The serious driver's choice who also has a family to cart around.
We're not going to lie. We've been huge fans of the 2018 Mazda CX-9 ever since we drove one around Florida for a week a couple of months ago, so call us biased. Guilty as charged. Honestly though, there's very little not to like about the CX-9 which is, hands down, the three-row crossover of choice for those who love driving. Mazda's driver-focused philosophy goes back decades and it carried over to the first generation CX-9 that launched in 2006.
The current second generation arrived for 2016 and it represents a huge push upmarket in the luxury department for the Japanese automaker. But does it give up any of that zoom-zoom character? Not at all. Unlike the other crossovers covered in this series, the CX-9 comes with just one engine option, a turbocharged and intercooled 2.5-liter inline-four that pumps out 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. The competition, in general, gets closer to 300 ponies. Also unlike some of those other crossovers, a six-speed automatic, as opposed to an eight- or even nine-speed unit, is used here. What's interesting is that the previous CX-9 had a naturally aspirated 3.7-liter V6 that was more powerful but also less economical.
Trading some horsepower for better fuel economy. We clearly get Mazda's strategy here. Even when equipped with the optional $1,800 all-wheel drive system, which can be had on all trims, you're still looking at a respectable 20/26 mpg city/highway. Opting for FWD is a small improvement to 20/28 mpg. Another advantage to ditching the old V6 was weight loss. An AWD CX-9 now weighs a little over 200 pounds less than its predecessor. Mazda has also become known for its devotion to the good old internal combustion engine and, specifically, its focus on well-to-wheels efficiency. For example, Mazda engineers utilized a cooling system to the exhaust-gas-recirculation system in order to help reduce combustion temperatures.
In other words, when the turbocharger kicks in, it causes the engine to consume more fuel. To help keep the combustion chamber cool, this system cools the exhaust that recirculates back to the engine. As a result, combustion temperatures drop. As clever as this is, most buyers will be more interested in how interior space stacks up against the competition? Let's start with the second row. Assuming adult passengers slide the bench as far back as possible, they'll find plenty of space. Oddly, Mazda doesn't even offer second row captain's chairs here, which is something we expect may change in the near future.
But for now, it's just a bench. And when that bench is pushed all the way back, third row passengers won't be happy. Young kids, however, will likely be just fine. All told, there's 14 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. When folded flat, it increases to 38 cubic feet. Folding both second and third row seats creates 71 cubic feet of space. Compared to others in this segment, the CX-9 offers less space. Hey, not everyone needs the amount of space the Chevrolet Traverse offers, but are still keen on a three-row, seven passenger crossover. Remember, Mazda once made the now discontinued Mazda5 MPV minivan which was also smaller than its fellow minivans but still managed to find plenty of happy buyers.
Focusing on driving satisfaction often comes at the expense of size. Speaking of which, the CX-9 is an absolute joy to drive. It doesn't feel like you're hauling around over 4,000 pounds of metal. Steering response is excellent and unlike, say, the Honda Pilot, drivers will have no qualms about taking the CX-9 for a family outing that requires a snake path twisty road. In short, the CX-9 is a fairly large SUV crossover that doesn't behave like one. That's music to the ears for a car guy or gal with a growing family. Step inside and, wow, just wow, everything looks and feels like it belongs in a vehicle more expensive than this. The interior is composed of very high quality materials with only a few bits of hard plastic here and there.
Build quality is also superb for all trims levels. If you're able to shell out around $45,000 for the top trim Signature model, you'll be treating yourself to open-pore rosewood trim elements, aluminum accents, and Nappa leather seats. Mazda also went out of its way to eliminate road noise in the cabin by increasing sound deadening materials and even adding an acoustically laminated windshield and front windows. Yes, this is a Mazda, not a Mercedes. Other noteworthy interior features are a color LCD screen, head-up display, and Bose 12-speaker audio system. The exterior styling is Mazda's latest iteration of its Kodo design language.
Pictures don't really do it justice because there are many fine details throughout, such as the sculpting around the headlights and even the way light moves along the sides. So, how much? For the entry-level Sport trim with FWD, you're looking at a price tag of just over $32,000, which is a bit more dough than its competitors, which typically begin at or just below the $30k mark. A fully-loaded CX-9 Signature with standard AWD costs $45,590. That's still almost five grand cheaper than a spec'd Volkswagen Atlas. It may not have the cheapest base price or the most interior space, but the 2018 Mazda CX-9 is the undisputed champ for those who require driving passion in their lives.