Mazda Updates Its CX-9:
Three rows. Triathlete?
In the scrum that is populated by 3-row crossovers, Kia’s Telluride and – to a lesser extent – Hyundai’s Palisade (nice names, right?) are receiving most of the conversational buzz. Sharing a platform, both offer striking architecture, compliant rides and responsive V6 powertrains, along with more features than you can reasonably count without employing one of those spreadsheets. Beyond the cacophony of the Koreans, however, is a similarly priced – and similarly equipped – 3-row crossover from Japan. Mazda calls it the CX-9, and while the alphanumeric doesn’t roll off the tongue like ‘Telluride’, there’s a lot to like in Mazda’s CX hyphen 9.
In the walk-up to Mazda’s largest crossover, I’m always struck by its quiet substance. If equating it with a politician, I’d venture Mitt or Kamala, as both avoid excess ornamentation, both remain reasonably fit and are aging well. While the Telluride is notable in its lack of accessorizing, Hyundai’s Palisade leans toward the excessively decorated, as does most of its immediate competition.
Inside the CX-9, you’ll find plenty of space for four or five; our test CX-9, in top-of-the-line Signature trim, offered captain’s chairs, in combination with a rear console. And since the 3rd-row seating is tighter than some in the category (and given its occasional use, I don’t regard that smaller space as a negative) the CX-9 is a six-seater; no more, no less.
In its credible attempt to move into the near-luxury category, Mazda has upped its interior game across virtually all models and trims. But if you opt for ‘Signature’ in the CX-9, all bets are off – this is a $60K interior residing in a $45K crossover. The Signature’s Deep Chestnut Nappa Leather is a very dark brown, accented by both white stitching and white piping. The front buckets are heated and ventilated, while the second-row captain’s chairs will keep you warm – perhaps a cold beer can keep you cool? The whole environment is given to comfortable accommodation, although – as noted – your kids will be more appropriate to the third row than your father-in-law.
In terms of what you can stow, with two rows up and the third-row seating folded you’ll pack in 38 cubic feet. Fold the second row and storage expands to over 70 cubic feet, while if all three rows are upright you’ll have 14 cubic feet of space. This isn’t, to be sure, a cargo van or minivan, but a family of four should have plenty of room to stow and, as you’ll see below, plenty of go.
And just when we thought Mazda was leaving its zoom-zoom mantra behind, I found – wait for it! – some zoom. Under the hood is Mazda’s SkyActiv 2.5 liter four, which is turbocharged. If you hang with premium unleaded, you’ll enjoy 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque; opt for regular and power is down to 227, while torque drops to 310 lb-ft. I doubt you’ll feel the drop, and the torque figure provides genuine recreation. This is one very flexible powertrain, and that flexibility is accentuated by the CX-9’s six-speed automatic, a ‘Sport’ driving mode and available i-Activ all-wheel drive (which is made standard in the Signature trim).
A week removed from Acura’s MDX A-Spec, which features Honda’s 3.5 liter V6, the CX-9 impresses as offering more midrange response, while its steering seems more immediate. Underpinning the CX-9 are struts up front, and an independent multi-link setup in the rear. But while the spec is ordinary, the tuning is extraordinary. And despite an overall length (just under 200 inches, sitting on a 115-inch wheelbase) that does little to disguise its 3-row capability, the CX-9 seems tossable to a degree that others in this oh-so-competitive segment do not. In short, if you enjoy the act – if not the art – of driving, the CX-9 should be on your short list.
With four trim levels – Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature – priced between roughly $36K and $47,000, there’s a CX-9 for most new car budgets. For this buyer, a Touring with all-wheel drive can be bought for under $40,000, and while not offering the overt luxury of the Signature trim, probably gives me all I’d need in a 3-row crossover. On this, Mazda’s Centennial year, enjoy the sell-a-bration.