The Mazda CX-9 has always been a mid-sized niche-market SUV with a sporty twist. It is like having a common cocktail that everyone orders at the bar but with a twist of lime that gives this drink a bit of a zest. The CX-9 is front-wheel or all-wheel drive and not large enough to haul larger trailers (3,500 lbs. with towing package). It has a fair amount of ground clearance under the SUV independent suspension and unibody but not really suited for off-road trails. It carries up to 7-people but is not fuel efficient enough for daily family fare. Yet, for a family of 5 and luggage for everyone, it handles a road trip to Colorado for some snow skiing. It is solid transportation, with excellent reliability, and sportier handling than most SUV’s in this size.
The closest competitors to the Mazda CX-9 (which does not seat nine people) is the Kia Sorento, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse/GMC Terrain, or the Ford Explorer. These rivals do a great job of hauling people but tend to handle like a larger crossover. This CX-9 uses a standard Independent front MacPherson strut suspension with a stabilizer bar and an independent rear multi-link suspension with a larger stabilizer bar. Yet, the engineers have heavier bushings and a suspension geometry that keeps the handling responsive. The hydraulic power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with engine-speed-sensing variable assist feels great and on-center all the time.
Even though the CX-9 has not been updated in years and even Mazda calls it their “elder statesmen of the Mazda lineup”, it still drives better than a modern Crossover. The 2015 is mostly a carryover model and comes with some new recreational accessories and a new color called Titanium Flash Mica. Yet it is still one of the most comfortable SUV’s to drive and all front and middle row passengers are comfortable for long trips. According to Mazda executives I spoke with, plans for a revised model are still under wraps.
The CX-9 still comes in three trims (Sport, Touring and Ground Touring), one engine choice, and one transmission. It can be equipped with front-wheel drive or an available Active Torque-Split All-Wheel-Drive system. Pricing starts at just under $30,000 which makes this a more expensive base model than the competition but the fully loaded CX-9 is a better value than the GM or Ford mid-sized Crossovers.
The MZR 3.7-liter V-6 engine is smooth and refined and never missed a beat on our 2,800 mile trip to the Rocky Mountains. Maximum power comes at 6,250 rpm- which is faster than most will run this engine- but the 273 horsepower comes right along. The torque curve makes up the difference with 250 lb-ft. which pulls this larger vehicle from 3,000 to 6,000 rpm. Then there is a little more power (270 lb.-ft.) at 4,250 rpm. Matched up with Mazda’s Aisin-supplied six-speed Sport AT automatic transmission, this powertrain is really responsive. One can choose the manual shifting mode but most will forget about it and let the computer do the work. First gear is low for sportier take-offs and the top two gears have override ratios to further aid in fuel economy.
Unfortunately, the performance and the lack of electronic steering and AC compressor technology means that EPA-estimates of 17 city/24 highway/19 combined mpg for FWD models are accurate. However, mileage for our test CX-9 Grand Touring was supposed to be 16 city/22 highway/18 combined mpg with AWD, yet we managed 22.2 mpg over the whole snowy mountain trip. This is closer to the new drivetrains when considering the load and road conditions of ice and snow we encountered.
On slippery surfaces, the CX-9 was surefooted. On dry pavement, take-off is quick due to the vehicle’s transaxle spinning a drive shaft attached to an active coupling built into the rear differential. On snow or mud, the control module actuates the servo-controlled multi-plate coupling to route from zero to up to 50 percent of the available torque to the rear. Cornering was also surefooted.
The Recreational Accessory Package is standard on the Touring and Grand Touring models, which includes a roof rails, cross bars, a cargo net and stainless rear bumper guard. In addition, the 2015 CX-9 has versatile seating with a 60/40-split fold-down second row which comfortably accommodates three adult passengers and offers fore-and-aft travel in addition to a manual-operation reclining backrest. There is a large 139.4 cubic feet of passenger volume with headroom volumes of 39.6 inches, 39.0 inches and 35.4 inches in the front, second and third rows, respectively. The moonroof does interfere with headroom and could be better designed to increase an airy feeling for all.
The controls on the center stack are logical and useful with important buttons located higher and climate controls lower on the console. I wish Mazda would stop trying to get drivers to shift the manual mode override in the opposite direction as most other manufacturers. Pushing the shifter lever forward should select a higher gear and pulling the shifter back should down shift- not the other way around!
Attractive 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels shoed with P245/60R18 all-season tires are standard. The Grand Touring models feature a 20-inch aluminum alloy wheel with a good-looking stain chrome finish and P245/50R20-sized all-season tires. Unlike most large diameter wheel/tire packages, these do not significantly affect the ride quality and ours was a pleasure to driver the long distance. However, there is noticeably more road noise with the wider and lower profile tires.
The 2015 Mazda CX-9 is nicely equipped in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. All models offer three-zone automatic climate control air conditioning, cruise control, anti-pinch power windows with one-touch up/down operation for front windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry with a retractable key, a trip computer, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise control operations, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Bluetooth®-enabled hands-free audio and phone connectivity, a 5.8-inch full-color in-dash multi-information display (MID) touch screen, auxiliary jack and USB connection ports as well as enhanced audio features such as HD Radio™ Technology, Pandora® and audio receipt/delivery of smartphone-compatible messages.
The Touring model adds leather-trimmed seats, eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar support, four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, auto on/off headlights, a Blind Spot Monitoring (BSM) system, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), rear backup sensors and a rearview camera.
Our Grand Touring press vehicle came with chrome exterior door handles, rain-sensing windshield wipers, an anti-theft alarm, fog lights, exterior mirrors with turn indicators, power outside mirrors with memory and an automatic tilt-down feature, a power lift gate, auto on/off bi-xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights with manual leveling, LED daytime running lights, a three-position memory driver’s seat and a HomeLink® auto-dimming rear mirror. We also had the Grand Touring Technology Package which includes a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, a TomTom-based in-dash navigation system with real-time traffic, a moonroof and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
There is also a Rear Seat Entertainment Package which adds a nine-inch-screen DVD player, an upgraded 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, and navigation, and a 115-volt outlet located in the rear cargo area. This may be important in entertaining the children but the driver will have all the fun driving the CX-9.
If you are more old school and love to control the vehicle your piloting down the road instead of it controlling you with computerized driver-assist wizardry, consider the CX-9 before Mazda “upgrades” their flagship. As it sits today, all 2015 CX-9 models are equipped six airbags (advanced dual front, front seat-mounted and full-length side curtain), an Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), a Traction Control System (TCS), Roll Stability Control (RSC), a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Ours also included blind spot monitors, Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), rear backup sensors and a rearview camera (Touring and Grand Touring model). But camera and computer is taking over the steering wheel or throwing on the brakes quite yet. For those who still love to “zoom zoom,” this CX-9 is a good family crossover choice.