What's New for 2011
Other than a slight increase in fuel economy and the addition of speed-sensing automatic door locks, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 is unchanged.
Fun-to-drive, engaging cars have been hallmarks of the Mazda brand for some time, but can a large SUV deliver this sort of behind-the-wheel entertainment? With the 2011 Mazda CX-9, the answer is resoundingly affirmative. Despite its larger dimensions, the CX-9 drives more like a midsize crossover. In an expanding field of choices that are getting harder to distinguish one from another, the CX-9 stands out thanks to not only its smiling grille, but also the enthusiastic grin it puts on its driver.
The added athleticism doesn't come at the expense of comfort or utility. The Mazda CX-9 provides adult-size seating in all three rows, solid build quality and a respectable 101 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Easy access to the rearmost seats is an added bonus, as are a carlike driving position and attractive interior styling. The CX-9's only significant downsides include long rear doors that complicate entry and egress in tight parking spots and a ride quality that's just a little too stiff on Grand Touring models with the 20-inch wheels.
Overall, though, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 certainly presents more positives than negatives. But if an involved driving experience isn't a priority for your next family hauler, there are others to consider. The Ford Flex is one of our favorites thanks to its high-quality interior, roomy third-row seat and innovative electronic features. The Chevrolet Traverse (plus its Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia relatives) is also worth considering due to its more compliant suspension and roomier cargo area. But for a large three-row crossover that will provide plenty of grins per mile, it doesn't get any better than the CX-9.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 is a large seven-passenger crossover SUV that's available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.
The entry-level Sport model includes 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with buttons for audio and cruise control, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Stepping up to the Touring version adds automatic headlights, heated mirrors, leather upholstery (for front- and second-row seats) and heated power front seats. The Grand Touring adds 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, driver-seat memory presets, a second-row armrest, interior accents of wood and metal, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a blind-spot warning system.
Available options are dependent on trim level and include a sunroof, a power tailgate, a navigation system with a rearview camera, a stand-alone rearview camera (with a display in the rearview mirror), remote ignition, roof rails and a rear-seat entertainment system. Also available is an upgraded Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and an in-dash audio display.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2011 Mazda CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission available, but buyers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive. Properly equipped, the CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
In Edmunds testing, a front-wheel-drive CX-9 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, while an AWD model required 8.5 seconds. Compared to competing models, these figures are just about average. With some slight gains this year, fuel economy is on par with other large crossovers at an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg in combined driving for front-wheel-drive models. The all-wheel-drive CX-9 drops to 16/22/19 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for every 2011 Mazda CX-9 includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control with a rollover sensor, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active head restraints. An optional rearview camera is available on Touring and Grand Touring models, while a blind-spot warning system is standard on the Grand Touring.
The Mazda CX-9 has not been rated using the government's new, more demanding 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in a perfect five out of five stars for frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also awarded the CX-9 its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashworthiness.
In Edmunds brake testing, an AWD Grand Touring model came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is short for SUVs in this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 features an elegant interior that is more carlike than other SUVs in this category — especially in regard to its seating position and dash design. Leather and cloth seating surfaces plus wood and chrome trim add distinction to the sporty interior, while two-tone leather treatments and red-and-blue lighting for the instruments deliver visual flair. There are some subpar plastics (particularly on the center stack), and a lack of useful storage bins also detract from an otherwise sharp execution.
Taller, adult-size passengers in the first two seating rows will likely find the accommodations comfortable, but third-row occupants have a bit less headroom. The second-row seat reclines and slides fore and aft to deliver optimal comfort. Access to the third row comes easily thanks to large openings for the rear doors and the fold-and-slide second row; however, the larger doors can be troublesome in tight parking spaces. With the second and third rows folded flat, the CX-9 offers up 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Like many large crossovers, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 provides a comfortable ride for long road trips. Surprisingly, the CX-9 also performs admirably around corners. From behind the steering wheel, it drives like a smaller, more agile vehicle, especially in its precise, communicative steering. While the Mazda's driving dynamics are suited to winding roads, they also translate well to the confines of city travel. The compliant suspension soaks up bumps and potholes to provide a poised, comfortable ride, but we would steer buyers away from the 20-inch tires of the CX-9 Grand Touring, which tend to make the ride somewhat choppy over the rough stuff.