Introduced in 2006, the first generation of the Mazda CX-9 ran for nine years before getting its second generation upgrade in 2015 for the 2016 model year and includes our 2019 test vehicle. We didn’t get the CX-9 out on a long and extended trip, but we did load it up with all of our car camping gear. Our family of four headed into the Rocky Mountains.
Although Mazda doesn’t position itself as a luxury brand, the 2019 CX-9 Signature AWD has a sleek exterior profile and a nicely appointed interior, yet the base price is only $45,365. The test model we drove had a few extras thrown in to bump the price up to nearly $50k.
The Mazda CX-9 fits right with the company’s coined “zoom zoom” phrase. It is a fun vehicle to drive, even when loaded up with camping gear. The turbocharged 2.5-liter engine delivers its 250 horses and 310 pound-feet of torque readily but the gas pedal wasn’t so touchy to make smooth starts from a stop tricky. While the CX-9 took the curves of Colorado’s Peak to Peak highway nicely, a serious punch of the gas pedal at speed to pass could be felt in the steering wheel as the engine torque peaked requiring the driver to keep both hands on the wheel (which is of course a good idea anyway). But in most casual driving circumstances to keep passengers from getting woozy, there weren’t any outstanding problems.
Ground clearance is a reasonable 8.8 inches—not quite best in class, but very respectable and capable for taking on bumpier roads.
With a sleek looking exterior comes a compromised interior with regards of cargo space and hauling capacity. The storage behind the third row of seats is a mere 14.4 cubic feet—fine for a few bags of groceries, but not enough for our usual visits to Costco. We could only stack about three 30-inch roller bags (a common checked baggage size) in this space and wedge a few soft carry-on style bags, but if you need all three rows for people, you’re probably going to need more luggage space.
For our trip, we didn’t need the last row and could fold them down to get a reasonable 38.2 cubic feet—enough for a few 100+ Liter duffels, a 6-person tent, and an Osprey baby carrier backpack.
We did not need a box on top like we would for a similar trip in many two-row SUV’s (it’s a good thing we didn’t need a box, because the roof rack rails are flush and I don’t have any flush rail mounts).
Also, we noticed the CX-9 had a good amount of room in the footwells of the second row which we could make use of because the kid’s legs don’t go to the ground. There’s also a hidden storage compartment, about 4-6 inches deep under the rear cargo area: a great spot to keep things that stay in the vehicle—emergency kits, tools, and the like.
Towing is rated at 3,500 pounds, which is OK, but not strong for this category. That equates to most pop-up camper trailers or small travel trailers.
By the end of our adventure, the CX-9’s computer told us we hit the combined EPA fuel mileage rating of 23 right on the nose (20 City / 26 Highway). We used the CX-9 for a few days before and after our trip running errands around town to provide a mix of city and highway driving. At this point in our testing of midsized SUV’s we’re pretty happy with any of these vehicles that stay over 20 mpg.
Aside from the infotainment user interface being a little tricky to navigate, the CX-9 had a bunch of features we really liked including the dial select and volume knob in the center console and the array of buttons on the steering wheel (very happy to have the driver’s volume control and phone controls on the left side).
We didn’t travel with our Dometic cooler on this trip, but we liked that the 12v plug in the rear cargo space was recessed in the cavity just aft of the rear wheel well so cigar style plugs sticking out don’t compromise the usable space of the main cargo compartment.
In line with power plugs, the CX-9 has another 12v plug by the front passenger’s left knee and two USB-A plugs in the front center armrest. Lacking from the power options are USB-C ports and 110v plugs.
Another great safety amenity we liked was the heads-up display showing the speed plus a few other options on the windshield. My only complaint was, depending on the light in the background it could be hard to read while wearing polarized sunglasses, but I’ve found that to be true with any HUD system.
Always a plus is a good adaptive cruise control system and the CX-9 wasn’t fooled by vehicles in the other lane while in long curves. It also managed accelerating and slowing nicely. Instead of opening the throttle all the way to make up the speed to match the set speed, it accelerated gradually and smoothly. It also managed slowing down nicely as cars from the other lane pulled in front of us and the computer could recognize and adjust appropriately according to our relative speed differences.
The CX-9 is a very comfortable vehicle with triple-zone climate control (driver, front pax, rear), power driver seat, heated and vented front seats, heated second row seats (not that my kids cared in their inserted kid’s car seats), overhead sunglasses storage, and the heated steering wheel. Missing is the remote start function on the key fob—particularly nice when away from a garage in the winter.
The key family friendly feature for us are the integrated retractable rear window shades. The spacing for the second row accommodated the kid’s car seats nicely and the LATCH anchors made it easy to install and remove the kid’s seats. It also includes child safety rear door locks, though, they’re not as easy or as obvious as in our GMC Terrain.