OK, so maybe you don’t describe the typical three-row SUV as something that “zooms,” but Mazda wanted to update its venerable CX-9 crossover with the driving dynamics and personality that defines Mazda. And the company has succeeded! The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is one of the few SUVs out there that can haul seven passengers quietly and comfortably, but the driver can have a little extra fun for the trip home once the kids are dropped off at school.
Mazda has moved to a turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is as smooth and quiet as competitors’ V-6 engines. Moreover, with 227 horsepower and a diesel-like 310 lb-ft of torque, the CX-9 offers the grunt of a locomotive in an engine that uses fuel conservatively. The EPA numbers come in at 20 city, 26 highway, which is impressive for a relatively large SUV.
The exterior has a clean look that invokes class (the Snowflake White Pearl paint my tester sported had a lot of sparkle that set it off from other whites in the parking lot – especially when clean). The interior was auburn and black, with classy black inserts on the front seats for detail. The low-gloss wood inserts would look at home in a top-shelf Audi or Volvo. There are heated seats in the front and a heated steering wheel. The Touring and Signature models of the CX-9 offer heated outboard second-row seats, which is a great option not typically found on SUVs. The control panel for rear-seat passengers is on the back of the center console next to rear-seat HVAC switches. A new mom I was talking to was so excited to have heated rear seats because she preferred to travel in the second row with her newborn daughter. If your SUV does not have heated seats in the rear seating positions, your local mobile electronics retailer can retrofit your ride with inconspicuous switches so rear-seat occupants can travel in warmth and comfort, too.
Mazda has always been passionate about safety, and since the CX-9 is designed for families, they did not skimp. High beam control will automatically turn on and off the brights so you don’t blind oncoming traffic. Additionally, lane departure warning and Mazda Radar Cruise Control check your blind spots and what is in front of you. The Radar Cruise Control is visible in a very well-defined heads-up display that projects the information about your ride up on the windshield. This is another technology that can be added to vehicles in the aftermarket. In some Mazda vehicles, the heads-up image is projected on a small piece of plastic in front of the driver. On the CX-9, it is projected right on the windshield. Another Mazda safety element is Smart Brake Support, which can really save your hide. If it senses you are approaching a vehicle or object too fast, it will automatically engage the brakes. In one instance, I saw a car pull out unexpectedly and I pushed the brake pedal about halfway in – then the Smart Brake Support kicked in hard … to the point of locking the seat belts and activating the ABS. It was startling, but I appreciated the Mazda stepping in to be on the safe side (I probably would have been OK, knowing the vehicle pulling out was accelerating hard). Even a warning can be the difference between a close call and a wreck. Forward-facing sensors should be standard on all vehicles, especially since there are excellent units made to OEM specs like those from MobilEye.
The Bose 12-speaker audio system sounds pretty good, but I would have liked the ability to tune the vehicle a bit more for better imaging. A good aftermarket outboard audio processor can help with that. We really like the fact that the vehicle uses both a control knob on the center console in addition to a touchscreen – a rarity and huge selling feature. Give us multiple options for toggling vehicle controls and we are happy! The icing on the cake is a real volume knob on the center console as well.
The Mazda CX-9 is sometimes an overlooked vehicle in a crowded market segment. It starts at $32,130. The MSRP of my fully loaded Signature model came in at $44,315, which is not too bad. If you are looking for a three-row SUV, check it out!