Mazda bakes sports car DNA into its CX-9 flagship crossover

By Peter A. Hubbard

(June 19, 2017) When you drive an automaker’s flagship model you expect it to impress. You expect excellent fit and finish on the body, seating that fits like a glove, and an abundance of safety, luxury and convenience features throughout. You also anticipate crisp and accurate steering, a supple suspension, boffo braking, and a good deal of zip when you poke the throttle as you’re passing that semi … and make that urgent “call” down to the engine room requesting more power. 

Thankfully, Mazda’s 3-row deluxe crossover — the CX-9 — delivers that … and more. 

Somehow, they’ve also managed to capture the essential elements of Mazda’s “zoom, zoom” DNA and bake it into this full-size family-friendly crossover. Without a doubt, the Mazda CX-9 lives up to the brand’s sporty image. Go figure! 

In the interest of full disclosure, I possess a bit of a positive bias toward Mazda, having been the proud owner of their zippy little two-seater, the Miata MX-5 for 18 years. So I appreciate the fact their vehicles can possess a certain spunk.  But I certainly didn’t expect to find such qualities in their flagship crossover. 

The CX-9 was completely redesigned for the 2016 model year, and carries over to 2017 unchanged. This second generation CX-9 has better performance, increased efficiency and a new level of refinement. The chassis is significantly lighter while the wheelbase is 2.2-inch-longer, adding legroom and easier entry and exit for passengers in rows two and three. 

In February it won the prestigious Wheels Car of the Year award, considered one of the hardest motoring awards in the world to win, beating out the pricier Audi A4 and Mercedes E class sedans.

In a segment dominated by crossovers equipped with V-6 engines, Mazda made something of a gamble with their redesign. They replaced the V-6 in the first-generation model with a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder as the model’s only engine offering. But the driver of the CX-9 will never confess to being cheated. Not only do the engine’s 227 horses and 310 lb.-ft. of torque propel the vehicle smartly — with the aid of a 6-speed automatic — the engineers also managed to deliver something quite unexpected — a throaty exhaust note.

I won’t swear it sounds as good as a Miata’s, but it’s certainly quite audible and very welcoming for anyone with a penchant for sports cars. So the suburban family man can now own a vehicle capable of hauling his brood, without sacrificing the sporty driving characteristics he craves. The other advantage is decent fuel economy — 22 city and 28 highway. 

As part of its review, Car & Driver magazine reported the CX-9 was clocked at 7.1 seconds in the 0-to-60 sprint in “sport” mode. They came away so impressed they included it as one of their “10 Best for 2017.”

Open the door and slip inside and you’ll begin to understand why. The cabin impresses with thoughtful detailing and luxury touches you’d expect to find only on the inside of premium Volvos or Jaguars. Highlights include genuine rosewood trim, brushed aluminum, leathery upholstery that’s Country Club quality and soft-touch plastics that are handsomely grained. 

Step away after you’ve parked it next to the other crossovers at the mall parking lot and it sticks out rather nicely from the surrounding sea of suburbanite shuttles. The CX-9’s smiling grille, crisp sporty lines, squinty headlamps and the high-mounted narrow taillights might even cause you to mistake it for a Jaguar F-PACE.  Aiding in the illusion are 20-inch tires – P255/50R20’s to be exact — mounted on stylish alloy wheels and brushed aluminum roof rails.

Safety and convenience features on our front-drive Grand Touring test vehicle included the standard supply of air bags all around, blind-spot monitors in the sideview mirrors, lane departure warning and assist, a back-up camera and a projection speed display on the windshield that I haven’t encountered since the GM’s luxury liners of the 80’s, proudly equipped with this technology recently acquired from it new Hughes Aircraft subsidiary. There’s also a power open-and-close rear lift-gate, three-zone climate control and a stellar 12-speaker Bose audio system.

Four models make up the CX-9 stable — the base Sport (priced at $31,520), the Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. The Sport, Touring and Grand Touring come as front-drivers, but the can be equipped with the company’s iACTIV all-wheel-drive for folks living in areas of the country that experience more severe winter weather.  The Signature model comes only in AWD. Our FWD Grand Touring test vehicle came very well equipped, with a base sticker price of $41,810 including destination charge.


The cabin of the CX-9 welcomes you like a familiar pair of loafers, and fits just as comfortably.  While it may have slightly less passenger and cargo area than others in the segment, it should be quite adequate for more users.  It provides 14.4 cu. ft. with third seat up, 38.2 cu. ft. with it down, and 71.2 cu. ft. with the second row folded forward.  Headroom and legroom should prove more than adequate for most drivers.

Materials and styling of the CX-9’s interior is absolutely first rate. You’ll also discover the car’s rear visibility is better than most, allowing you to move in and around most freeway traffic with ease.  The dashboard is nicely contoured and handsomely designed. The infotainment data is accessed through an 8-inch color touch screen.  All controls are fairly intuitive and within easy reach of the driver. It even garnered a “10 Best Interiors” prize from industry trade magazine, Ward’s Auto.


The Mazda CX-9 may not be the longest or largest in the segment, but we think it could very well be the sexiest. It’s rakish windshield, long sloped hood, angular grille, integrated rear roof spoiler and pinched cut-outs for the headlight and taillights give it a lean and sporty look.  And as already noted, when it achieves combustion and leaps to life, it certainly lives up to its looks.

Add the 20-inch rubber and low, aggressive stance, and Mazda has a real winner on its hands. 


Dare we say it … the Mazda CX-9 handles more like a sports car than a crossover? Its
 handling demeanor is absolutely exemplary. It turns, brakes, and maneuvers with ease. Mechanicals assisting in that endeavor are independent front and rear suspensions, stabilizer bars front and rear, 4-wheel disc brands with standard ABS.  It also comes with dynamic stability control as well as traction and roll stability control — in other words, a very smart suspension set-up.

The end result is a vehicle that almost makes you glad you have a daily commute to work.


Over the past 10 years or so, consumer demand has shifted dramatically from sedans, SUVs and minivans in favor of crossovers.  The reasons seem fairly obvious.  Depending on how they’re constructed and optioned, these shapely boxes have incorporated the most favorable qualities of all three types of vehicles that once dominated the landscape.

All that began to develop around 1998 and thereafter, when Lexus introduced the first RX350 models. They made their “short-box” design both practical and aesthetically pleasing. And in the 20 years since, there has been a burgeoning of the category to include dozens of subcompact, compact, mid-size, full-size, and ultra luxury models.

In fact, this year alone the roads will see crossovers from both Bentley and Maserati.  If I had posed that possibility just 10 years ago I would have been laughed out of the room — but not now.

In fact, some of the tremendously popular rear-drive, truck-based SUVs of the 90’s have now morphed into crossovers. These include the likes of the Ford Explorer, Nissan Pathfinder and Toyota 4Runner to name just a few. Another hot-selling SUV from that era, the Chevy Blazer is no more — replaced in the line by the Traverse crossover.

But Mazda’s CX-9 began life as a crossover from the get-go.  The first generation made its debut in 2006, while still mated to Ford Motor company. It was built on the same Ford CD3 platform as the Ford Edge and Fusion sedan.

But with the last year’s complete redesign, it now rides on Mazda’s own platform, which has turned it into an award-winning vehicle. 

So if you’re in the market for a family crossover, but don’t want to sacrifice sporty good looks and excellent handling, the list of affordable candidates is a very short one; and the CX-9 should be at the top of your list.