Mazda completely redesigned the CX-9 midsize crossover utility vehicle just two years ago, and it returns for 2018 with a starting price of $32,130 (plus $940 freight) for the base Sport model with front-wheel drive, or $33,930 with all-wheel drive.
The redesign moved the CX-9 into its second generation.
It’s one of three crossovers in the Mazda lineup. The others are the compact, five-passenger CX-5, whose competitors include the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V; and the CX-3 subcompact, which competes with vehicles such as the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore.
Among the newest crop of family-size crossovers, the seven-passenger CX-9 stands out as one of the best, even though it’s not a vehicle that gets a lot of publicity and doesn’t end up on a large number of shopping lists.
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That’s unfortunate, because it’s definitely worth considering in a crowded crossover field that also includes such import-brand stalwarts as the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander, along with the Ford Explorer, Ford Flex, Volkswagen Atlas, Volvo XC90, Acura MDX, Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and more.
The CX-9 combines large measures of style and performance into a package that not only has great curb appeal, but also is quite fun to drive.
Prices range as high as $44,315 for the Signature model, which comes only with all-wheel drive.
In between the base Sport and the Signature models are the CX-9 Touring ($34,960, front drive; $36,760, all-wheel drive) and Grand Touring ($40,470, front drive; $42,270, all-wheel drive), with each successive model building on the features of the previous trim level.
A Power Driver Seat and i-Activsense Package for the Sport model adds $1,290; and the Touring Premium Package for the Touring model is $1,890.
This three-row crossover offers a premium interior, a Mazda-style fun driving experience, and the brand’s signature “KODO — Soul of Motion” exterior design.
Under the hood of all models is Mazda’s new turbocharged Skyactiv-G 2.5T four-cylinder engine, producing 227 horsepower and 310 foot-pounds of torque on 87-octane regular gasoline (250 horsepower on 93-octane premium gasoline). The engine is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.
We had plenty of power from this engine – so much that it felt like we were in a sports car at times. There was never any hint of shortage of power.
EPA estimated fuel economy using either gasoline grade is 22 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined with front-wheel-drive, or 20/26/23 with all-wheel drive. On our AWD tester, we averaged about 23.8 mpg during our week, with a mix of about 75 percent highway driving, and the rest on city streets or country roads.
The new turbo four-cylinder engine replaced a 3.7-liter V-6 from the previous generation, with 273 horsepower and 270 foot-pounds of torque. But it was not quite as peppy as the new turbo four-cylinder in our tester.
While the new CX-9 continues to offer a six-speed automatic as before, it’s an updated gearbox with a sport driving mode that pairs well with the turbo engine. Most competitors are going with transmissions that have eight, nine or 10 gears, however.
New standard features for 2018 on all models include Smart City Brake Support, which can automatically apply the brakes in emergency situations below 19 mph; Blind Spot Monitoring; and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
Among features standard on the base model are LED headlights and taillights similar to those of Mazda’s newest MX-5 Miata roadster; fabric seating surfaces; an electronic parking brake; 18-inch wheels; backup camera; trailer stability assist; and the Mazda Connect infotainment system, with Commander control and a seven-inch color display.
Moving up to the Touring level brings an auto-dimming rearview mirror, universal gate/garage opener, black- or sand-colored leather seating surfaces, the Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry System, a power liftgate, power front seats, and an eight-inch Mazda Connect touch-screen display.
The Touring Premium Package adds automatic headlights; LED fog lights; navigation; a premium 12-speaker Bose audio system; rain-sensing wipers; rear backup sensors; second-row retractable sunshades; satellite radio; and a sunroof.
The Grand Touring model – our tester -- has the previously listed amenities, and tacks on an Adaptive Front-lighting System, heated front seats, heated middle-row seat and steering wheel (new for 2018), 20-inch wheels, aluminum interior trim, Mazda’s first Active Driving Display that projects instrument and navigation information onto the windshield above the steering wheel; automatic high-beam control, lane-departure warning/lane-keep assist, Mazda Radar Cruise Control, roof rails and memory settings on the driver’s seat.
We also had Mazda’s predictive i-Activ automatic all-wheel-drive system on our test vehicle, which operated seamlessly on a variety of road surfaces we experienced, including some dirt and gravel park roads. The all-wheel drive is not intended for serious off-road use, however, as it does not have low-range gearing.
The top model, the CX-9 Signature, also features i-Activ all-wheel drive, which uses 27 sensors to measure conditions more than 200 times per second to determine how to allocate power to each wheel to minimize wheel slip.
Also included with the Signature model are auburn-colored Nappa leather seats, rosewood trim from Japanese guitar-maker Fujigen, LED signature accent grille lighting, and LED accent lighting around the automatic shifter.
Safety features include electronic stability and roll control with traction control, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front seat-mounted side air bags, and roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for all three rows.
Our Grand Touring model also had trailer stability assist. But trailer towing is limited to 3,500 pounds.
Mazda says the CX-9 is aimed at young couples and modern families, but also is meant for older empty-nesters who pursue active lifestyles.
Cargo space is limited to just 14.4 cubic feet when the third-row seat is in place, but that expands to 38.2 cubic feet with the third row folded down, or to 71.2 cubic feet with both rear seatbacks folded. There is a power-operated tailgate, which is a handy feature.
Overall length is 199.4 inches, down just slightly from the previous 199.8 inches. But the wheelbase is 115.3 inches, which is 2.1 inches longer than before.
The middle row bench holds three people, and has a 60/40 split, and the rear seat has room for two, with a 50/50 split-folding seatback.
We had the 12-speaker Bose premium audio and the navigation system, which had 2-D and 3-D modes. It was easy to program, and had large type for easier reading on the go.
The interior is typical of Mazda products, with great attention to detail and lots of creature comforts. We did have one complaint, though: the USB port for connecting our smartphone to the audio system and/or charging it was inside the center console box. That’s an inconvenient spot for it, and most automakers have moved the auxiliary power outlets and USB ports to the front of the center console below the dash, with a tray to hold smartphones out in the open.
Seven exterior colors are offered, including the Soul Red Metallic of our test vehicle – which added $595 to the sticker price. The only other option included on our tester was the rear cargo mat. We had the sand-colored leather interior.
Total sticker price of our 2018 CX-9 Grand Touring AWD was $43,905, including freight and options.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2018 Mazda CX-9
The package: Midsize, seven-passenger, five-door, turbocharged four-cylinder, front- or all-wheel-drive, crossover utility vehicle.
Highlights: Having entered its second generation two years ago, this is the newest version of Mazda’s family size crossover, with great looks, sporty performance and lots of high-tech safety technology.
Negatives: Limited cargo space behind third row.
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 227 HP./310 foot-pounds (with regular fuel; 250 HP. with premium fuel).
Length: 199.4 inches.
Curb weight: 4,054-4,301 pounds.
Cargo volume: 14.4 cubic feet (behind third seat); 71.2 cubic feet (third seat folded).
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds.
Electronic stability control: Standard, with anti-roll feature.
Side air bags: Seat-mounted front side; side-curtain for all rows.
Fuel capacity/type: 19 gallons (2WD); 19.5 gallons (AWD), unleaded regular acceptable.
EPA fuel economy: 22 mpg city/28 highway/25 combined (2WD); 20 city/26 highway/23 combined (AWD).
Base price range: $32,130-$44,315, plus $940 freight.
Price as tested: $43,905, including freight and options (2018 Grand Touring, AWD).
On the Road rating: 8.9 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.