Reviewers almost unanimously praise the Mazda CX-9 midsize crossover SUV for its lively performance and sporty handling. While some test drivers make clear that the CX-9 is no sports sedan, they say it offers a more engaging driving experience than virtually any other moderately priced midsize SUV or crossover. In a Popular Mechanics comparison test, the Mazda CX-9 takes first place. Editor Ben Stewart comments, "the CX-9 most cohesively satisfied a need to carry a large family and a desire for spirited driving, and wraps it all in a downright sexy package." Indeed, the Mazda's sleek styling appeals to many critics, who say it's a pleasant stand-out among many conservative SUV designs. More kudos for the Mazda CX-9's dynamic appeal come from Edmunds Inside Line's Erin Riches, who calls the midsize people-mover "a crossover you'll take actual joy in driving."
The sole engine choice in Mazda's seven-passenger midsize SUV is a 273-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, matched with a six-speed automatic transmission. NewCarTestDrive.com's Christopher Jensen mentions a tendency of the front-drive model to pull to one side during heavy acceleration, a condition known as torque steer. This problem disappears on all-wheel-drive models, which automatically transfer power to the wheels with the most traction. Jensen warns that while the Mazda CX-9 does indeed engage the driver, the "price for the responsive handling, however, is a relatively stiff ride."
Fuel economy is not a strength of Mazda's midsize SUV, according to reviewers. Environmental Protection Agency estimates rate the front-drive Mazda CX-9 at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, or 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway with all-wheel drive. ConsumerGuide.com testers achieved between 17.3 and 18.1 mpg with test vehicles, and MotherProof.com's Lori Hindman reported getting a disappointing 15.3 mpg. Hindman comments that the Mazda CX-9's generous interior volume is great for seven passengers. Other reviewers back up this assertion, saying that there's sufficient room for two adults in the third row, despite the low-swept roofline. "Even if you have a family of 6-footers, you can get regular use out of the second and third rows," writes Inside Line's Riches. Folding both rows of rear seats gives the Mazda CX-9 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Maximum towing capacity for this family-friendly midsize SUV is 3,500 pounds.
Reviewers are in general agreement that the Mazda CX-9 provides a welcome environment for its driver. Car and Driver magazine calls the interior "airy," with "natural-looking materials," excellent outward visibility and "bang-on" seating positions. MotherProof's Hindman agrees that the interior is good-looking, but she also points out that some of the instrument panel controls aren't conveniently within her reach. "The CX-9 seemed to be really wide; the touch-screen and climate controls seemed far away, and I found myself leaning out of my seat to reach them," Hindman says.
Families or active individuals who want even more interior volume in a midsize crossover SUV may also want to consider the Chevrolet Traverse (*Est. $29,215 to $41,975) or its GM platform siblings: The GMC Acadia (*Est. $31,890 to $40,490), Saturn Outlook (*Est. $30,625 to $36,450) or more luxurious Buick Enclave (*Est. $35,070 to $39,380), according to Edmunds.com. While the Mazda CX-9 is called a "great freeway cruiser" by Car and Driver, it loses the magazine's comparison test to the highly-regarded Honda Pilot (Est. $27,695 to $38,495), which exhibits stronger off-road proficiency and can accommodate eight occupants. For better fuel economy and a softer ride, several reviewers recommend the somewhat smaller Toyota Highlander (Est. $25,705 to $34,520) or gas-electric Toyota Highlander Hybrid (Est. $34,700 to $41,020).
Several comparison tests pit the Mazda CX-9 against competing midsize SUVs and crossovers. The CX-9 wins a three-vehicle test conducted by Edmunds.com's Inside Line and takes first place again in a 2008 six-crossover comparison conducted by Popular Mechanics. In Car and Driver's comparison of six midsize crossover SUVs, the Mazda CX-9 comes in second behind the Honda Pilot. ConsumerGuide.com gives the CX-9 a Best Buy rating. MotherProof.com gives a perspective from a typical mom with children. NewCarTestDrive.com, Edmunds.com and ConsumerReports.org each deliver comprehensive reviews as well.
1. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds.com's Inside Line takes a close look at three midsize SUVs, each with three rows of seating and price tags (as tested) near $40,000: the 2009 Honda Pilot, 2008 Toyota Highlander and 2008 Mazda CX-9, the latter two of which have only minor changes for 2009. The Mazda CX-9 takes first place in this crossover comparison.
Review: Comparison Test: 2008-'09 Crossover SUVs, Erin Riches, July 6, 2008
2. Car and Driver
Car and Driver's thorough comparison test looks at six midsize crossover SUVs, each with all-wheel drive and three seating rows. Editors test the vehicles' performance on various paved and unpaved roads and compare interior features, comfort and utility. The Mazda CX-9 is ranked second to the Honda Pilot. Editors praise the Mazda's refined feel, driving position, outward visibility and overall performance.
Review: 2009 Honda Pilot vs. Ford Flex and Four Other Crossovers, John Phillips, Nov. 2008
Although a bit dated, this thorough Popular Mechanics comparison test compares the 2008 Mazda CX-9 (essentially unchanged for 2009) against five rival midsize SUVs. After testing at the track, on highways and on mountain roads, the Mazda CX-9 is the unanimous winner, with editors claiming this seven-passenger crossover is best at satisfying the needs of a large family while still being fun to drive.
Review: New Crossover Vehicles: Comparison Test, Ben Stewart, Sept. 2007
4. New Car Test Drive
This lengthy single-car evaluation covers the Mazda CX-9 in detail, with sections devoted to each aspect of the car, including a good description of its driving characteristics. Writer Christopher Jensen praises the amount of room in all seating positions, including the third row. He warns of a firm ride, however, and says the front-wheel-drive models can exhibit some pronounced torque steer under heavy throttle.
Review: 2009 Mazda CX-9 -- A Sportier Sport-Utility, Christopher Jensen
Editors of ConsumerReports.org have a good summary review of the Mazda CX-9 with a road-test evaluation along with reliability history as compiled in large owner surveys. You must be a subscriber to read this report.
Review: Review: 2009 Mazda CX-9, Editors of ConsumerReports.org
Editors provide an excellent summary review of the 2009 Mazda CX-9. Highlights include "superb handling capabilities," a third row that is "quite suitable for normal-sized adults," and its "stylish and roomy cabin." Drawbacks include its long rear doors, "a few cheap interior bits," and a "stiff ride with 20-inch wheels."
Review: 2009 Mazda CX-9 Review, Editors of Edmunds.com
ConsumerGuide.com rates the Mazda CX-9 midsize SUV as a Best Buy, and includes an evaluation of three variants, including a long-term test vehicle. Editors call the CX-9 "a stylish, refined entry that adeptly balances solid driving dynamics with generous passenger and cargo room." Drawbacks include a stiff ride and poor fuel efficiency. Test vehicles averaged 17.3 to 18.1 mpg.
Review: 2009 Mazda CX-9: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
Writing from a typical mom's point of view, MotherProof.com's Lori Hindman is disappointed in the Mazda CX-9, commenting that it feels large and cumbersome in tight quarters. Average fuel economy of 15.3 mpg is lower than expected. She is pleased with the generous interior space.
Review: CX-9 is Nice, But it Doesn't Wow Mom, Lori Hindman, Dec. 14, 2008