The Mazda CX-9 is a lot more fun than you might think

The Mazda CX-9 shows off its aggressive styling parked in front of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
The Mazda CX-9 shows off its aggressive styling parked in front of Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. –Austin Rexinger

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The Mazda CX-9 combines comfort, luxury, and sportiness into a practical, affordable package. This three-row, seven-seat vehicle is built for the everyday driver, handling any reasonable task without putting you to sleep. In fact, it’s surprisingly exciting to drive. The electric steering rack is quick and responsive, and the suspension is stiff enough to enjoy a back road, but it won’t punish you when cruising on the highway.

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The CX-9 is a perfect example of why larger displacement engines are becoming obsolete. The 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder is extremely responsive, delivering a huge torque shove early in the power band, whereas non-turbo engines usually withhold peak power down low. The six-speed automatic transmission downshifts quickly, especially in sport mode, and makes quick work of highway on-ramps.

The interior of the CX-9 screams luxury, but the starting MSRP price of $31,520 begs to differ. Mazda offers four trim levels for their seven-seater: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature. All-wheel-drive is optional for the first three trims, but comes standard if you opt for a Signature model. Our test car was a loaded-up Signature that pushed the base price to $45,755.

The interior of the CX-9 combines comfort, refinement, and luxury on a budget. —Austin Rexinger

The infotainment system is familiar if you’ve recently sat in any Mazda, but it’s simple and intuitive to learn if you haven’t. The navigation prompts are concise and give you plenty of time to prepare for the next turn. Audio quality from the 12-speaker Bose system is supreme, and keeps you guessing whether it’s a luxury SUV as you turn up the volume.

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Boston.com Dealer Specials:

The Mazda CX-9’s sporty ride and sharp looks prove that just because an SUV is functional, doesn’t mean it has to be boring.

What the Experts Are Saying:

“The CX-9’s eye-catching interior gives off a luxury vibe, and its smooth-riding chassis is a joy to drive on winding back roads or open highways alike. This is a good-sized SUV with three rows of seats, and it really excels with four adults and their luggage neatly stacked on the folded third row. Ultimate carrying capacity is slightly lower than its largest rivals, but that’s because the stylists knocked the edges off to create a stunning shape. I’ll take that.” — Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing, Edmunds

“It’s a good performing three-row SUV, and in typical in Mazda fashion, it’s more engaging than the competitors. [The CX-9] has great steering, handling, and a good ride. It’s a lot quieter than older Mazda models, and there are a lot of available safety features.” — Mike Quincy, auto content specialistConsumer Reports 

The Good:

  1. The quick steering and agile handling hide the weight of this midsize SUV.
  2. Great low-end torque from the turbocharged engine helps the CX-9 scoot through the city, but has enough top-end power to tackle any highway on-ramp.
  3. The 8-inch infotainment screen is intuitive and features quick navigation prompts. An adjustable heads-up display provides drivers with critical information including vehicle speed and turn-by-turn directions.

The Bad:

  1. The rear glass cannot be opened separately from the hatch. The rear hatch opening height can be claustrophobic for taller users and is non-adjustable.
  2. The CX-9 feels wide around the tighter streets of Boston, and its large turning radius sometimes requires an extra move in smaller parking lots.
The CX-9 features a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with enough low-end torque to dismiss any requests for a large displacement six-cylinder. —Austin Rexinger

Under the Hood: 

  • Engine: 2.5-liter, turbocharged inline four-cylinder
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual mode
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive, available all-wheel-drive
  • Power: 227-horsepower, 310 pound-feet of torque
  • Fuel economy: 20/26 miles per gallon city/highway; Globe observed: 18.8 miles per gallon
  • 0-60 acceleration: 7.5 seconds

Also Consider:

  • Kia Sorento: The Sorento offers a starting MSRP of just $25,600, which is thousands less than the competition. U.S. News & World Report Cars awarded the Sorento the best three-row SUV for its combination of quality and value.
  • Volkswagen Atlas: The Atlas is brand new for 2018 and delivers precise handling despite being the largest vehicle in VW’s line-up. It’s the German automaker’s first three-row SUV.
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