I’ve always thought fondly of Mazda as a sporty manufacturer – to this day I regard the original MX-5 Miata as one of the most sports cars of my generation. As such, it’s a little strange for me to try to think of Mazda as the manufacturer of a full-size people hauler like the CX-9. Clearly Mazda has put a lot of passion and soul into many of the great cars they’ve built over the years, but can those same efforts translate into similar success in the competitive full-size crossover SUV market? I was handed a fully loaded 2013 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD to find out.
The CX-9 carries the corporate Mazda styling cues, which Mazda has done a nice job cleaning up recently. The CX-9 looks very fluid, aerodynamic and modern, but for some reason, possibly the sheer size of it, the aggressive styling is all but lost. Even in a gleaming metallic red my CX-9 has a tendency to blend right in with the copious numbers of other crossover SUVs driving around in suburbia. Generally I’d be fine with this, but it leaves me wondering whether or not the CX-9 would benefit from a more non-conventional look to distinguish itself a little more from the very stiff competition, I expect that if any brand could pull something like this off it would be Mazda.
The interior of my CX-9 GT also left me wondering whether it was time for a serious update. Although it’s clear that Mazda has been tweaking their interiors for years, the CX-9 dashboard still felt an awful lot like the one found in a friend’s 2005 Mazda 6. The orange glowing center LCD is the biggest culprit, I wasn’t a fan of it when Mazda released it a decade ago and I still find it distracting. As well, there are a few important controls, such as the exterior mirror adjustment, which do not light up at night, making it difficult to operate unless you’re very familiar with the vehicle. It’s not all doom and gloom though; the climate controls are very well placed and intuitive to use, I am glad Mazda stuck with proper knobs rather than trying to integrate the system into the touch screen. I’ve also grown quite fond of the rest of the centre stack, everything is well placed, easy to understand and clean looking. The driving position is actually great – at no point was I uncomfortable commuting in this leviathan.
At an as-tested price of just over $49,000 my CX-9 GT came very well equipped. The blind spot warning feature also works quite well and is definitely a feature I appreciate in any vehicle of this size. One feature I think is obviously missing is the panoramic roof, many of the CX-9’s competitors offer it and I think it’s a great gimmick to sales. My particular tester also has the extra rubber cargo mat – I think this is a very practical option and I am surprised that vehicles of this nature don’t come with something like this standard equipment. After hauling some gardening supplies it was so easy to remove and hose down the mat as opposed to fussing around cleaning the carpets.
My CX-9 GT tester also came equipped with the $2500 Navigation Package; firstly this package also includes the power liftgate, which in itself is a great feature. The navigation system itself was a bit of a letdown for me, Mazda has partnered with TomTom on this and the software appears very similar to the TomTom unit I bought at a retail store for $150. Personally, I find it more convenient to have the system built into the dash, but at that price, I might stick with the regular on-dash unit.
The 273-horsepower 3.7L V6 powering the CX-9 does a very good job pulling the big crossover along. The throttle response is very quick for a vehicle in this category, which makes battling city traffic a breeze. Acceleration is also a strong point and at no point was I really left wanting more power. What I was yearning for over my week with the CX-9 was better fuel economy. In my typical rush hour commute to and from the city I observed 13.6L/100km, rather disappointing considering I am not known to be very throttle happy.
All downsides aside, the truly redeeming character trait of the CX-9 is its driving dynamics. Behind the wheel, I’d swear I was driving a well-rounded sports sedan instead of a 7-seater SUV. The steering feel is just right, response is quick and body roll is minimal. Handling is tight and with a little help from the active torque-split AWD system, it actually is possible to carve the odd corner and come out on the other side with a huge grin on your face. This is what a Mazda is about; they’ve put their passion to work in designing a crossover that can actually be a hoot to drive.
Clearly, the value proposition the CX-9 is banking on is the sports sedan driving dynamics, without sacrificing on space for the family or practically. This would suggest that it’s the perfect familiar hauler for the enthusiast; still exciting to drive, without the big compromise – and that’s exactly what it does. A price of $50,000 might seem a bit steep for something that feels slightly outdated (which the CX-9 does, a bit), but there are very few large offerings short of the Range Rover Sport that actually offer any sort of driving pleasure.
2013 Mazda CX-9 GT Gallery