2018 Mazda CX-9
Welcome to Crossover and Dad, the first magazine devoted to those high-riding, two-box vehicles that no self-respecting car guy wants but everyone is buying! Going forward, the rebooted C/D will be so replete with crossover news and reviews that it will resemble the overflowing cargo area behind the third row on your last family vacation. Yes, we know it’s your wife’s car. Our promise to you both: Absolutely no minivans—ever!
Fear not: There’s no way that’s happening, no matter how much the auto business careens off in such a direction. And make no mistake, the car world has turned upside down. Buick, which may be the stodgiest, most historically sedan-centric mainstream brand, reports that 79 percent of its sales volume in the first quarter came from crossovers. As for Porsche, we can’t remember the last month that the Macan didn’t outsell the 718 and 911 combined. Our test fleet on any given day seems to have more rows of seats than nearby Michigan Stadium.
But the news is not all doom and gloom for us car folk. The flood of crossovers has only made those few clever ones stand in greater relief, machines that manage to tick all (or most) of the practicality boxes without forgetting to reward the driver. Mazda’s seven-passenger CX-9 is among this select group, providing better-than-average driving dynamics in a great-looking, right-sized package. Putting one into our long-term fleet was a given, not open to debate.
To ensure there would be no shame in our game, we ordered the CX-9 in Signature trim, the full-monty spec that started at $44,915 for the 2018 model year (the price has since increased by $375). This included, among other equipment, all-wheel drive, 20-inch wheels, a moonroof, LED lighting, and driver-assist systems (adaptive cruise, blind-spot monitoring, lane keeping, and automated braking). We added some dealer accessories and paid $300 for the Machine Gray paint that made our CX-9 look like a chrome-trimmed artillery shell, bringing the total to $45,955.
But it was less the long list of features that initially impressed us and more the CX-9’s natty two-tone black-and-reddish leather interior with open-pore rosewood trim. “This interior shames some Acura, Cadillac, and Lexus vehicles,” pronounced technical director Eric Tingwall. “That’s not the highest bar to clear, but it’s impressive considering the Ford-era Mazdas.”
Indeed, from the first time the CX-9 rolled into the C/D garage, it was evident that this new model had little in common with the vehicle it replaced, which was the last vestige of Mazda’s decades-long partnership with Ford. The most significant change comes under the hood, where a turbocharged version of Mazda’s 2.5-liter four, rated at 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, replaces the Ford V-6. Mazda no longer offers a six in any of its vehicles, and it’s easy to see why. The switch to the turbo four resulted in a 22-mpg average over 40,000 miles, a 4-mpg improvement over our long-term 2008 CX-9 powered by a 3.7-liter V-6.
The CX-9’s new powertrain makes it both lighter and quicker, with curb weight dropping below 4400 pounds. The CX-9 managed 7.1 seconds in a zero-to-60-mph sprint when new, and it trimmed a tenth of a second off that time at the conclusion of our test. On flat-foot acceleration, the CX-9 would get noisy at high revs, but with peak power occurring at 5000 rpm, it is unnecessary to chase the 6300-rpm redline. The engine favors low-end grunt anyway, with its full torque output available at a diesel-like 2000 rpm. “This turbo 2.5-liter is the little engine that could,” wrote deputy online editor Dave VanderWerp, “tugging this large vehicle very capably around town.”
Ride quality—even on its 20-inch wheels—and roll control were routinely praised in the logbook, as was the CX-9’s sedanlike handling and steering feel. Grip improved from 0.83 g to 0.85 once the CX-9’s tires were worn in, and its outstanding braking performance was consistent, with the CX-9 stopping from 70 mph in 168 feet at both ends of its service. (Full disclosure: We did have the front rotors turned due to warping just before final testing.)