When the CX-9 debuted in 2007, I remember being wowed by the fact that even though it was roughly the size of a Chevy Tahoe (same length and within a few inches in width and height), it looked much less massive or much more svelte than anyone thought a seven-passenger SUV could be. However, that styling does come at a price: while the cargo area may have 100.7 cubic feet of space, it is long and skinny, making the space somewhat difficult to pack without climbing in the rear doors. Wide items (like my dining room table) are out of the question, too, thanks to the third row armrests/cupholders hiding the rear suspension components. Maybe it's a good thing - the CX-9 is always a surprise with its high fun-to-drive factor; you don't want to end up tossing all that cargo around.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The most remarkable thing about the CX-9 is that it feels like a much smaller vehicle. Even though it measures 200.2 inches long and weighs 4546 pounds, piloting the Mazda feels more like getting behind the wheel of a mid-size sedan. I find it easy to judge the size of the CX-9 thanks to good visibility and precise steering.
The fact that the instrument cluster always shows the transmission's current gear proves that Mazda tailors each of its vehicles for people who enjoy the "Zoom-Zoom" side of driving. The CX-9 doesn't get my pulse racing the way other Mazdas do, but it is still more engaging to drive than many other three-row vehicles. The V-6 engine is responsive, the body motions are well damped, and the steering feedback is good for a vehicle of this size.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
If the power steering weren't so overboosted, the CX-9 would be a whole lot better to drive. There's some feel that comes through the column, but the boost takes a relatively minor input and really amplifies it. Other than that, the CX-9 is about as good as it gets for driver involvement in the three-row people-mover class.
I really like the sliding second-row seats, it's actually possible for an adult to get to the third row without looking like a fool. (It's still not as easy to get back there as it is in a minivan, of course.) Mazda covers the interior in materials that generally skew to the high end of what mass-market automakers offer, and all the controls are logical and easy to use - no finicky touch screens here.
Anyone who thinks the Ford Explorer is an interesting vehicle should really take a look at the CX-9. The Mazda offers better visibility, driving dynamics, and a much simpler interior that actually feels more luxurious than the Ford.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
I wouldn't exactly call the CX-9 sporty, but it drives smaller than it is and feels fairly agile for a seven-passenger vehicle. Like the rest of the Mazda lineup, the interior is comfortable, nicely trimmed, and straightforward, with virtually no learning curve on any of the controls or systems. In addition, the relatively low cowl and low-profile center stack make the cabin feel expansive.
In its exterior design, however, the CX-9 separates itself from other Mazdas in that it's extremely dull. I'm not condoning pasting the Mazda 3's grin on the CX-9, but something resembling the face of the new CX-5 would help this vehicle stand out in its segment.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
For as big of a whale as the CX-9 looks like from outside -- and as spacious as it is inside -- it feels like a much smaller car from behind the wheel. Steering is direct and accurate, acceleration is quick and responsive, and handling will definitely satisfy enthusiasts who've previously been stuck driving minivans. This is all no surprise, since we named the CX-9 an All-Star back in 2008 and enjoyed our time with a Four Seasons example. It's disappointing, though, to see how little the vehicle has changed since then. That said, the CX-9 is on pace to exceed 30,000 sales for the first time, so consumers obviously haven't soured to Mazda's largest model.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
I really do believe Mazda's claim that it tries imbue "zoom zoom" into all its vehicles, even this big lug. The CX-9 is no MX-5, but it steers and handles well for its size. In fact, I occasionally found myself driving the CX-9 aggressively only to be reminded by the squealing of the front tires that seven-seat crossovers don't rotate in corners. The CX-9 has aged well, though it probably helps that most companies seem to be devoting their attention to smaller segments at this point. The only place you really see the gray hairs is in the dated navigation screen. Even there it's hardly offensive.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor