2018 Mazda CX-9: Niche awards in design, safety, interior, quality and performance

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Thursday, June 7, 2018

Mazda’s CX-9 has been an award-winning head-turner since it debuted in 2006, as curved and sculpted midsize three-row crossover that distanced itself from the typical box-on-wheels SUVs it competed against. Now, three years into its second generation, CX-9 is still carlike in its handling and it continues to collect a long list accolades as Mazda’s flagship sports-ute.

CX-9 has been lauded as a Car and Driver “10 Best” winner in its trucks and SUVs competition; “North American Utility of the Year” finalist; “World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year” finalist and WardsAuto “10 Best Interiors” and “10 Best Engines” awards recipient. CX-9 also won Strategic Vision’s “Total Quality Impact” award, and for 2018, Mazda CX-9, continues to impress in safety, earning the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s highest recognition of “Top Safety Pick+” when equipped with Smart Brake Support and Adaptive Front-lighting System.

Essentially unchanged for the 2018 model year, CX-9 adds exterior items -- Auto On/Off Headlights and Rain Sensing Wipers have been added to the Touring trim and Windshield Wiper De-icer is on the GT/Signature trim. Several interior tweaks have been added to the GT/Signature trim including a Heated Steering Wheel, 2nd row seat heater; and the Active Driving Display adds Traffic Sign Recognition; and the front driver's seat adds a tilt function, seat lifter and power lumbar. Safetywise, Blind spot monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert are added to the Sport trim; Rain-sensing windshield wipers, High Beam Control, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning, Mazda Radar Cruise Control - MRCC are now on the Touring trim, Front Parking Sensor is on GT/Signature and the full i-ACTIVSENSE safety technology suite is standard on CX-9 Touring and above. Additionally, G-Vectoring Control vehicle dynamics enhancements and Smart City Brake Support automatic emergency braking are now on all trims.

From a design perspective, CX-9’s execution of the Mazda KODO -- Soul of Motion design lives through its proportion -- a long hood, swept greenhouse, large wheels and short overhangs that convey stability and a contained sense of potential energy. Fitting nicely into midsize, three-row crossover SUV parameters, CX-9 measures 199.4 inches long, 77.2 inches wide and 67.6 inches high, with a 40.5-inch front overhang and 115.3-inch wheelbase. Ground clearance is 8.8 inches and curb-to-curb turning circle radius is 19.4 feet. My test CX-9 Signature was in AWD configuration and came in with a curbweight of 4308 pounds.

CX-9’s powertrain is the same as last year, its 2.5-liter inline-4 turbo that delivers 227hp on regular (87-octane) unleaded fuel and 250hp with Premium (93-octane) gas. Torque is 310 lbs.-ft., and the EPA estimate is 20mpg/city, 26mpg/highway in AWD configuration (FWD is rated at 22/28). A week of mixed-use driving averaged 23.1mpg.

As a driver’s vehicle, CX-9 is smooth and attentive. Road irregularities are smoothed out well by an independent front MacPherson strut suspension with stabilizer bar and an independent multi-link rear with stabilizer bar. The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with engine-speed-sensing variable assist was responsive a relatively true, even in auto-cross tests, though acceptable understeer was the norm and quick S-Curve moves showed the expected top wobble. Acceleration was predictable and solid in all ranges. My CX-9 had solid pick-up for passing at speed and for conquering long uphill grades. On the track, a zero-to-60mph dash took 7.7 seconds, and a steady 16.1-second quarter-mile was a smooth journey.

The CX-9 cabin is comfortable, but confining for drivers and passengers over 6-feet tall. Front headroom is 39.3 inches up front without a moonroof, 38.5 in row two and a child-friendly 35.4 inches in row three. Legroom is comfortable at 41.0 in front with 39.4 in row two and a cramped 29.7 in row three, and shoulder room measures 57.9, 58.1 and 53.1.

The cabin is packed with high-tech and comfort amenities. My test Signature was loaded with such items as Nappa leather-trimmed seats, Auburn-colored interior accents, leather wrapped steering wheel with unique stitching, genuine Rosewood interior trim, power sliding-glass moonroof with sunshade, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated front seats, windshield-projected Active Driving Display, 12-speaker Bose® Centerpoint® 2.0 Surround Sound System with AudioPilot®, SiriusXM Satellite radio, Mazda Navigation System and much more.

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 starts at $32,130 for a front-wheel drive in the Sport trim – AWD starts at $34,925. Touring trim starts at $34,960 in FWD and 36,760 for AWD; the Grand Touring trim starts at $40,470 (FWD) and $42,270 (AWD) and the top-of-the-model-line Signature starts at $44,315 for AWD – all trims see price increases in 2018 except for the Signature.

My test ride, a CX-9 Signature in Snowflake White Pearl Mica (an extra $200), with an Auburn Nappa Leather interior, offered no available major packages as this trim is loaded as is. A Rear Seat Entertainment System added $1995 for dual 8-inch headrest-mounted LCD monitors and two sets of wireless headphones for occupants in the second row. Front and rear splash guards added $150; an Interior Lighting Kit added $350; and Mazda Mobile Start (Smartphone-controlled App) added $550. With a destination fee of $995, my 2017 Mazda CX-9 Signature stickered-as-tested at $48,355.

Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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