My Thoughts Exactly: 2023 Mazda CX-9
What the Mazda CX-9 represents is a vehicle for those with a CX-5 to step up into a three-row SUV that offers all of the good things found on the smaller model.
Before anyone thinks this is an enlarged version of the V&R Machine – albeit in a white paint color – think again.
What the Mazda CX-9 represents is a vehicle for those with a CX-5 to step up into a three-row SUV that offers all of the good things found on the smaller model. Yet, it also offers more.
How much more?
OK, let’s talk you through the CX-9. It was Mazda’s only mid-size, three-row SUV until a month or so ago. The CX-9 has a stylish exterior, a turbocharged engine standard, plenty of space, and a lovely ride.
Is that all?
What is tough about reviewing a vehicle that will be superseded by a newer one is to try to find the relevance for it to stay in the marketplace and on consumer’s shopping list. Since this generation’s introduction for the 2016 model year, it was relevant.
More than relevant, actually. The previous generation was shared on a Ford platform, a byproduct of when Ford and Mazda were in the same corporate camp. An independent Mazda developed a new platform that would stretch from the Mazda6 to this three-row SUV. It was highly praised – including this website – for its upmarket ambitions that was a part of Mazda’s independence from Ford.
The tester we received was the top-of-the-line Signature AWD model. Right off the bat, it exuded luxury. The kind of luxury we now expect from Mazda.
This goes beyond the 20-inch alloy wheels, quilted leather, and every feature you can pack into a CX-9. There is an air of elegance surrounding this specific tester.
That elegance goes deeper underneath the skin. You can only get a CX-9 with the 250-horsepower Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbocharged engine. It is a perfect engine for this SUV, as it can pull its 4,400-pound self around with ease. A six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive round out the rest of the driveline. As far as fuel economy is concerned, I averaged 22.8 MPG.
Once you accelerate, then you learn more about why the CX-9 retains some relevance. It starts with its buttery-smooth ride. To be a family hauler, you must engineer a high ride quality that does not create a disturbance among the passengers. You cannot have a ride that will induce motion sickness, let alone crying, screaming, and violence from the rearmost rows of seats. The CX-9 is exactly what humanity needs – absolute smoothness.
There will be moments when the road gets rough. The suspension system absorbs these surfaces the best it can. There may be an occasion bump that will be felt, but the rebound is painless.
Granted, a smooth ride may induce some soft handling characteristics. Yes, but we often forget that Mazda knows a thing or two about controlling chaos. Evasive maneuvers are managed quickly without any drama. There is minimal roll and lean through the corners and cloverleafs.
Steering the CX-9 is all about precision. It is not a quick rack, but it can get you out of tight maneuvers quite easily. Not to mention a solid on-center feel when you are on the highway. Same thing with the brakes. They work extremely well with good pedal feel and solid stops in normal and panic situations.
Driving impressions are one thing. Being inside of this three-row Mazda is an experience that is measured by its upmarket ambitions. The Signature model’s upholstery alone is a prime example of this. The quilted leather is in a brown tone with perforated inserts and contrasting piping. Everything you touch is premium, even the familiar controls found on practically every Mazda.
The instrument cluster is a mix of digital and analog elements. It is simply handsome, yet I wished for more information – tire pressure, for example. You get a 10.25-inch infotainment system screen that is controlled by the Mazda Connect system – including that knob. Bose offers up 12 speakers through their Centerpoint system. In all, it is a lovely place to be – whether you’re the driver or a passenger.
Second row passengers in the Signature model get individual captain’s chairs divided by a full center console. Even if you fold down the third-row seats, you truly get a livery vehicle-like experience. Cargo-wise, it starts with 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row. Folding down each row of seats will yield up to 71.2 cubic feet of space.
Of course, you cannot ignore the CX-9’s presence. For one, it is distinctive enough to not be called an enlarged CX-5. Not with the front fascia’s shape and grille texture. Not with its wide door openings and large liftgate. It is a Mazda, but with a purpose for families. That is the vibe you’ll get from the CX-9.
Considering this is the top-of-the-line model, our Signature AWD tester came with a sticker price of $50,130. That’s about where most top-level trim models in this class are coming in around. There are five CX-9 trim levels to choose from, starting at $38,750.
Until this year, the CX-9 stood on top of the Mazda lineup by offering you space for seven people, their stuff, and plenty of turbocharged power to get you there. It is a formula that still works.
One cannot ignore that the arrival of the CX-90 may take away potential customers from this very good value-for-money mid-size, three-row SUV. This could be a budget decision, but you seriously cannot go wrong if you chose the CX-9 now before waiting for the right CX-90 to arrive.
If you take away the newer model, the CX-9 simply does the job. And, vey well mind you. Not that we’re biased or anything…
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations
All photos by Randy Stern