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What’s New

  • For 2015, the Mazda CX-9's biggest changes are actually additions to the standard accessory list.
  • Roof rails, cross bars, a cargo net and a stainless steel bumper guard round out the most significant changes.

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Performance

  • The 3.7-liter V6 churns out 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. Acceleration is substantial on the open road when passing smartphone-addicted motorists. That ability to move this larger vehicle quickly comes at a fuel cost, as the CX-9 in all-wheel drive form achieves a somewhat vanilla 22 mpg on the highway, 16 mpg in the city and a combined fuel economy of 18 mpg.
  • The 6-speed automatic transmission works well, never hunting for clunky gear changes. In the next iteration of this family hauler, expect a smaller displacement engine with higher mpg figures and possibly more gears to boost fuel economy figures.

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Ride/Handling

  • Mazda knows how to build suspensions for sporty cars like the MX-5 Miata. Luckily, that know-how is shared with much larger vehicles like the CX-9. Of all vehicles driven in this 7-passenger crossover segment, the CX-9 handedly delivers the best sense of road feel to the driver. If a suspension and steering are not tuned adequately, a disconnect develops between the driver and the road, which results in either a bouncy ride or inability to derive feedback from the road beneath.
  • The CX-9 delivers confidence-inspiring handling while also providing a relaxing ride during long family road trips. That's a tough combination to get right, yet Mazda nailed it. Hyundai's 7-passenger Santa Fe could learn something from the Mazda engineering squad.
  • There is a fair amount of wind and road noise when driven above 65 miles per hour.

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Utility

  • The third row folds down into the floor creating a respectable cargo area of about 48.3 cubic feet. With the third row up, that space shrinks to17.2 cubic feet. When the second row seats are folded down into the floor along with the third row, a massive 100.7 cubic feet of space is created in the cabin.
  • As a real world example, the author was able to do a family Easter weekend vacation complete with two large suitcases, tricycle, full stroller, two adults and one child in a car seat, etc. with plenty of room to spare.
  • The tailgate is a regular gas shock variety, which requires manual effort to open. However, there is a power-close feature which doesn’t rely on muscle contraction. Also, a button from inside the driver's seat on the dash can be pressed to close the tailgate; a welcome feature many in the class do not have.

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Comfort & Interior

  • The third row seating which enables seven passenger seating is nice in a pinch, but only small children will be somewhat comfortable in the third row. Parents will probably only find the two aft seats good for shorter trips. Also, accessing the third row isn't easy: The 2nd row doesn't slide forward enough, and there isn't a one-lever operation to fully move the second row out of the way for easy ingress/egress.
  • Second row passengers should have more niceties like in its competition. The middle row was missing heated seats, window shades and a panoramic sunroof. That stated, the reclining 60/40 seats, which also slide forward/aft, are a plus for bulky hardware store runs.
  • The LATCH child seat anchoring system is easy to access and use in the 2nd row outboard seats. There is no LATCH system in the third row.
  • The entire dashboard and cockpit area look like something out of a vehicle built in the early 2000’s. A re-do of the CX-9 is needed (with haste!) to standup to the more feature-laden competition from Hyundai (Santa Fe), Kia (Sorento), Toyota (Highlander), etc.
  • The perforated, sporty-feeling leather interior feels very premium, easily besting hides from Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai, to name a few.

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Technology

  • The Navigation system is the older Mazda variety. The screen―at XX-inches―is too small. For context, the graphics are not anywhere near as high resolution as the original 2007 iPhone, and the touchscreen user interface shows its age as well. The new infotainment system Mazda currently has in their 2015 Mazda3 will be a huge win when placed in this crossover.
  • This Grand Touring model came standard with blind spot monitoring (BSM), roll stability control (RSC), rear cross traffic alert (RCTA), and a host of other safety-oriented acronyms. All work well and help the driver rather than provide nuisance like in some competing products we’ve tested.
  • This tested Grand Touring model was equipped with the GT Tech package. For the additional $2435, Bose audio with 10 speakers, satellite radio, navigation and power moon roof where included. Our recommendation is to skip this upgrade as the navigation system appears behind the times in size, capability and appearance. A newer smart phone with Google Maps and a windshield cradle will serve your directional needs for less and more adequately.

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Summary

The 2015 CX-9 Grand Touring All-Wheel Drive with Tech Package (MSRP of $39,890 after $880 destination fee) shows its age in a fiercely competitive field of recently redesigned offerings. If you are a driving enthusiast, the CX-9 is probably the best handling vehicle of the seven passenger crossover segment (not including premium marques, of course). For the latest tech and additional content, however, you may want to look elsewhere.