2018 Mazda CX-9

2018 Mazda CX-9 Review

The 2018 CX-9 is more than just a pretty face. It's a genuine pleasure to drive.
7.9 / 10
Edmunds overall rating
author
by Dan Frio
Edmunds Editor

Edmunds expert review

With three rows of seats and a loaded feature list to satisfy a growing family's needs, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 is one of the best, and best-looking, big crossovers out there. But it's more than just a pretty face; it's also a genuine pleasure to drive.

The CX-9 delivers what most SUV owners really want: a high level of comfort and refinement, a lot of room and modern connected technology. In its top Signature trim level, the CX-9 even flirts with a look and feel that you'd expect of an Audi or Volvo. It's the most luxurious example in its class. That the CX-9 actually drives really well — it's quick and alert when you stomp on the gas or bend it into a turn — is icing on the cake.

Taste being subjective, the CX-9 strikes one of the best poses among family SUVs. No safe, middle-of-the-road body design here. This is clean and windswept, with sharp edges and just-right proportions. It won't suit every buyer, but it's a standout look. Inside and around that striking shape, you'll find plenty of safety and connected tech and an interior highlighted by leather, aluminum and rosewood accents, depending on trim level.

The CX-9 makes some compromises, however. At about 72 cubic feet with second- and third-row seats folded, cargo capacity isn't as cavernous as others in the class, and its third row isn't especially accommodating either, at least not compared to the one in a competitor such as the Honda Pilot. These are the trade-offs for the impeccable style we lauded earlier. But overall, the CX-9 delivers an all-around package that makes it one of the best three-row SUVs on the market.

Notably, we picked the 2018 Mazda CX-9 as one of Edmunds' Best Family SUVs and Best Midsize SUVs for this year.



What's new for 2018

For 2018, the Mazda CX-9 delivers a handful of small but useful changes. Standard on all models is Mazda's G-Vectoring Control, a new electronic system that the company says improves steering and stability in turns. All trims offer new standard safety features and driver aids, ranging from blind-spot monitoring on Sport trims to front parking sensors on upper trims.

We recommend

With 20-inch wheels and upgraded interior trim, the Grand Touring model looks great and comes with several driver safety aids such as frontal collision warning and mitigation and lane departure intervention. We liked it so much that we bought one. But we chose the Grand Touring only to report on its variety of features. We actually think a CX-9 Touring model with the optional Touring Premium package will satisfy most buyers. This configuration adds several of the Grand Touring's features — navigation, premium Bose audio, sunroof — and still costs less.




Trim levels & features

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is a three-row crossover SUV that seats seven passengers. It's available in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature trim levels. All CX-9s are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine (250 horsepower, 310 pound-feet of torque) paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, and all-wheel drive is optional.

Standard features on the Sport include 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic LED headlights, tri-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split folding second-row seats, 50/50 split-folding third-row seats, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, Mazda's Connect infotainment system with a 7-inch display, and a six-speaker sound system. Also included is blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and a low-speed automatic emergency braking system useful in urban and congested traffic.

The Touring trim adds to Sport features with automatic wipers, heated mirrors, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated front seats, leather upholstery, power-adjustable front seats, an 8-inch infotainment display and two USB ports in the second-row center armrest.

The Touring also adds more safety features that include automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and intervention, and enhanced automatic emergency braking.

The Grand Touring trim further dresses things up with 20-inch wheels, adaptive headlights, LED foglights, roof rails, a sunroof, front and rear parking sensors, a head-up display with traffic sign recognition, driver-seat memory functions, retractable sunshades for the middle-row seats, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, aluminum interior trim, additional interior lighting, a navigation system, a 12-speaker Bose premium audio system and satellite radio.

At the top of the range is the Signature trim, which adds exterior LED accent lighting, premium leather upholstery and rosewood interior trim. All-wheel drive is standard on the Signature.

Some of the features on higher trims are available on supporting models as options.



Trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions that are fundamentally similar. The ratings in this review are based on our full test of a 2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature (turbo 2.5L inline-4 | 6-speed automatic | AWD).

NOTE: Since this test was conducted, the CX-9 has received some minor revisions. Our findings remain applicable to this year's model, however.

Edmunds Scorecard

Overall7.9 / 10

Driving

8.5 / 10

Acceleration8.0 / 10
Braking8.5 / 10
Steering9.0 / 10
Handling8.0 / 10
Drivability9.0 / 10

Comfort

8.0 / 10

Seat comfort8.0 / 10
Ride comfort8.0 / 10
Noise & vibration9.0 / 10
Climate control6.0 / 10

Interior

8.0 / 10

Ease of use9.0 / 10
Getting in/getting out8.0 / 10
Driving position8.5 / 10
Roominess7.0 / 10
Visibility7.5 / 10
Quality9.0 / 10

Utility

7.0 / 10

Small-item storage7.0 / 10
Cargo space7.5 / 10

Technology

8.0 / 10

Audio & navigation8.0 / 10
Smartphone integration8.0 / 10
Driver aids8.5 / 10
Voice control8.0 / 10

Driving8.5

The Mazda CX-9 is one of those vehicles that earns the "it drives like a smaller car" description. It feels more athletic than competitors on a winding road and is more maneuverable in trickier confines. The turbocharged engine has enough power to satisfy most drivers.

Acceleration8.0

Plentiful power and sharp response off the line. The CX-9 has no trouble passing slower traffic, and it easily accelerates up to speed when merging onto a highway. Power tapers off as the engine nears redline, so our 0-60 mph run took 7.3 seconds — about average for this class.

Braking8.5

The brakes feel firm, dependable and easy to modulate in everyday driving. And the CX-9 proved to be quite controllable in our simulated panic-stop test, during which it needed 115 feet to stop from 60 mph — an admirably short stop for a three-row crossover SUV.

Steering9.0

The CX-9 has good straight-ahead stability on the highway and delivers crisp response when turning. It maintains a good sense of connection with the driver, and steering effort builds nicely as it bends into corners. Excellent among SUVs and better than some sedans.

Handling8.0

The CX-9 feels eager and nimble on mountain roads. You might notice a bit of body roll in long corners because of the CX-9's relatively high SUV driving position, but it builds gradually and the chassis remains secure and settled throughout. The overall feel is one of confidence.

Drivability9.0

The CX-9 moves out quickly when you press on the accelerator, yet the pedal is smooth and easy to regulate. The smart-shifting transmission executes smooth shifts that are made quickly when they need to be.

Comfort8.0

Whether you're just commuting or taking a long road trip, the CX-9 delivers an impressive degree of comfort thanks to a smooth ride, quiet cabin and well-sculpted seats. Our test car's air conditioning was mediocre, but we're not yet certain if this early test sample is representative.

Seat comfort8.0

We found the front seats to be well-shaped and supportive over many hours of touring. The sliding and reclining second-row seats proved just as accommodating. But the third row's low cushion and tight headroom limit its appeal.

Ride comfort8.0

Previous Mazda SUVs have generally been tuned for stiff sportiness, but the CX-9 is more focused on comfort and luxury. It smooths out road imperfections exceptionally well, but we did encounter some residual rebounds after rolling over moderate-sized lumps and bumps.

Noise & vibration9.0

This is one quiet highway cruiser. Wind and road noise is silenced to levels we're accustomed to (not) hearing in luxury vehicles. The level of quietness might have made a few minor creaks from the center console seem louder than they were. (Note: Our test car was a preproduction sample.)

Climate control6.0

On hot days our CX-9's automatic climate control struggled to keep the cabin as cool as we would have liked. The lack of available ventilated seats was a particular problem because the leather didn't seem to breathe as much as we're used to.

Interior8.0

Pretty much everything about the CX-9's interior feels right and thoughtfully designed. This is a new benchmark for non-luxury SUVs, and other manufacturers should take notes on how Mazda makes the most of available space and how quality components all contribute to a favorable impression.

Ease of use9.0

Most major controls are logically placed and easy to use. The infotainment system's main control knob is easily one of the best we've encountered. It is placed where your hand normally rests, the screen is right in your sight line, response is quick and the menus are intuitive.

Getting in/getting out8.0

Access to the front and middle-row seats is easy thanks to tall openings and no obstructions. In tight spots, the relatively short doors can open wide so you don't have to squeeze in. Third-row access does require a short but inelegant crawl.

Driving position8.5

Space and seat adjustments ensure that just about anyone can find a comfortable driving position. The tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel has enough travel to please taller drivers, and armrests are right where they should be to provide appropriate support.

Roominess7.0

The CX-9 feels larger inside than its exterior suggests, and its front and middle rows easily accommodate larger passengers. The third row has enough space to prevent claustrophobia, but a low cushion and tight headroom make it best suited for kids and smaller adults.

Visibility7.5

Generous forward and side visibility, but thickish front roof pillars can obstruct the view somewhat through tight turns. The rear view is compromised by broad rear pillars and a small rear window, but it's no worse than in a typical SUV in its class.

Quality9.0

The Signature trim makes use of interior materials that are usually reserved for premium luxury vehicles. Every surface has a solid, quality feel, the gaps are uniform and tight, and the paint looks fantastic. This is as nice an SUV as you'll get in the class.

Utility7.0

The CX-9 doesn't hold as much cargo as competing SUVs. But thoughtful design makes it easy to live with, and growing families should find adequate space for their stuff. Few people tow with SUVs in this class, so the fact that the CX-9 doesn't lead in this area might not be of concern.

Small-item storage7.0

You'll find numerous interior storage cubbies for your personal items. The door pockets are good-sized and have indents that hold large water bottles.

Cargo space7.5

We found the CX-9's cargo capacity to be sufficient at 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row and 71.2 cubic feet with all the seats folded, but others in the class offer more. On the plus side, it has a flat cargo floor that makes it easy to load bulky items.

Towing

Towing capacity maxes out at 3,500 pounds, which is on the low side of average among competing three-row SUVs. The Class II hitch and wiring harness are sold together as an after-purchase accessory.

Technology8.0

Mazda took a page from the German luxury playbook by incorporating a dial-based infotainment interface, and it's one of the better systems at any price. Likewise, the active-safety driver aids it offers seem to be well-tuned to prevent false alarms.

Audio & navigation8.0

The Bose stereo (standard on Grand Touring trim and above) delivers clear and powerful audio. And the audio and navigation interface is one of the best in the industry thanks to its sharp and well-placed screen, thoughtful menu structure and a controller that's easy to learn and use.

Smartphone integration8.0

Smartphones are easy to pair and quick to be recognized on startup. There are also plenty of USB ports to keep everyone's devices charged. Unfortunately Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.

Driver aids8.5

Advanced safety features such as forward collision warning and lane keeping assist are well-tuned to areas with heavy traffic. False alarms are rare, and the systems function as expected when needed.

Voice control8.0

Voice recognition is accurate, and on-screen prompts simplify use. Using voice commands to enter an address is as easy as with any other system.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.