The CX-9 is a nice vehicle, but it's hardly a Mazda. The entire package feels like it could be another one of the General Motors Acadia/Enclave/Traverse crossover trio from the size, to the driving dynamics, to the styling. That's not really a slam; the GM crossovers are fine vehicles-it's just that I expect more character from a Mazda.
From the front seat, the ride is very composed, but as you move back in the CX-9, the twenty-inch wheels really begin to deliver punishment. Combined with the poor outward visibility, the rough ride in the third row can quickly become nauseating. I crammed my 6'3" frame into the third row for a brief twenty-minute ride, and it was barely tolerable. The high floor positions your feet just a few inches from your butt, while the cramped legroom forces you to splay your legs apart. Sure the third row is really a kid-only, occasional-use ordeal, but it only reiterates how nonfunctional these crossovers are when compared with minivans, which provide more room for people, a taller cargo hold behind the rear seats, greater outward visibility, and easier access to the third row.
Compared with competitors in this class, though, the Mazda is spot-on. Our top-trim Grand Touring has a beautiful black-and-cream interior with great leather seats. The layout of navigation, audio, and climate controls is excellent, with intuitive, easy-to-find controls. My only real complaints from behind the wheel are seat heaters that never get seriously hot and excessive wind noise at highway speeds.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor