We had a Mazda CX-9 in our Four Seasons fleet a few years back, and it was a vehicle I always enjoyed driving, thanks to its attractive exterior, useful packaging, and friendly driving experience. The 2013 CX-9 has been refreshed, but it still very much resembles the three-row crossover that debuted six years ago, both in looks and in driving experience.
As before, the third row is a tight squeeze -- don't try getting back there unless you're really small and limber. The CX-9 actually makes more sense as a five-seater, so you should lower the third-row seats by opening the rear hatch and pulling on the canvas tether in the middle of the seatback. But first make sure that the adjustable second row isn't in the farthest-back position, or else the third row won't lower all the way. Once the third row is lowered, there is plenty of room for storage in the cargo area, and the load floor is flat.
The driving position is good, as the seat is highly adjustable and the steering wheel both tilts and telescopes. The knobs and buttons are all easy to use and well marked. Soft suede on the door inserts feels nice and there's a substantial grab handle to pull the door closed. Make sure you use some force to slam the doors, however. Several times when I exited the car, I closed the door and realized that it hadn't latched properly. That explains why, when I first got in the CX-9, the interior light wouldn't extinguish. Whoever had been in the vehicle before me must have had some belongings to remove from the rear seat and didn't close the rear passenger-side door hard enough for it to latch.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
There seems to be an entente among the makers of three-row crossovers not to execute costly updates. I've driven several new or refreshed models recently, including the 2013 Infiniti JX, the 2013 Buick Enclave, and the smaller 2014 Kia Sorento. I found none of them have raised the bar very high.
So I was hardly surprised by the mildness of the 2013 Mazda CX-9's refresh. Like those competitors, it still offers V-6 power, even though smaller cars and crossovers have moved on to turbo four-cylinders. In the CX-9's case, unfortunately, the engine is a 3.7-liter version of the V-6 found in early versions of the Ford Edge (upon which the CX-9 is based). It would be nice to have the more powerful V-6 found in the current Ford Edge, since the 4500-pound CX-9 could use some extra low-end grunt.
The plus side of independence is that Mazda is free to take a very different attitude from Ford with regards to in-car technology. The CX-9 does now feature a touchscreen in the center stack, but it's a small, basic one that leaves most radio and climate control functions to traditional buttons and knobs. The rest of the interior is pretty much unchanged. There's a surprising amount of hard plastic on the dash -- the smaller CX-5 feels noticeably richer -- but this still seems to be the standard in a segment that has, as noted, become a bit sleepy.
The Mazda "Zoom Zoom" factor is understandably muted here. The CX-9 is happiest barreling down the highway, although it drives and handles nicely for its size. A side benefit of the vehicle's old bones is that it still features hydraulic power steering, which, for my money, still feels nicer than the typical electrically assisted rack.
David Zenlea, Associate Editor
I could take or leave the newly redesigned nose on this Mazda CX-9, as I thought the crossover looked plenty attractive even with the original design. The cabin, however, is starting to look dated, especially when compared to the smarter materials and better instruments available in the CX-5 and 6 sedan. Still, the CX-9 drives better than many comparable three-row crossovers, with good visibility in all directions, a strong V-6 engine, and a composed chassis.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
As my colleagues have pointed out, the non-premium, three-row crossover field is known neither for exciting vehicles nor for feeling a class above its price point. I think that the CX-9's cabin feels quite premium when compared with much of the competition (Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse, et al), and the fact that David Zenlea compared it with offerings from luxury brands such as Infiniti and Buick speaks volumes.
The Mazda also stands apart from its competition thanks to its dynamics. Despite being a 4552-lb crossover, the CX-9 is quite enjoyable to drive with its communicative steering, controlled body motions, and responsive transmission. However, the old V-6 could use more grunt for lugging the large vehicle around, or at least some more refinement.
The biggest demerit of the CX-9 comes from the fact that it's enjoyable to drive, since the taut suspension makes the crossover surprisingly easy and confident to toss through turns, but results in a surprisingly stiff ride for a people-mover. While moms and dads might not mind this, those who have to ride around in the second and third rows will probably bemoan the less than supple ride.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
Aside from the new face and taillights, not much is immediately different about the revised Mazda CX-9. I think the styling tweaks look pretty snazzy, but the CX-9 still feels dated if you're sitting inside. Fortunately, the biggest Mazda's recent updates have done nothing to diminish sporty (OK, sporty-ish) handling that belies the car's size.
The throttle is quite touchy, but at least this helped ensure zero drama when I passed numerous back-road slow movers during my couple of days with the car. There are certainly quicker and newer big crossovers, but few, besides perhaps the Ford Flex and the Dodge Durango, drive as well as the CX-9.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor