Mazda’s largest vehicle, the three-row mid-size CX-9 crossover. Among its utilitarian classmates, the Mazda stands out by having a pulse. The SUV’s sweet dynamics and gorgeous interior have earned it to two consecutive 10Best Trucks and SUVs nods, beating the likes of the Chevrolet Traverse, Dodge Durango, and Honda Pilot, despite its less roomy third-row seat and cargo area. Mazda wraps its family hauler in stylish clothes that, along with the CX-9’s general refinement, convincingly mimic a luxury product. Surprise! Mazda charges mainstream money for the CX-9, which starts at just $33,125 for a front-wheel-drive Sport and tops out at $45,310 for a Signature with all-wheel drive.
lthough Mazda hasn’t touched the majority of the CX-9’s mechanicals or styling since introducing the current-generation model for 2016, it has made a host of small enhancements. This year brought the brand’s G-Vectoring Control, software that subtly bolsters turn-in feel by subtly tweaking engine torque (read about it here), and Mazda also made standard across the line adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and rain-sensing windshield wipers.
Those same active-safety features—particularly the collision-warning system—which we found to be overly sensitive in our initial test of a 2016 CX-9 have been adjusted to be less hyperactive. We didn’t encounter any false alerts in the almost range-topping Grand Touring–grade 2018 CX-9 tested here. In one sense, we appreciate the dearth of unnecessary beeping and automatic brake applications averting non-crashes; on the other hand, we weren’t able to trigger any alerts even when speeding toward the back of slower-moving or stopped traffic as quickly as we were comfortable (the source of many a false collision warning or automated-emergency-brake application), with the Mazda’s system set to its most sensitive mode.
Mazda also fiddled with the CX-9’s second-row seat-folding mechanism to open up a wider pathway through the rear doors to the third-row seats. That bit works as advertised; accessing the third row is notably easier and requires far less contortion for adults than before.
What We Like: Although its torquey turbocharged 2.5-liter inline-four engine can seem out of step with the rest of the CX-9’s dynamic eagerness and handling, it’s actually perfectly tuned for a three-row crossover’s normal duty cycle. Not much throttle is needed to access usable thrust, and the engine is quiet when waffling along, much like a less noisy diesel at low rpm most of the time. The Mazda’s well-managed suspension masterfully balances a comfortable, refined ride quality with stellar body control in corners. The interior remains upscale and roomy, at least in the front two rows, and the exterior styling still looks fresh.
What We Don’t Like: As much as we welcome Mazda’s tiny changes that result in the CX-9’s easier third-row access, those two wayback seats remain tight for third-grade graduates and above. Also, while the CX-9’s infotainment control knob (the screen can be touch activated, but only when the vehicle is stopped) looks and feels expensive, the system it controls is somewhat behind the times, and the onscreen menus aren’t as intuitive as are the touch-controlled units in many competitors.
Verdict: Give or take a few particulars, the positive verdict on our favorite three-row crossover doesn’t change.