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The stylish, sporty alternative

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Starting Price: $32,460 | Price yours

Above Average: Styling, driving dynamics, powertrain response

Below Average: Tight third row, no CarPlay/Android Auto compatibility, firm ride

Consensus: The three-row SUV for drivers, but not necessarily for everyone

Just because you need the practicality of a 3-row SUV doesn't mean your driving life has to be boring. The Mazda CX-9 is a prime example of a midsize SUV that can provide the functional elements you need, while appealing to your emotional side. Gorgeous lines, an eager engine, premium interior and carlike steering and handling ensure that Mazda's biggest model still has the same spirit and personality as Mazda's smallest cars. Those who might enjoy the sprightly, nimble attitude of the Mazda3 but need something a lot bigger will love the CX-9.

Mazda's three-row provides surprising practicality within its attractive shell. While its 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder had the most torque of the six vehicles we tested, it also has the best EPA-rated fuel economy. Our front-wheel-drive vehicle was nicely equipped with features including adaptive cruise control, navigation, a head-up display and heated leather seats, yet at $41,810 was the least expensive vehicle in our group. (Even if you factored in the additional $1,800 cost of all-wheel drive, it still would have had the lowest sticker price.) There is a decent amount of space for cargo and the front two rows are roomy; however, the third row is smaller than you'll find in other SUVs in the Mazda's class. The Mazda CX-9 offers both practicality and drivability, all wrapped in a beautiful, upscale package.

 

2017 Mazda CX-9

2017 Mazda CX-9 Ratings

 

Highway Driving

The sole engine choice in the CX-9 is a 250-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Fortunately, it's a very good engine. It's fuel-efficient, netting fuel economy as good as 22 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. Ride quality was not the best of this test, nor was the CX-9's interior the quietest, but the seats offered a good mix of comfort and support, making freeway drives pleasant.

City Driving

Around town we noticed another advantage of this engine. The 2.5-liter offered the most torque in the test -- a heady 310 lb-ft -- most of which is available at low rpm. That translates to excellent response from the engine from a stop, and a big part of the reason why the CX-9 offered the liveliest feel in the city. Excellent visibility made it easy to take note of pedestrians and cyclists. When our drive route changed from traversing a city grid to snaking around on mountain roads, the CX-9 came to life as the sharp steering, excellent handling and sporty suspension turned long sweeping curves and tight twists into the best parts of our drive -- something we can't say for any of the other vehicles in the test.

Interior Appeal

Another plus in the CX-9 is its well-crafted interior. We were impressed by the quality of the materials as well as the elegant, clean appearance of the cabin and Mazda's attention to detail. It's functional, too: the gauges are appealing to the eye and very easy to read, and the head-up display is helpful without causing driver distraction. However, the front row could use a larger center bin.

Infotainment

The Mazda Connect system is centered around a click wheel similar to what you’d find in many luxury makes. In the CX-9, you can control audio, phone and navigation functions with the click wheel or you can use the touch screen. It's a fairly intuitive system, but the CX-9's infotainment has a couple of downsides. First, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, quickly becoming the industry standard, aren't available in the CX-9 -- they're standard in some of its competitors -- and the navigation system doesn't include live traffic.

Rear Seat Room

The second row is roomy and comfortable, with good headroom, and the seats recline and slide. Second-row passengers in our CX-9 Grand Touring tester benefit from window shades, their own set of HVAC controls and two USB ports. The third row is usable, but tight on headroom and legroom for adults. Getting in and out is fairly easy, but overall the third row is better suited for kids.

Cargo Utility

With the second and third rows folded, the CX-9 can carry 71.2 cubic feet of cargo. That number goes down to 38.2 cubic feet behind the second row and only 14.4 cubic feet of space when all three rows are up. That's less capacity than you'll find in many other SUVs in its class. The CX-9 does have extra underfloor storage, where you can stow smaller items and keep them out of view.

Fuel Economy

The Mazda CX-9 was the only SUV in the test with a 4-cylinder engine. The turbocharged four delivered more torque than any of the V6 engines in the test, but it also has the highest EPA fuel economy ratings in the group. While the CX-9 was the only SUV of the six that was a two-wheel-drive model, even the all-wheel-drive CX-9 has better combined fuel economy than the Toyota Highlander, which has the best EPA-rated fuel economy of the V6-powered SUVs we tested. The 2WD CX-9 nets 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 24 mpg combined, which drops to 20/26/23 in AWD models. Note that fuel economy may suffer in the CX-9 for two key reasons: first, this SUV encourages you to drive harder than in other midsize SUVs, and second, Sport mode is fun but it can affect fuel economy.

Resale Value

The CX-9's resale value is not its strongest suit. Within this group of six vehicles, projected resale value was lower than the segment-leading Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. However, the CX-9 is the most luxurious of any Mazda to date, with finer materials and quality. These key factors make the CX-9 a compelling SUV and may improve resale value over time.

 

Inside and Out: 2017 Mazda CX-9

 

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