The CX-9 goes up against a competitive class that includes many recently revised models such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot. Compare all four here.
Fun to Drive
The words "agile" and "sporty" aren't usually tip-of-the-tongue when describing a large crossover — unless it's the CX-9. One of its greatest strengths is that it drives like a much smaller, sportier vehicle. Light and precise steering, ample power, a responsive transmission and agile handling make it engaging to drive — even if it's just to the grocery store.
The V-6 offers plenty of power, and although the 273-horsepower, 3.7-liter engine doesn't feel very smooth at idle, it's spirited from a stop and delivers even, linear power that's competent on the highway. Prompt downshifts from the alert six-speed automatic transmission mean passing is no problem. The CX-9's gas mileage doesn't stand out, however. Two-wheel-drive versions share an EPA rating of 17/24 mpg city/highway with the Explorer and Traverse. The Pilot squeaks out an additional 1 mpg in both city and highway driving.
The ride is on the firm side but not overly harsh, complementing its overall sporty nature. I went from a 2013 Chevrolet Traverse test vehicle to the CX-9, and found in the Mazda a nimbler, more composed vehicle — the ride was more compliant, the corners felt crisper and body lean was less noticeable.
At 200.2 inches long, it's one of the larger vehicles in its class but drives smaller, thanks in part to having one of the tightest turning circles in the bunch. That really made a difference when maneuvering into city parking spaces and winding through parking structures.
Inside: Stylish Design, Finicky Navigation
To some, a black-on-black interior is dull. It never gets old in my closet, and in the CX-9 it underscores the crossover's sportiness. Suede trim, shiny maroon plastic panels and red contrast stitching on the seats augment the black theme. Other editors thought it bland and not enough of an update compared with the Traverse's interior, but I thought the overall look was sleek and clean — though the shiny plastic was a dust magnet. The words "shiny plastic panels" don't inspire thoughts of coziness, but most of the touch points in the CX-9 are padded and cushy, making for an overall comfortable interior.
My feelings on the controls are mixed. The climate dials are simple to use, and although the audio functions are absorbed by the touch-screen, figuring them out wasn't a problem, either. My issue is with the navigation system. The optional TomTom unit could use some refinement. In some ways, it worked almost too well, while in other ways it was overly complicated.