engine gives impressive towing numbers of 7,400 pounds and muscle car performance. It doesn't hurt that the Durango stands out with an aggressive design and one of the most user-friendly infotainment systems on the market. The Durango's weak points are a smallish interior and a very cramped third-row.

Mazda's CX-9 is perfect for someone who has to give up their sports car or dreams of owning one when kids start entering into the picture. It's as a close as a crossover will get to matching a sports car's handling and steering.

Mazda nails the styling inside and out to make the CX-9 standout from a very crowded field. The turbo engine might a be a possible weak point, considering how most competitors use V6 engines. But it proves to be up to the task with excellent performance.

As we already mentioned, the CX-9 has a number of compromises. The most apparent and one that will be the make or break for most buyers is the small cargo area. Even with both rows of rear seats folded, the CX-9 trails the competition. The lack of certain features and a somewhat concerning reliability record will also give buyers some pause.

Enthusiasts should seriously consider the CX-9. Everyone else should look at the competition before giving it serious thought.

Trim Style Engine Drive Train MSRP
SUV - AWD
Sport Sport AWD 4 Cylinder AWD 33930
Touring Touring AWD 4 Cylinder AWD 36760
Grand Touring Grand Touring AWD 4 Cylinder AWD 42270
Signature Signature AWD 4 Cylinder AWD 44315
SUV - FWD
Sport Sport FWD 4 Cylinder FWD 32130
Touring Touring FWD 4 Cylinder FWD 34960
Grand Touring Grand Touring FWD 4 Cylinder FWD 40470

Car Rankings

Interested to see how the 2018 Mazda CX-9 ranks against similar cars in terms of key attributes? Here are the 2018 Mazda CX-9 rankings for MPG, horsepower, torque, leg room, head room, shoulder room, hip room and so forth.

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