Despite many strong suits, the Mazda CX-9 has always been a bit of an underdog in the highly competitive and crowded full-size crossover class. The CX-9 doesn't seem to be a go-to car for shoppers in the family-hauler space, but it deserves consideration.
While it isn't perfect, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 has enough interior space and cargo capacity to handle most families and offers more fun behind the wheel than many of its competitors.
For a three-row crossover that can pretty comfortably handle seven passengers and a bit of cargo, it somehow manages to avoid feeling bulky or matronly — a trap that too many large and midsize SUVs fall into. The CX-9 is agile. It handles the highway with plenty of power, giddy-ups quickly, embraces curves and U-turns with ease, and generally drives like a much smaller, sportier car. My only complaint is the road noise, but I suppose as an underdog it's working so hard to compete that its heavy breathing is understandable.
The 2013 CX-9 has a starting price of $30,580, including a $795 destination charge. My test car, a top-of-the-line CX-9 Grand Touring with all-wheel drive, had an optional Tech Package ($2,435) and cost $40,030.
When it comes to looks, it's tough to stand out in the crowded family SUV/crossover marketplace. Despite its restyled looks with a new grille, angled headlights and rounded fog lights, the 2013 CX-9 blends in with the rest of the family crossovers on the road.
Like all good family crossovers, it's shaped like the progeny of a wagon and large SUV union and is manageable for most people to enter and exit. The CX-9's doors are lightweight, which has a couple of implications. It means that children can handle the doors and that you really need to give them a mighty shove to ensure the doors have closed completely. I had to re-close the doors almost every time one of my children attempted to do it. Thankfully, a power liftgate is standard on the Grand Touring trim I tested so I didn't have to worry about re-closing it.
Cargo space is minimal at 17.2 cubic feet with all three rows of seats in use. There is an under-floor storage compartment that is big enough to hold a handbag and other small valuables. The third row does fold flat with two easy steps and creates 48.3 cubic feet of cargo space. With both rows folded, the cargo area becomes a roomy 100.7 cubic feet.
The CX-9 has a standard 3.7-liter V-6 engine that delivers 273 horsepower and is matched to a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive are offered. The all-wheel-drive model that I tested gets an EPA-estimated 16/22 mpg city/highway. The front-wheel-drive version gets 17/24 mpg city/highway. The CX-9 uses regular unleaded gasoline.
SENSE AND STYLE
Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great
Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times
The CX-9 is the car in black. The cabin is dark, especially with the black leather upholstery that my test car featured. But it works for the CX-9, and aside from a couple of cheap-looking plastic areas, the overall vibe is simple and cool. If you're not into the all-black thing, Sand-colored upholstery is available that undoubtedly lightens things up. Whatever color you choose, heated front seats are standard on both the Touring and Grand Touring trims as is a tri-zone climate control.
The center stack is defined by the new 5.8-inch touch-screen, rectangular air vents and circular climate control knobs. The screen is smaller and has a lower tech look than many other touch-screens I've tested lately, but it's easily operable. With Bluetooth connectivity, the screen displays text messages and allows you to stream your music. The optional navigation system was difficult to use. I've no doubt that my troubles were in part user error, but when you're operating heavy machinery like a car full of kids, figuring out how to get an in-vehicle system to do what you want it to should be easier.
One thing I've always liked about the CX-9 is the easy access it offers to the third row. Both sides of the 60/40-split second row recline and slide fore and aft to allow plenty of room for kids and adults alike to access the third row. The only unfortunate part of this sliding row is Mazda still hasn't modified things so you can do all of this back-and-forth business with a child-safety seat installed a la the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder and 2013 Infiniti JX35.
The second row fits two child-safety seats across it, though it may be possible to fit three if you're using narrower safety seats. The third row can accommodate two booster seats. When it comes to adult seating, the front seats are comfortable. It's in the folding-chair-like third row where things can start to feel cramped and uncomfortable, but anyone can survive a short ride back there.
The CX-9 lacks clever storage options excluding the covered storage in the cargo area. The center console isn't huge; the glove box is of average size, and the eight cupholders are just fine. In addition to a car-seat-accommodating sliding second row, I'd love to see a few more storage cubbies placed throughout the cabin.
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT
Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample
Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair/Ample
Despite doing its best to keep up with the rest, the CX-9 needs to strive harder when it comes to safety. Many of its competitors — Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot and Dodge Durango — have been named Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The 2013 CX-9 earned the top score of Good in IIHS moderate-overlap frontal and side-impact crash tests, but it received the second-lowest score of Marginal in rear and roof-strength tests. It performs similarly in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ratings, getting an overall safety score of four stars out of a possible five.
The CX-9 has standard front-wheel drive, four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, an electronic stability system with anti-roll control, traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for all three rows. The upper-level Grand Touring trim I tested and the midlevel Touring trim come standard with a blind spot warning system and a backup camera with rear parking sensors. All-wheel drive is optional.
I always appreciate speed-sensing automatic door locks like those on the CX-9. The only hiccup with the CX-9's lock function is the doors don't automatically unlock once you've turned off the engine. Automatic unlocking when a car is stopped has become so common that the CX-9's lack of it was a small but frustrating experience on a daily basis.
There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the second row's outboard positions. The lower anchors are difficult to use because of the stiff leather upholstery. Regrettably, there are no lower Latch anchors or top tether anchors in the third row, so only boosters should be used back there. For more information on car-seat installation, read Cars.com's Car Seat Check.
Get more safety information about the 2013 Mazda CX-9.
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