Mazda's CX-9 is at the top of its SUV model range, which also includes the CX-30, CX-5 and the new CX-50 in the US. Six versions of the 2022 CX-9 are available: Sport ($35,630), Touring ($37,780), Touring Plus ($40,860), Carbon Edition ($43,930), Grand Touring ($44,790), and Signature ($47,560). For 2022, Mazda eliminated the FWD powertrain; AWD is now standard on all models.
We tested the CX-9 Carbon Edition ($43,580) with navigation ($450) as the sole option. The total including the $1,225 destination fee added up to $45,255. Note that current CX-9 pricing is higher than the MSRP of the test vehicle. Significant standard equipment included red leather seats, power front seats (8-way driver & 6-way front passenger adjustability), LED headlights, foglights, adaptive front lights, 20-in. alloy wheels, moonroof, 2nd row captain's chairs, power liftgate, power folding exterior mirrors, 10.25-in. infotainment display, heated/ventilated front and heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and a 12-speaker Bose audio system. Some of the standard active safety technologies include a rearview monitor, dynamic stability control, radar cruise control, collision warning, lane departure warning, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.
All CX-9 models are driven by the all-aluminum Skyactiv-G 2.5T powerplant coupled to a 6-speed automatic driving the front or all four wheels. Turbocharging and direct-injection enable the DOHC inline-4 to deliver 227-hp @ 5,000 RPM and 310 lb.-ft. @ 2,000 RPM when fueled by 87-octane gasoline. Switching to 93-octane fuel boosts peak power to 250-hp and torque to 320 lb.-ft. Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD system dynamically directs up to 50% of available power to the rear wheels based on road and driving conditions. The CX-9's transmission has fifth (0.707:1) and sixth (0.600:1) overdrive ratios mated to a 4.411:1 axle ratio. EPA fuel consumption is rated at 20/26 MPG (city/hwy.). We averaged around 20 MPG in mostly urban driving, matching the EPA estimates.
Similar to other midsize SUVs, the CX-9 front suspension consists of MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar. At the rear is a multi-link design with coil springs, dampers, and a stabilizer bar. Brakes are all-disc: 12.6-in. dia. vented rotors (front) and 12.8-in. dia. solid rotors (rear). P255/50R20 Falken Ziex L150 all-season tires are mounted on 20-in. alloy wheels. The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system is geared for a relatively slow 3.1 turns lock-to-lock. Curb weight is 4,409 lbs. Towing capacity is rated at 3,500 lbs.
As expected from Mazda, interior materials and build quality are exceptional. Most interior touch points are padded surfaces. Mazda's designers used matte textured aluminum accents on the dash, steering wheels and doors. Overall, the interior design theme reinforces the impression of quality and luxury befitting a premium SUV.
Mazda's driver-oriented focus is apparent from the uncluttered gauge cluster: analog tachometer, speedometer, and dual meters for coolant temperature and fuel level. The leather-wrapped steering wheel integrates controls for audio, cruise, and mobile phone. Instead of the typical touchscreen, the dash-mounted infotainment display controls are knobs and buttons on the center console. Dual-zone climate controls are conveniently located on the center stack, along with the heated/ventilated seats and heated steering wheel settings. Power ports include a 12V power outlet on the center console; dual USB ports are hidden in the center console bin. A slot under the climate controls has a wireless phone charging pad.
Although the CX-9's front seats get 8-way power adjustments, we found the seats to be uncomfortable due to excessively firm padding and minimal lateral thigh support. Front headroom is adequate for occupants up to 6 ft. tall. The second-row captain's chairs are more supportive and comfortable than the typical bench seat; headroom is acceptable for 6 ft. tall passengers, along with decent legroom. Sitting in the third-row is best left for children and shorter adults due to the shallow footwell, but headroom is sufficient for occupants up to 5 ft.-9 in. tall. A USB port for each seat lets each rear passenger power portable devices. Both second and third-row seats fold down to a flat load floor for cargo.
The CX-9's suspension tuning delivers a compliant ride; moderate understeer around curves, accompanied by significant body roll are typical for its segment. The electrically-assisted steering transmits road surface textures effectively, but the relatively slow gearing confirms that the CX-9 is a relaxed cruiser. Despite a curb weight exceeding 2 tons, braking performance is above average, with progressive actuation and a firm brake pedal.
Mazda's six-speed automatic makes effective use of the engine torque curve, but with fewer gear ratios than most of its competition, the CX-9 gives up 1-2 MPG in highway fuel consumption. For a more engaging driving experience, we occasionally slipped the center console-mounted transmission gear lever into manual shift mode. Alternately, a toggle switch next to the lever enables Sport mode for higher RPM shift points without resorting to manual shifting. We generally preferred the convenient steering wheel-mounted paddles for shifting on demand.
Most midsize SUVs are available with inline-4 and/or V-6, but Mazda opted for a turbo four as the only powertrain. In most urban driving, low and midrange torque is more relevant than peak horsepower, so the 2.5L turbo is tuned accordingly. The substantial 320 lb.-ft. of peak torque launches the CX-9 rapidly from a stoplight, and the turbo delivers excellent throttle response for highway passing. A mild twinge of momentary torque steer occurs on a full throttle launch, before the AWD system transfers power to the rear axle. Above 6,000 RPM engine thrust levels off, but racing to the redline is unnecessary. Cruising at 80+ MPH the CX-9 feels solid and stable, requiring minimal steering correction. Wind, engine and tire noise are subdued, making the CX-9 an excellent choice for extended road trips.
In the spectrum of midsize SUVs, the Mazda CX-9 resembles and drives like a luxurious station wagon. This is no coincidence or criticism: the immediate benefits of superior ride and handling, accompanied by the added visibility of a higher (but not too high) seating position are compelling. As a versatile multi-purpose family vehicle, the CX-9 is one of the top contenders in its class.