The 2018 Mazda CX-9 midsize SUV checks all the right boxes and moves seven people while doing it. It’s hard for anybody who drives for a living not to like it.
This year’s model didn’t get many updates over the last, but there wasn’t much room for improvement either. Mazda had already stuffed the CX-9 with premium materials and plenty of useful technologies. Our near top-of-the-line Grand Touring model was packed with neat kit like a heads-up display with traffic-sign recognition, radar cruise control and navigation. A trip through New Hampshire’s White Mountains and an outing to the Story Land amusement park tasked the Mazda CX-9 with carrying my family of four, complete with two car seats, a stroller and enough food to keep a two- and five-year old happy for hours on end. The Mazda performed admirably, but the CX-9 is not without its faults – no matter how small.
Let’s take a look at where everything shakes out.
The CX-9’s design benefits from an automaker that isn’t afraid to take a few chances. The “stingray mouth” grille features a prominent Mazda logo and has a unique shape, sloping inward from the hood down to the lower bumper. The rest of the silhouette is just as sleek, with sweeping lines front to back.
Inside, the impression from the front seats is very much that of being in a cockpit. Mazda’s cabin design places the Mazda CX-9’s controls and displays around the driver, which makes the driving experience feel much more ergonomic and natural.
The interior, while still superb, is a tamer experience in the second and third rows. Window shades for back seat passengers are a welcome addition, though with small children they can prove annoying when repeatedly pulled up and down.
The CX-9 is fun to drive. Period. It’s surprisingly quick (not fast), more agile than most vehicles of its size and stays composed over a variety of road surfaces. The turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is rated at 227 horsepower (Mazda says 250 horsepower with premium fuel) and combines with the six-speed automatic transmission to more than adequately move the CX-9.
I was unable to find a situation, on the highway or otherwise, where the CX-9 left me needing more power. The cabin is so quiet that it’s easy to lose track of how fast you’re accelerating – until your wife starts poking you to slow down.
I spent a week with the CX-9 and still couldn’t find enough time to use every party trick it had up its sleeve. The most notable exceptions to the long list of available tech goodies are Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Like Toyota with its Entune system, Mazda has opted for their own system over the ones provided by Apple and Google, and the results are mixed at best. I had multiple issues with the infotainment unit freezing or going dark without any ability to recover it while driving. On one occasion, the rearview camera stayed on until I shut the vehicle off and restarted it. Those minor hiccups aside, Mazda’s homebrewed interface was simple and easy to navigate using the control wheel or touchscreen (the latter when the CX-9 is parked).
The 2018 Mazda CX-9 earned IIHS Top Safety Pick honors with “Superior” marks for its forward crash prevention and “Good” ratings everywhere else. The CX-9’s heads up display with speed-limit and stop-sign recognition works well, which made it easy to keep my eyes on the road and clearly see information about the road ahead. There were no overly-aggressive warnings from the forward collision system or the rear cross-traffic alerts that some vehicles make you endure, which eases parking stress considerably.
The CX-9’s front seats are a revelation and make the crossover a breeze to drive long distances. Both front passengers have generous room side to side, and there are no problems for taller people in the front buckets. My five-foot tall wife had difficulty finding a comfortable elbow position with the center armrest, but other complaints were few and far between. Sitting in the second row, adults up to six feet tall (as I am) will have no shortage of leg or head room, but the third row is best reserved for children.
Our full-size car seat and booster seat fit without issue in the second row, though the Latch system is so well-hidden in the seat’s leather that it took several minutes of searching to find it and secure the seat. While we generally applaud rear seat climate control, the CX-9’s array prompted a complaint. There are so many buttons on the CX-9’s rear panel that it proved impossible to adjust temperatures for the little ones independently without either getting out of the vehicle and walking back or leaning way over the center console to see what you’re doing. The rear controls can be synced to the front climate controls, but I tend to like cooler air than the kids do. That doesn’t make me a Bad Dad, does it?
At just over $42,000 as-tested, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 isn’t cheap. It has the feature set and build quality to compete with vehicles in a much different (higher) price range, though, and doesn’t force you to make very many sacrifices to get there. The third row and cargo area could be bigger and the infotainment could be smoother, but the overall picture is one of a balanced and well thought-out vehicle that demonstrates Mazda’s relevance in a definitively non-Zoom-Zoom class.