In a very competitive three-row SUV market, there are numerous choices available. However, what if you require a spacious SUV that still offers an enjoyable driving experience? While many large SUVs prioritize comfort and family space, some drivers still seek the joy of driving, especially when dropping their kids off at school. This is where the 2023 Mazda CX-9 stands out.
The 2023 Mazda CX-9 distinguishes itself in the segment with its enjoyable driving dynamics, a trait expected from Mazda. Unlike other bulky and unwieldy SUVs, Mazda focuses on infusing a higher level of athleticism into its vehicles. Although the current generation CX-9 was introduced in 2016 and is one of the older models, its stylish design still surpasses that of many rivals, such as the Toyota Highlander. The sophisticated and sculpted exterior has stood the test of time.
Stepping into the CX-9’s cabin, one might easily mistake it for a luxury car due to its high-end materials and minimalist design. The upscale interior features brushed aluminum, genuine rosewood trim, and comfortable Nappa leather seats. Despite being aimed at driving enthusiasts, the CX-9 does have some drawbacks, particularly in terms of space. While it offers three rows of seats, the third row lacks sufficient legroom and headroom for adults. Additionally, its cargo space behind the third row is less than that of some competitors, with only 14.4 cubic feet of space, expanding to 38.2 cubic feet with the third row folded. Both the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride provide more cargo space.
At the top of the dashboard, there is a modern and sleek 10.25-inch display. The infotainment system also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but one major issue with the CX-9’s system is the Multifunction Commander control, a dial on the center console. This control system is not user-friendly as it requires turning the dial for making selections on the screen. Navigating playlists or entering destinations becomes an unnecessarily cumbersome process.
In terms of safety, the CX-9 comes standard with adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning with lane-keep assist. Additionally, it offers automatic rear emergency braking, adaptive headlights, and a windshield wiper de-icer. The CX-9 has performed well in crash tests, receiving the highest award, Top Safety Pick+, from the IIHS for the 2022 CX-9 model.
Under the hood, the CX-9 differs from most rivals by not offering a V6 engine. Instead, it is powered by a turbocharged 3.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and a standard all-wheel drive system. The engine produces 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque with 93 octane fuel or 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft with 87 octane fuel.
Despite having two fewer cylinders, the CX-9 is not lacking in performance. The engine delivers all its torque as low as 2,500 rpm with 93 octane fuel, providing a punchy feel from a standstill. The absence of turbo lag makes passing on highways and accelerating from a stop effortless. Overall, the CX-9’s powertrain exceeds expectations in terms of athleticism.
Mazda did not stop at the engine in its pursuit of creating an enjoyable three-row SUV. The CX-9’s suspension effectively balances comfort with agility and responsiveness, making the large SUV feel nimble. Handling twisty roads is effortless in the CX-9 thanks to its exceptional suspension and precise steering. When driving the CX-9, you forget that you’re operating a large SUV.
The CX-9 also boasts superior fuel efficiency compared to some competitors, with ratings of 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway, and 23 mpg combined. Unlike several rivals, the CX-9 is solely available with all-wheel drive and has a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds, which is less than that of the Kia Telluride or Toyota Highlander.
For the 2023 model year, the CX-9 has dropped its former Sport trim level and is now offered in Touring, Touring Plus, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature trims. Prices start at $40,025, while the top-of-the-line CX-9 Signature is priced at $49,735, including destination charges.
In conclusion, the 2023 Mazda CX-9 is the perfect three-row SUV for buyers seeking a balance of three-row seating and driving enjoyment. Its upscale exterior and interior give the CX-9 a feel more akin to that of a large luxury SUV instead of a modest family-oriented vehicle. Though the interior has some drawbacks, the CX-9 remains one of our preferred three-row family SUVs.
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