2015 Mazda CX-9 Reviews and Ratings

Utility 4D Touring AWD V6

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2015 Mazda CX-9
New Car Test Drive

Introduction

Mazda CX-9 is a midsize crossover utility vehicle with big cargo capacity and the ride and handling of a large sedan. It’s a swift and stylish alternative to a minivan.

The Mazda CX-9 is a great people hauler. It can carry seven adult passengers, thanks to a third-row seat designed with adults in mind. It’s easy for an older driver to get into the CX-9 because there’s no need to climb up into it. Yet the seating position is high enough that the driver looks over at, not up to, drivers in big SUVs. We found the cabin surroundings handsome though not luxurious.

The CX-9 is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, providing a nice option for those who worry about snowy travel in hilly areas. Properly equipped, it is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.

What sets the CX-9 apart are its sporty looks and the road manners to back them up. The CX-9 responds quickly to driver inputs, feeling surprisingly enthusiastic about travel on a serpentine two-lane road. A 3.7-liter V6 engine delivering 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque provides plenty of power. This refined, 24-valve power plant was designed by Ford and is built in Ohio before being shipped to Japan where the CX-9 is assembled. It works well with a six-speed, Japanese-made automatic transmission that can be shifted manually if the driver is interested in some frisky motoring.

First introduced for the 2007 model year, the CX-9 is aging. It has received updates through the years, but has not benefitted from a complete redesign. While it received the U.S. government’s highest possible ratings (five stars) in frontal and side impact crashes upon its release, the front crash standard has become stricter and today the CX-9 gets only three stars in that test.

Changes for 2015 are minimal. The only change of note is the addition of a Recreational Accessory package that adds roof rails with cross bars, a cargo net, and a stainless steel rear bumper guard.

Model Lineup

The 2015 Mazda CX-9 comes in three trim levels. Each is available in either front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD ($29,985) and AWD ($31,575) come with cloth upholstery, cruise control, remote keyless entry, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, trip computer, three-zone automatic climate control, tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, 5.8-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, HD radio, USB and auxiliary inputs, six-way manually adjustable driver’s seat, split-folding second- and third-row seats, roof spoiler, and P245/60R18 tires on aluminum wheels.

The Touring FWD ($32,480) and AWD ($34,070) add leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar adjustment, four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front seats, heated mirrors, automatic headlights, Blind Spot Monitoring system, rear park assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a rearview camera.

The Grand Touring FWD ($35,035) and AWD ($36,625) add driver’s seat memory, upgraded exterior and interior trim, keyless access and starting, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, second-row center armrest with console storage, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, automatic wipers, power liftgate, and P245/50R20 tires.

Packaged as an option for the Sport are heated mirrors, heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar ($740). A Touring Technology package ($3,000) includes fog lights, sunroof, power liftgate, keyless access and starting, navigation system, premium 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system, and satellite radio. A Grand Touring Technology package ($2,435) comes with a sunroof, a navigation system, a premium 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system, and satellite radio. The Grand Touring is also available with a Rear Seat Entertainment System ($3,245) that features a 9-inch screen, an 11-speaker Bose surround system with satellite radio, the navigation system, and a 115-volt power outlet. A Recreational Accessory package ($650) adds roof rails, cross bars, rear cargo net, and a stainless steel rear bumper guard. Other options include remote engine starting ($350), roof rails $300), and satellite radio with a four-month subscription ($525).

Safety features include electronic stability control with roll stability control and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, active front head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, side air curtains with rollover deployment, front-seat-mounted side-impact air bags, and dual frontal air bags. The Touring and Grand Touring also have a Blind Spot Monitoring system, rear park assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, and a rearview camera.

Walkaround

The Mazda CX-9 shares its basic structure with the five-passenger Ford Edge, although the Mazda is longer, by two inches of wheelbase and 14 inches overall. In fact, at just over 200 inches long, the CX-9 is the largest Mazda ever. What is perhaps most surprising about the CX-9 is that it doesn’t look big from the outside.

The CX-9’s nose features a version of the five-point grille that is used on most of today’s Mazdas. It’s clean and simple, and far better looking than earlier versions of the CX-9’s nose. The windshield is sharply raked, leading to a roof that arches, crests and then slides back and down. One surprise is a pronounced bulge in the tailgate, like an old-fashioned bustle. It is a neat trick that adds a little extra storage capacity. Along the sides, the fenders feature prominent flares.

Safety researchers say the strength of the vehicle’s body is also crucial in providing protection in a side-impact crash. Mazda took this into consideration, providing B-pillars that are extra wide and strong. (The B-pillar is the second roof pillar back from the windshield, which uses the A-pillar.) It works because the CX-9 gets a five-star rating in the government’s side impact safety test.

Interior

The CX-9’s cabin is attractive but not entirely upscale. The armrests are nicely padded, but the dashboard and door panels are mostly plastic with only a few soft-touch surfaces.

The basic controls are simple and easy to use. The infotainment system, however, isn’t up to today’s standards. It features a small 5.8-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, a TomTom navigation system with real-time traffic information, and, when connected to a smartphone, text-to-speech delivery of text messages and Pandora internet radio. The text-to-speech and Pandora capability are nice features, but most of today’s infotainment systems offer far more features with larger central screens.

Storage includes a relatively small center bin with a split lid, a small cubby at the base of the center console, and relatively thin storage compartments on the front doors.

Buyers have a choice of black or beige upholstery, and the latter makes the interior seem brighter and roomier. The look is appealing, and nothing about it says boring family transportation.

The CX-9’s step-in height makes entry easy for shorter drivers, yet the seating position is as high as in most truck-type SUVs, which provides a good look down the road. However, average to taller folks will have to duck out of the way of the front pillars when entering because the windshield is so sharply raked. Once inside, there is plenty of head room, though.

The CX-9 has a surprising amount of room inside. Carrying seven people means two up front, three in the second row, and two in the rear. One tester, at 6-feet, 4-inches, could be comfortable in the driver’s seat, then move back to the second row and still find enough legroom. That second row, incidentally, is split 60/40, and both sides move fore and aft up to five inches. That allows a nice amount of flexibility for carrying people and cargo of different sizes. Second-row legroom is good if the seat is set halfway through its range or farther back.

With the second row set halfway back, we climbed into the third row and found adequate legroom there, too. Head room is tight, though, as anyone over about 5-foot, 8-inches will rub their heads on the roof. To get to the third row one grabs a handle built into the top of the second-row seat and pulls. That releases the seat and slides it forward. The opening is smallish, in part because the wheel arch intrudes, but with a wiggle and a twist an adult can reach the third row without a severe loss of dignity.

Mazda says there is 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row upright. That’s about the size of a trunk of a midsize sedan, and to use it all would require piling luggage up to the roof, blocking the rearward view. To carry more stuff and fewer people, the Mazda’s third row (a 50/50 split) can be lowered by pulling a strap. Gravity does the work. With both sides down the result is 48.3 cubic feet of space. Getting the seat back up requires pulling the same strap, which isn’t a problem because it’s easy to reach.

The second row can also be folded down easily. However, it doesn’t create a completely flat cargo area. There is a slight uphill slant. With both rear rows folded, there is a cavernous 100.7 cubic feet of space. You wouldn’t know it looking at the CX-9 from the outside.

One thing the very tall person (6-foot 4-inch, for one of our testers) will quickly learn is that the open tailgate does not have a 6-foot 4-inch clearance. There is nothing like a good rap on the forehead to brighten the day.

Driving Impressions

Mazda’s mantra is to build sporty vehicles. That’s easy to do with a two-seater like the MX-5 roadster, but it becomes a challenge with a seven-passenger vehicle that weighs over 4,500 pounds in its all-wheel-drive version. Still, it is a challenge that Mazda engineers have met quite nicely, based on the models we drove, with both front- and all-wheel drive.

The CX-9 comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 273 horsepower. The torque curve surges from 3000 to 6000 rpm and peaks with 270 pound-feet at 4500 rpm. Best of all, the CX-9 runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gas, despite a sporty compression ratio of 10.3:1. EPA fuel economy ratings are 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway with FWD, and 16/22 with AWD. Those numbers are much better than any truck-type SUV but only average for a crossover.

We found the V6 to be well-matched to the vehicle. It provides willing power from a stop, with just the right responsiveness. It doesn’t start with a jolt and reacts readily to throttle inputs. We’d call that linear response. Our only complaint has to do with the transmission, which is usually smooth and responsive. When attempting to pass on the highway, however, we thought the transmission was a bit too slow to downshift to provide the best power delivery.

When it comes to handling, the CX-9 is surprisingly fun to drive for a large vehicle with so much weight up front. That is no small accomplishment. It feels remarkably like a sedan, turning into corners with ease and staying impressively flat through turns.

The price for the responsive handling, however, is a relatively stiff ride on anything but a smooth surface. The passengers will just have to suffer quietly while Mom or Dad has fun at the wheel. Meanwhile, the CX-9 feels tight on rough roads, refusing to quiver even when striking potholes.

For the driver who wants to be a bit more involved, on mountain roads, for example, the transmission shift lever can be moved to one side, which then allows the driver to manually shift gears by tapping the lever. It is a system that works well with the computer doing a good job of blending the upshifts and downshifts to avoid any jerks or stumbles.

There is a slight difference in steering feel between the front- and all-wheel-drive models. The steering in our AWD test vehicle had a feel that could be called rubbery, weakening the connection between the vehicle and the driver. The steering on our FWD model was much better. The steering is tuned a bit differently for FWD and AWD models.

One downside of front drive is torque steer: Push hard on the gas pedal, and the steering wheel tugs to one side as the front wheels scramble for traction. This requires the driver to make minor steering corrections to keep the CX-9 going straight. (This is with the gas pedal slammed down, so it may not even be noticeable in most situations.) Torque steer is eliminated in the AWD models because some of the power is being sent to the rear, reducing the demand on the front tires.

AWD models send most of the power to the front wheels in normal driving. But under hard acceleration, or if the front wheels begin to slip, as much as 50 percent of that power can be sent to the rear wheels. It is an automatic system and does not require the driver to do anything.

We found the brake pedal felt slightly soft but overall feedback was reassuring, and it was easy to trim a little or a lot of speed.

Summary

The Mazda CX-9 is an impressively well-rounded package offering practicality and a healthy list of standard safety equipment in an attractive package. It’s enjoyable to drive, offering sporting road manners, though with a ride that some might consider stiff. However, its aging design means it doesn’t perform well in the latest safety tests and the infotainment system is behind the times. The CX-9 is worth a look, but you might want to opt for a one of its newer competitors, like the Dodge Durango, Chevrolet Traverse, or Toyota Highlander.

Christopher Jensen filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from his home base in New England. Correspondent Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.

Model as tested
Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD ($36,625)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Hiroshima, Japan
Destination charge
880
Gas guzzler tax
N/A
Base Price
Price as tested
37,505
Options as tested
none

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD ($29,985), Sport AWD ($31,575), Touring FWD ($32,480), Touring AWD ($34,070), Grand Touring FWD ($35,035), Grand Touring AWD ($36,625)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual frontal air bags; side-impact airbags in the front seats; three-row air curtains with rollover deployment; electronic stability control; roll stability control; traction control; anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist; tire-pressure monitor; active front head restraints; Blind Spot Monitoring system; rear park assist; Rear Cross Traffic Alert; rearview camera
Safety equipment (optional)
N/A
Engines
3.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Transmissions
6-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
leather upholstery, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar adjustment, four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front seats, driver's seat memory, premium exterior and interior trim, cruise control, keyless access and starting, power windows, power door locks, heated power mirrors, trip computer, three-zone automatic climate control, tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, 5.8-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, six-speaker AM/FM/CD sound system, HD radio, USB and auxiliary inputs, split-folding second- and third-row seats, automatic headlights, universal garage door opener, auto-dimming rearview mirror, second-row center armrest with console storage, bi-xenon headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, automatic wipers, power liftgate, Blind Spot Monitoring system, rear park assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, rearview camera, roof spoiler, P245/50R20 tires on aluminum wheels

Engine & Transmission
Engine
3.7-liter dohc 24-valve V6
Drivetrain type
all-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
273 @ 6250
Transmission
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
16/22
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
N/A

Suspension
Brakes, front/rear
ventilated disc/ventilated disc with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist
Suspension, front
independent, MacPherson struts, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, anti-roll bar
Tires
P245/50R20
Suspension, rear
independent, two lateral and one trailing link per side, coil springs, hydraulic shocks, anti-roll bar

Accomodations
Seating capacity
7
Head/hip/leg room, middle
39.0/56/39.8
Head/hip/leg room, front
38.4/56.5/40.9
Head/hip/leg room, rear
35.4/43.7/32.4

Measurements
Fuel capacity
N/A
Trunk volume
100.7
Wheelbase
113.2
Length/width/height
200.6/76.2/68.0
Turning circle
37.4
Payload
N/A
Towing capacity
2000
Track, front/rear
65.1/64.7
Ground clearance
8.0
Curb weight
4559

2015 Mazda CX-9
NADAguides Test Drive Review

What’s New

  • For 2015, the Mazda CX-9's biggest changes are actually additions to the standard accessory list.
  • Roof rails, cross bars, a cargo net and a stainless steel bumper guard round out the most significant changes.

Performance

  • The 3.7-liter V6 churns out 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is substantial on the open road when passing smartphone-addicted motorists. That ability to move this larger vehicle quickly comes at a fuel cost, as the CX-9 in all-wheel drive form achieves a somewhat vanilla 22 mpg on the highway, 16 mpg in the city and a combined fuel economy of 18 mpg.
  • The 6-speed automatic transmission works well, never hunting for clunky gear changes. In the next iteration of this family hauler, expect a smaller displacement engine with higher mpg figures and possibly more gears to boost fuel economy figures.

Ride/Handling

  • Mazda knows how to build suspensions for sporty cars like the MX-5 Miata. Luckily, that know-how is shared with much larger vehicles like the CX-9. Of all vehicles driven in this 7-passenger crossover segment, the CX-9 handedly delivers the best sense of road feel to the driver. If a suspension and steering are not tuned adequately, a disconnect develops between the driver and the road, which results in either a bouncy ride or inability to derive feedback from the road beneath.
  • The CX-9 delivers confidence-inspiring handling while also providing a relaxing ride during long family road trips. That's a tough combination to get right, yet Mazda nailed it. Hyundai's 7-passenger Santa Fe could learn something from the Mazda engineering squad. 
  • There is a fair amount of wind and road noise when driven above 65 miles per hour.

Utility

  • The third row folds down into the floor creating a respectable cargo area of about 48.3 cubic feet. With the third row up, that space shrinks to17.2 cubic feet. When the second row seats are folded down into the floor along with the third row, a massive 100.7 cubic feet of space is created in the cabin.
  • As a real world example, the author was able to do a family Easter weekend vacation complete with two large suitcases, tricycle, full stroller, two adults and one child in a car seat, etc. with plenty of room to spare.   
  • The tailgate is a regular gas shock variety, which requires manual effort to open. However, there is a power-close feature which doesn’t rely on muscle contraction. Also, a button from inside the driver's seat on the dash can be pressed to close the tailgate; a welcome feature many in the class do not have.

Comfort & Interior

  • The third row seating which enables seven passenger seating is nice in a pinch, but only small children will be somewhat comfortable in the third row. Parents will probably only find the two aft seats good for shorter trips. Also, accessing the third row isn't easy: The 2nd row doesn't slide forward enough, and there isn't a one-lever operation to fully move the second row out of the way for easy ingress/egress.
  • Second row passengers should have more niceties like in its competition. The middle row was missing heated seats, window shades and a panoramic sunroof. That stated, the reclining 60/40 seats, which also slide forward/aft, are a plus for bulky hardware store runs.
  • The LATCH child seat anchoring system is easy to access and use in the 2nd row outboard seats. There is no LATCH system in the third row.
  • The entire dashboard and cockpit area look like something out of a vehicle built in the early 2000’s. A re-do of the CX-9 is needed (with haste!) to standup to the more feature-laden competition from Hyundai (Santa Fe), Kia (Sorento), Toyota (Highlander), etc.
  • The perforated, sporty-feeling leather interior feels very premium, easily besting hides from Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai, to name a few.inside the driver's seat on the dash can be pressed to close the tailgate; a welcome feature many in the class do not have.

Technology

  • The Navigation system is the older Mazda variety. The screen?at XX-inches?is too small. For context, the graphics are not anywhere near as high resolution as the original 2007 iPhone, and the touchscreen user interface shows its age as well. The new infotainment system Mazda currently has in their 2015 Mazda3 will be a huge win when placed in this crossover.
  • This Grand Touring model came standard with blind spot monitoring (BSM), roll stability control (RSC), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and a host of other safety-oriented acronyms. All work well and help the driver rather than provide nuisance like in some competing products we’ve tested.
  • This tested Grand Touring model was equipped with the GT Tech package. For the additional $2435, Bose audio with 10 speakers, satellite radio, navigation and power moon roof where included. Our recommendation is to skip this upgrade as the navigation system appears behind the times in size, capability and appearance. A newer smart phone with Google Maps and a windshield cradle will serve your directional needs for less and more adequately.

Summary

The 2015 CX-9 Grand Touring All-Wheel Drive with Tech Package (MSRP of $39,890 after $880 destination fee) shows its age in a fiercely competitive field of recently redesigned offerings. If you are a driving enthusiast


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