2015 Mazda CX-9

Rating

83/100

Background

Mazda takes its "zoom-zoom" ad slogan seriously, infusing the soul of a sports auto into every car it makes, including its large crossover SUV, the CX-9. Despite its generous size, the 2015 Mazda CX-9 is fun to drive, with responsive steering and surprisingly agile moves. But that’s not why buyers choose seven-passenger vehicles. They need them to haul the family and their stuff. Don’t worry. The CX-9 delivers on those counts, too. There’s plenty of room for the family, with three rows of cozy seating and a large cargo hold. It also offers suitable amount of amenities to keep your brood cozy and entertained.
On the downside, though, the CX-9 hasn’t been redesigned since its 2007 model year introduction, and this aging does show up in a few areas. The standard touchscreen is rather small and antiquated (especially given Mazda’s extraordinary new system found in the Mazda 3), and it doesn’t offer access to smartphone app integration. The middling safety scores also indicate the CX-9 wasn’t designed to withstand today’s increasingly stringent industry safety tests. It does offer the latest safety technologies, including blind-spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, but given the priority family car shoppers place on safety, this could be a deal breaker.
If that’s the case, those same shoppers in the market for a three-row crossover SUV have plenty of good choices. The 2015 Dodge Durango and 2015 Ford Flex don’t have quite as much space as the CX-9, but they feature more upscale interiors, are imbued with their own driving and styling character, and also offer more vigorous engine options. The 2015 Chevrolet Traverse (and its GMC Acadia sibling) boasts more cargo space and eight-passenger seating, as well as pleasant road manners. The 2015 Toyota Highlander, meanwhile, is the most well-rounded of the bunch. Yet even with its flaws and age, the sporty CX-9 still gets our nod and even earns a top spot in our 2015 SUV Buying Guide.

Drive

The 2015 Mazda CX-9’s V6 offers strong acceleration for both around-town driving and highway passing. The automatic transmission is also pleasing, with quick and timely shifts.
We also like that the CX-9 is an accomplished highway cruiser, keeping road and wind noise to acceptable levels for backseat movie viewing and pleasant conversation. The precise, communicative steering lets you carve a consistent path, whether you’re powering down the interstate or making time on a rural two-lane road, and the steep rake of the windshield adds to the sporty vibe. If you’re used to a more nimble car, the CX-9 will make the transition to a large family car much easier.
Although we generally like the suspension’s combination of compliance and poise, we can’t recommend the Grand Touring model’s 20-inch wheels, as too much drive comfort is lost in the transition from the standard 18s. If you stick with the base wheel setup, you’ll still have one of the best-handling big crossovers around, as well as a smooth ride.

Exterior

The 2015 Mazda CX-9 is a large seven-passenger crossover SUV offered in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. Note that all-wheel-drive models come standard with a towing prep package, but among front-wheel-drive models, only the Grand Touring can be so equipped.
Standard features on the Sport model include 18-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, three-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 5.8-inch touchscreen central display, Bluetooth phone and sound connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, HD radio, Pandora radio capability, a USB/iPod interface and an auxiliary sound jack. Packaged as an option are heated mirrors, heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar.
The Touring model gets that optional package as standard and adds automatic headlights, a blind-spot monitoring system, rear parking sensors, a rear cross-traffic alert system, a rearview camera, leather upholstery and a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat.
The Grand Touring ramps up the luxury with 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, LED running lights, foglights, automatic wipers, a power liftgate, upgraded exterior and interior trim, keyless ignition and entry, driver memory functions and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Most options are bundled into packages. The Touring trim is eligible for the Touring Technology package, which includes foglights, a sunroof, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, a navigation system, satellite radio, a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound system and the Recreational Accessory package (available separately, includes roof rails, cross bars, a cargo net and a stainless steel rear bumper guard). The Grand Touring gets its own Technology package, which is just the Touring’s version minus what’s already standard.
Exclusive to the Grand Touring is an optional rear-seat entertainment package that comes with a DVD player, a 9-inch screen, an 11-speaker Bose surround system, satellite radio (available separately), the navigation system and a 115-volt power outlet. However, this package cannot be combined with the Technology package (translation: you’ll have to choose between the entertainment screen or the sunroof).

Interior

The 2015 Mazda CX-9’s dashboard features a graceful waterfall design that flows into the door panels with uncommon flair. Materials quality is unremarkable — there’s nary a soft-touch panel to be found on the dash, for example — but it’s all screwed together pretty well. One nice premium touch is the center console bin, which has a nifty split lid that pops open like a set of clamshell doors. Otherwise, the CX-9’s cabin could use a few more storage areas here and there.
The 5.8-inch touchscreen is a mixed bag. We appreciate that it’s standard for every CX-9, but many of today’s systems offer larger screens and/or more user-friendly functionality, as well as access to apps on owners’ smartphones. The CX-9 is clearly behind the times on this count.
The good news is that the CX-9 has plenty of space. In the first two seating rows, there’s ample room even for taller passengers, but headroom is tighter for those seated in the third row. Happily, the second-row seat reclines and slides fore and aft to accommodate various passenger scenarios. Access to the third row is a cinch relative to some other crossover SUVs, but the large rear door openings that make this possible can be cumbersome in tight parking spaces.
With its second and third rows folded flat, the CX-9 offers up a formidable 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity: an excellent figure for this class.

Safety

The 2015 CX-9 comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Touring and Grand Touring models add a suite of electronic driving aids that include a blind-spot monitoring system, rear parking sensors, a rear cross-traffic alert system and a rearview camera.
In government crash tests, the CX-9 received an overall four-star rating (out of a possible five), with three stars for frontal-crash results and five stars for side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded last year’s CX-9 its highest rating of "Good" in the moderate-overlap frontal-offset crash test and the side-impact test, but gave it the lowest rating of "Poor" in the small-overlap frontal-offset impact test. It also scored only "Marginal" (the second-lowest rating of four) in the roof-strength test and for its seat and head restraint design’s whiplash protection in rear-impact crashes.
In SUVS brake testing, an AWD Grand Touring model came to a stop from 60 miles per hour in 123 feet, an average showing for this class.

Specs

Available with either front- or all-wheel drive, the 2015 Mazda CX-9 is motivated by a 3.7-liter V6 engine that produces 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is a 6-speed automatic with manual shift control. Properly equipped, the CX-9 can haul up to 3,500 pounds.
In SUVS testing, a front-wheel-drive CX-9 accelerated from zero to 60 miles per hour in 7.5 seconds, which is decently quick by segment standards. An all-wheel-drive model needed 8.5 seconds in our testing, though, so AWD is more of a performance burden than you might expect. EPA-estimated fuel economy for the CX-9 is on par with that of other large crossovers at 19 miles per gallon combined (17 city/24 highway) for front-wheel-drive models and 18 miles per gallon combined (16 city/22 highway) for AWD models.

Value

Responsive steering; strong V6 engine; spacious interior; easy-access third-row seat with room for adults.

Verdict

In some ways, the 2015 Mazda CX-9 is showing its age. But this roomy three-row crossover SUV is still one of our favorites.

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