The Mazda CX-9 has undergone a refresh for the 2013 model year. This doesn't equal a full redesign — even if TV and radio commercials make it sound that way. The reality is that small changes of the baby-step variety were made to the CX-9's outside and inside, but not wholesale changes, especially not to the third row. In the past, our team of editors has dinged the CX-9 for being tight on space in both legroom and headroom, as well as being difficult to access the third row.
The truth in numbers is hard to dispute. Not one interior dimension has changed between the "old" 2012 CX-9 and the "new" 2013 CX-9 and that includes the third row. Third-row dimensions are far roomier in the slightly longer Chevy Traverse and even the significantly shorter Honda Pilot. You can compare all four here.
But my family found the CX-9's third row to be flexible enough to make up for the shortness of space.
The levers that fold the second row's 60/40-split seatbacks and slides the seat forward didn't take much time for my 10-year-old to figure out how to operate. The larger 60 portion of the second row was a little heavy for her to slide, but even so, she managed in short order. What she had trouble with was pulling the seatback into place once she was in the third row. It lacked grab handles angled for use by third- row passengers.
What I loved about the CX-9's third row was its adjustability. The second row slides back and forth and not just a little bit; it butts up against the front seatbacks. This created enough space behind the second row that my girls could shimmy into the third row without folding the seatbacks forward. The sliding second row is a fabulous feature for families who have child-safety seats in the second row. A similar feature has been heavily promoted in the Infiniti JX.
With the second-row seats pushed all the way back, there's really no legroom for third-row passengers, and the low seats require passengers' knees to be a bit raised, but slide the second row all the way forward and the kids have enough room to stretch out their legs. Of course, most families will chose to position the second row somewhere in the middle, or if you're only using the third row for carpooling, this gives your children maximum room when their friends aren't around.
Mazda may not have been able to make the third row's legroom any larger for 2013, but it should still be a good fit for families.