The Mazda CX-9 tops the Hiroshima-manufacturer’s lineup, and was one of 2016’s most hotly-anticipated cars. Available in Sport, Touring, GT and Azami trim levels, the CX-9 promises to be all things to all men (and women), offering a great drive, comfortable accommodation, impressive safety, and commodious practicality.
While competitors like the Toyota Kluger, Ford Everest, and Holden Trailblazer have grown in girth simply for the sake of growth, the CX-9 has actually shrunk (it’s shorter now) a little thanks to some smart packaging. That sort of clever thinking is everywhere in the CX-9, and has pushed the flagship Mazda into the contention of the best full-size seven-seater SUVs out there.
With all trim levels coming in front-wheel and all-wheel drive, the CX-9’s breadth of choices matches its breadth of ability, and comes in a package that looks great on the outside and feels premium on the inside. The CX-9 now gets perilously close to more upmarket offerings like the Land Rover Discovery Sport, both in price and experience. So has this CX-9 completed Mazda’s climb up the ladder, then?
“The whole impression is of a vehicle in motion, even when parked. CX-9 is elegant and beautifully finished.” - Forbes
Though one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, a car is a very different matter. It’s not enough that it serves its purpose, but it has to look good doing so. To that end, the Mazda CX-9 is undoubtedly one of the best-looking full-size SUVs on the market, and sees the latest iteration of Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design language in its biggest application yet. The flying ‘M’ logo takes centre stage up front, with small headlights flanking the massive grille.
Creases that run the length of the car help to give it some real presence even when standing still, with these design flourishes shown off best in Mazda’s ‘Soul Red’ metallic. The rear, however, fails to live up to the same presence and flair that you get up front, though it is far from unattractive to look at.
The CX-9 definitely cuts a finer figure than clunkier, chunkier alternatives like the Toyota Kluger and Jeep Grand Cherokee, and sits well against style-conscious rivals like the Hyundai Santa Fe, and Kia Sorento.
Engine & Drivetrain
“The CX-9 produces punchy performance that’s also highly refined.” - Motoring
Only one engine lives under the nose of the CX-9, and it’s quite the party piece. You get a 2.5-litre turbocharged SkyActive-T four-pot, paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox, sending power to all corners or just the front pair of wheels. 170kW may not seem like a lot, but the 420Nm of torque on offer is a lot.
There are no other engines on offer, so high-milers in search of a diesel will have to look elsewhere. That said, the CX-9 does offer a claimed fuel consumption figure of just 8.8L/100km (though real-world conditions will likely return something closer to 12L/100km), which should be plenty good enough for urban drivers.
“The finely-honed interior shows obsessive attention to detail and material choice.” - Driving
Mazda sees itself as a stepping stone between mass-market and premium brands, and the interior is the best example of that. Even base models feel plush, with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob coming as standard on all variants.
Materials employed throughout the cabin are pliant and forgiving, and the doors close with the reassurance of a bank-vault. The CX-9’s interior continues to impress with great levels of kit, including an MZD-Connect infotainment system, controlled by a BMW-esque rotary control dial. There’s plenty of practicality on offer, with cubbies and storage bins dotted around the car. The interior feels harmonious and elegant, and definitely imparts a feeling of luxury.
Behind the Wheel
“The Mazda CX-9 is the best handling large SUV available near its price, and a genuinely good drive in spite of its high weight and centre of mass.” - WhichCar
The Hiroshima brand has practically become a byword for fun and agility, and the CX-9 is no different, despite what its dimensions may suggest. This might be a big car to behold, but it doesn’t feel overly large from behind the wheel. The 2.5-litre up front is willing, and pushing it will reveal a (relatively) rorty exhaust note. The steering is precise though not fidgety, and makes for good fun on winding backroads.
The CX-9 is also able to hold its own on the motorway too, with plenty of refinement on offer. Even though it handles body roll well, it’s by no means uncomfortable, with Touring and Sport models offering the cushiest ride with their smaller wheels. All-wheel drive models feel stable and planted even at speed, though the front-wheel drive models are plenty good enough for the mostly-urban driver.
It must be noted that the CX-9 offers little in the way of proper off-road gear, so don’t expect to venture too far off the beaten track. That gravel path is plenty far enough.
Safety & Technology
“Comfort, convenience and safety are the CX-9’s key virtues…” - Motoring
The Mazda CX-9 was definitely designed as a family car from the onset, with tons of standard safety & convenience tech built in. All CX-9s get six-airbags (include head-level curtain airbags that stretch all the way to the third row of seats), seat belt warnings, a reversing camera, and parking sensors.
Stepping up from the entry-level model bags more kit, with things like autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, roll stability control (a system that works to prevent the high-riding wagon from falling over), and trailer stability assist.
Top-shelf Azami models get even more kit on top of that. The autonomous emergency braking, otherwise limited to just 30km/h, is now able to bring the car to a halt from 160km/h. A driver attention monitor gets tacked on, as well as multi-element LED headlights that can actively dim parts of its beam to avoid dazzling other drivers (LED headlights come as standard, but they are simpler units that do not get this feature).
Safety-watchdogs ANCAP awarded the CX-9 an impressive 5-star safety rating in July 2016.
Mazda continues to impress with the CX-9, bringing its SUV range bang up to date. Where the previous generation was a bit of a dinosaur, the current model puts it right in contention with the very best city-oriented SUVs on the market. The 2.5-litre turbo-four is also a great companion in town, on the motorway, and even on backroads, and leaves only very few pining for an oil-burner.
Of the CX-9 range, we recommend taking a look at Touring models, just one step up from the entry-level Sport variant. The Touring brings with it all the kit you’d expect of a semi-premium family wagon, without hurting the wallet too much. Of course, we must put a word in for the top-shelf Azami variants, as all that active safety technology goes some way to justify the premium it commands over lower variants. Think long and hard about all-wheel drive though, as it hampers fuel economy by a decent degree, and isn’t really worth it if you’re going to be pottering around town most of the time.
WhichCar - 4.5/5.0 - “The Mazda CX-9 is a great-looking, comfortable, and well-built seven-seater that feels better to drive than any other big SUV near its price. Its turbo-petrol engine is economical and surprisingly sporty. The third row of seats will accept adults. All-wheel drive is available, and auto emergency braking is standard.”
Edmunds - 4.6/5.0 - “The Mazda CX-9 is attractive inside and out, but it's more than just a pretty face. It's a pleasure to drive and will satisfy all of your growing family's requirements thanks to its generous size and numerous features. It's one of our top-ranked three-row SUVs.”
CarAdvice - 8.0/10 - “The new-generation Mazda CX-9 is a profound step forward for the Japanese brand’s big SUV. Look, the petrol engine is quite good – in fact, it's great – but we can’t help but feel a diesel would be such a good fit, that it’s a real shame it will never happen. Still, if you can deal with the petrol drivetrain rather than diesel, this is a polished, practical SUV which will no doubt impress potential buyers.”
Motoring - 7.8/10 - “A car of the year wins that accolade by offering more than the competition. But Mazda’s CX-9, the flagship of the brand’s SUV range, also piles on layers of fine detail in the ‘for’ column. This makes it an extremely well-rounded product that’s an ideal family wagon, although serious off-roaders should look elsewhere.”
CarsGuide - 9.0/10 - “The new CX-9 is a class act. The interior is as versatile as we could hope for, and the drivetrain has succeeded in matching its intended purpose. No diesel, who cares? It’s a comfortable way to cover long distances, and offers the value, safety, and refinement to make it a new segment benchmark.”
Drive - 7.5/10 - “The second-generation CX-9 has elevated itself immediately to be among the class leading family SUVs, thanks to solid foundations that make it both enjoyable and effortless to drive and safe and spacious for the whole family.”
Kelly Blue Book - 8.4/10 - “The 2016 Mazda CX-9 puts the "fun" in "functional." If you want a mainstream 3-row SUV that is an adept family vehicle for school drop-offs and a rewarding personal vehicle for a spirited trip to the office or couples weekend getaway, this is it.”
Forbes - 7.0/10 - “As distinctions between luxury and non-luxury vehicles disappear, the marketplace gets more interesting and rewarding for consumers. The Mazda CX-9 stands as an example that luxury is in the eye of the buyer, not in the brand name on the grille.”