2013 Family Crossover Comparison - Day Three

A. J. Mueller Patrick M Hoey

This is Automobile Magazine's Family Crossover Comparo, our comparison test of the kind of vehicle that you see during America's summer vacation, the three-row family crossover.

As we noted in our Day One introduction, we've gathered eight of the best all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger family crossovers, and we're going to sort them out. We've driven all of them at the same time on the same roads, and we've made our notes and organized our facts and then argued about the results.

The way we see it, these are the best family crossovers available in America right now. We've done our best to ensure that our test vehicles represent a useful level of features -- nicely equipped, as they say -- yet don't cost too much. Given the practical realities of acquiring so many test vehicles at the same time, they aren't all priced exactly the same, but we've done our best.

These family crossovers are: 2013 Chevrolet Traverse, 2013 Dodge Durango, 2013 Ford Explorer, 2013 Honda Pilot, 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, 2013 Mazda CX-9, 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and 2013 Toyota Highlander.

To make our comparisons as direct as we can, we've organized a different kind of testing scheme. Yesterday, we presented an accounting of four vehicles in two head-to-head matchups. Today, we're doing the same thing, matching four vehicles and knocking two of them out of contention. The winning vehicles from today and yesterday will go head-to-head in a Final Four comparison on Thursday, and we will declare the winner on Friday.

On Day Two, we started the tournament with these randomly selected match-ups:

  • 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe prevailed over the 2013 Dodge Durango
  • 2013 Honda Pilot bested the 2013 Ford Explorer

Today the competition continues with these randomly selected match-ups:

  • 2013 Chevrolet Traverse vs. 2013 Mazda CX-9
  • 2013 Nissan Pathfinder vs. 2013 Toyota Highlander

2013 Chevrolet Traverse vs. 2013 Mazda CX-9

2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

Although it has had as many mild facelifts as a Hollywood housewife, the Mazda CX-9 hasn't changed much since it went on sale some six years ago. Not that it has had to, since we called it "one of the best-handling big crossovers on the market" when it became a 2008 Automobile Magazine All-Star.

The 2013 Mazda CX-9 has not changed much since then because, like a shark, the CX-9 has not had to evolve to remain at the top of the food chain. Even so, it is now reasserting itself among the crossover competition with its most significant refresh to date (even though calling it "significant" is generous). The most noticeable changes can be seen on the front fascia, where Mazda tweaked the grille, headlights, and ducts. Otherwise, it's business as usual.

Doing the Utility Thing
The CX-9 still has 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space when all the seats are upright. With both the second- and third-row seats folded flat, you're looking at 100.7 cubic feet of cargo space. This may seem like a lot, but the cargo area feels as long and as narrow as a hotel hallway, so packing isn't easy. Sitting in the third-row seat is also a tight fit, even for grade-schoolers.

So, while the 2013 CX-9 doesn't do the functional thing as well as it might, it still drives well. Calling the seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive Mazda "sporty" is a stretch, but it's an apt term when you compare it to the company it keeps. The 4552-pound CX-9's suspension is damped well. The steering is reassuringly direct -- if you were to drive a minivan for comparison, it would feel like you're steering an elephant with its ears. Even so, when you arc the CX-9 through a tight corner, you know you're in a seven-passenger crossover, not a Miata. Things this big don't rock; they roll.

Drive Away for Less
Regardless, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 feels like a much smaller vehicle than it is. You get that vibe from the driver's seat, too. Part of the reason might be the 3.5-liter V-6 with its output of 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque, which works well with a six-speed automatic transmission that changes ratios pretty frequently to make the most of the power. It gets 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway.

The Mazda CX-9 also remains a great value. The price for this Grand Touring model is $39,605, and it has a long list of standard luxury features, such as 20-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic xenon headlights, automatic tri-zone climate control, a rearview camera, a blind-spot monitoring system, and keyless entry and ignition.

So there you have it: the 2013 Mazda CX-9 is a lot of the same with a touch of new. Put another way, it is exactly what the Mazda CX-9 needs to stay relevant. -- Christopher Nelson

2013 Chevrolet Traverse AWD 2LT

The Chevrolet Traverse is another crossover that's trying to stay relevant. The Traverse helped dig GM out of the grave it buried itself in four years ago, yet what has the Traverse received in the way of thanks? It wasn't until the introduction of the 2013 Traverse that this seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive crossover received an overdue allotment of updates.

The first thing you'll notice is that the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse is much prettier than its predecessor. Chevy massaged every inch of the Traverse's sheetmetal, a task we think was well worth the investment. The Chevy version of GM's big crossover also has received some major interior upgrades, including a 6.5-inch touchscreen interface and a rearview camera as standard equipment.

Big Space, Lots of Stuff
This Traverse has a long list of standard luxury equipment, comparable to those in the Mazda CX-9, but with two major differences. The Chevy has a power liftgate and remote start, features that Asian-label crossovers are only just beginning to include. Nevertheless, if you get crazy with the options sheet, the Traverse 2LT with navigation becomes a $40,000 vehicle. Oh, and you want leather-trimmed first- and second-row seats? You're quickly on your way to our test vehicle's price of $42,880.

In a way, the Traverse also has a similar powertrain to the CX-9. The single-exhaust 3.6-liter V-6 makes 281 hp and 266 lb-ft of torque, and it works through a six-speed automatic to deliver 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. It also feels a bit dated in its performance, just like the Mazda V-6. That said, it has enough power to coax this 4956-pound dreadnought out of the harbor, and the six-speed automatic transmission changes gears quietly and smoothly. Even so, we're not sure that the package is up to carrying everything you need for a full summer vacation at the lake, even with its tow rating of 5200 pounds.

Both the 2013 Traverse and the 2013 CX-9 have nicely appointed interiors, with comfortable seats, good materials, and fine build quality. The cabins feel much different, however. The CX-9 feels like a sports car that's been pumped up like a balloon to become a passenger vehicle, whereas the Traverse feels exactly how you'd expect a three-row crossover to feel. There's enough natural light coming in the windows to make all three rows feel spacious, and you're never squeezed into a seat that's in desperate need of more elbow room -- plus there's cargo space besides.

Do Sales Matter?
The Chevrolet Traverse also walks all over the CX-9 in the popular vote. Consider that Chevrolet sold almost 200,000 examples of the Traverse in 2011 and 2012 combined, while Mazda sold only a third as many CX-9s in the same time period.

Despite the fact that the 2013 Chevrolet Traverse excels over the 2013 Mazda CX-9 in so many practical categories that relate to utility and comfort, the Mazda has a performance margin over the Traverse in every dynamic respect. We've found that driving makes a difference not only in safe maneuverability around town but also secure maneuverability in those remote places where vacation travel takes you. It's this factor, which is all-important to Automobile Magazine, that makes the Mazda CX-9 the winner in this match-up. -- Christopher Nelson

Winner: 2013 Mazda CX-9

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Adam Gardner
Wife and I test drove used 2011-2012's, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse. The CX-9 was fun to drive, but was lacking in cargo space and third row seartim
I really am beside myself on this one.  The Traverse is given demerits for doing the family thing and not being a sports car.   Automobile magazine or not you don't have to rate every vehicle for being the most sports car like.   Maybe do the readers a true service and rate all-around vehicles for being the best at intended purpose.   Putting what would probably have been the top 2 in a true comparison and bracketing one out early does your readership an injustice.   Stick to traditional comparison tests.
I like the Dodge Durango but do not care for the rotary tranny selector.  Rather have the tranny located on the dash or steering with a rod to move instead of a knob. Like the Towing capability and the V6.
The new 8 speed tranny for Dodge may help it, but not sure the mileage with improve much and the problems with new autos can be more than one wants to chance. Have some questions about the new diesel that they are putting out in their new models. You may be able to save fuel driving it, but will you save any money by the time you pay extra for the engine and upkeep? You have to use that urea with it and the maintenance is more on a diesel...  just look at the oil changes costs.
Plus,  Dependability and reliability is not what Dodges are known for and latest survey from JD Power put them way below the average of problems per 100 vehicles.  GM did excellent in the survey,  BTW.I am not a big fan of Honda.(having owned a few) ..they are living on past glories but, now ...they have sorta lost their way and the completion passed them by.  Their autos are not cheap to buy, but you do not get much more than 4 wheels and an engine. ...Have a CR-V and it is the noisiest auto I have even driven. So much wind and road noise, think I am riding a Honda bike. Hard l slick plastic interior and real noisy. Everything in the glove compartment and pockets broadcast thru out the auto.. No other nice features,like other autos,  period.  Have some real problems with their backup camera, too.   Hyundai gives you lots more features and auto for your dollar. Honda is still using a ROD for hood support....like like someone holding up their hood with a broom stick. ..my too cheap to buy struts to support the hood...how cheap can one company get?  Toyota and Honda has been slow to adopt higher gears trannys or direct injection engines, etc. Some are going to those terrible CVT like Nissan has.  Nice to see GM and Dodge stay with some gears.  Ford is still doing more gears trannys, I understand.
The Traverse has the battery in the passenger compartment.... great way to ruin your carpet and in a roll over not too smart. Had a few battery exploded on some of my autos in the past and it is not good. Like it under the hood and not inside or in the trunk.
The Mazda is a nice auto but its mileage is no better than a pickup.  The C7 was discontinued, which I liked.  They did do away with the premium gas requirement which was good.   Will not buy an auto that requires premium gas and many of the small turbo autos today are requiring it along with many others. Now, Mazda it trying something new with the their engines and tranny and too early to see how that has played out.Have owned Hyundai and their V6s are not that peppy.   Had good luck with it for most of the time.   Their big warranty is just a marketing tool and not that good of a warranty...  It has some may loopholes in it that make it worthless, in my experiences.  But they have come up in the world and making better autos than years ago.  Nice and quiet and well appointed interiors.I fail to understand why the auto makes are going to larger tire sizes, except to be able to charge you more.  Like 17 in. sizes best..more reasonable to buy and and nice size and riding.   Had 18s and they were much more money and riding was not that good.I will wait to see how and why they selected their winner.   They ruled out the Dodge, Chevy and Toyota.
i see wen choosing crossovers we really can't listen to automobile mag at all, the Traverse did everything better and you chose the lesser one Wow where they do that at oooh at automobile mag 
Carloz Lopez
Frank Linzner
Gentlemen u have to be kidding about the My Ford Touch being hard to use.  In trying to read ur article I tried repeatedly to click on day 4 of the  ute comparison only to be presented with the Lincoln MKZ hybrid article.  I ultimately gave up trying to read the complete article.  The My Ford Touch system is infinitely easier to use than trying to read this comparison.  Talk about non intutive.  I also agree with Alfonso Alvarez in that u need to make evaluations of vehicles based on why people buy these vehicles.  People don't buy an SUV to go canyon carving or looking for the highest skidpad #'s. 
Jim Collis
The web team that put this together should be able to put better navigation into this article.  You can't get there from here.
Balamirr Sunguralp
the chevy traverse is my choice it does everything you want it to do, automoblie mag yall are bias 
David Desilet
I think this should have waited until the new Highlander came along, so I say Mazda and Pathfinder
Danny Wang
Chevrolet Traverse for higher tow rating, payload, cargo space and cross-band radio presets
Diesel Gould
This is nothing more than a Detroit 3 vs Asian comparison.  Automobile should have stated that right off.  Why not compare the Explorer vs Traverse, Pilot vs CX-9, Pathfinder vs Highlander, and Durango vs Santa Fe instead?   When people cross shop, if they are of import type, they wouldn't look at D3 offering.  And vice versa.  No wonder all 3 Detroit vehicles were eliminated in the first round, despite their sales number.  
Steven Barahona
Ford explorer
So the Traverse is more practical, has a more comfortable interior, and does everything a crossover is supposed to do better than the CX-9, and yet the Mazda wins because it reminds you of a miata???? 
Stanton Slocum
traverse and pathfinder
Kyree S. Williams
Do keep in mind that, unlike with most large CUVs, the Lambda platform that the Traverse and its siblings sit on is a direct replacement for the U-Body minivans, and so basically the Lambda vehicles *are* minivans without the unfashionable sliding-doors.
Kyree S. Williams
I'm going to go with Mazda CX-9 and Nissan Pahtfinder. Let's see if I'm right :P
Ahmed Barrasali
Traverse is very heavy, and you fell like will roll over in corners. The CX-9 is much brattier.
Rahul Singh
Mazda cx-9
Rajiv Radhakrishnan
Mike Dunlap
Mazda all the way. With the new 3, they have the best lineup of cars and SUVs on the market!
Tim Lucas
I like the Chevy and the Mazda. The Toyota and the Nissan are the 2 most boring in the segment!
Alfonso T. Alvarez
@stantons27 Absolutely - I have several vehicles for different needs - so this lame-assed reviewer thinks that they should make their decision on what CUV is superior based upon criteria that has absolutely nothing to do with what those of us who buy these base our decisions on??SHAME ON YOU AUTOMOBILE mag - see, this is why your subscription rates continue to sink into the abyss!!
I am an enthusiast who buys different vehicles based upon their appropriateness for my needs!
I don't buy a sports car to autocross based upon trunk capacity!! I don't buy a dual sport motorcycle based upon skid pad data!!Seriously, if you don't want to continue to sink into the toilet in ratings, GROW UP and start to review vehicles based upon their targeted market - not ludicrous and moronic nonsense that has absolutely NOTHING to do with the segment a vehicle competes in!!
Those of us who buy vehicles in this segment VALUE passenger comfort and capacity!!  I have two kids, when we go to our cottage, many times our kids bring friends, so the third row room is vitally important!!
You don't have kids??  Then try to understand what these vehicles are used for and stop being so asinine!!
@Alfonso T. Alvarez +1

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