2017 Mazda CX-9 Walk Around

The CX-9 cabin is car-like, with a low shelf-like dashboard similar to the design in other Mazda vehicles. The materials feel upscale and expensive, for sure in the Signature, although the switchgear placement sometimes seems haphazard, and there’s a lot of glossy black plastic that will show smudges. The driver’s line of sight includes a 4.6-inch screen with trip information and functions.

Our biggest criticism is for the awkward touchscreen and infotainment system. The screen sits on the dash like a TV on a Motel 6 dresser. The system itself is confounding, and requires repeated use of the control knob. The software is menu intensive and takes too many clicks to program things. The navigation is at least a generation behind competitors. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity, not even as an option.

For an SUV this size it’s cramped inside. Ironically, the split-fold second row has the most room because it’s on a sliding track, with one inch more legroom than the Pilot or Highlander. They recline, but offer no contour. The front seats offer enough adjustment, and there’s a tilt/telescope steering wheel, but the wide center console steals side legroom. The bucket seats are firm while not being especially supportive, like the rear bench.

The third row has too little room for adults. Behind it, there’s only 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space. With the third row folded flat, there’s 38.2 cubic feet of space. We’re inclined to say the CX-9 works best like this, as a five-seat crossover. Which reduces it to a roomy (and expensive) CX-5.


For all it’s sporty slant, we’re not as entertained on the road as we should be. That’s unlike the CX-5, which we declared to be the most fun compact crossover we’ve ever driven.

The steering is on the heavy side, with a medium amount of feel, making it a pleasure to drive on twisty roads. But the optional 20-inch alloy wheels deliver a firm ride that turns twitchy on rough roads. That’s because the sidewalls of the tires aren’t as wide as the standard 18-inchers, so there’s less absorption of the bumps. They run the dampers out of range. So if you want the most comfortable ride, avoid the top model.

The CX-9 uses a simple suspension, struts in front and multilink in rear, to deliver a well-controlled ride with the standard 18-inch wheels. The brakes inspire confidence.

The turbocharged 2.5-liter engine responds smoothly and quickly to make the most of its 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, but the engine needs high-test gas to get that power. It runs fine on regular, but only makes 227 horsepower. Mazda says the difference only occurs above 4500 rpm, so it’s not something you’ll notice around town or even cruising on the freeway, just when you’re very hard on the throttle. There, it growls and strains a bit when it’s carrying five people. Some competitors with V6 engines are more powerful.

The turbocharger was designed by Mazda, to respond without the lag that inherently comes with turbos, and the engineers succeeded in their goal. However, when you floor it from idle, for just a moment, it can be caught napping.

With only six gears in the automatic transmission, against rivals that have as many as 10, the CX-9 appears to lose the comparison, but it doesn’t. The tranny does a good job of keeping the engine in its powerband, and it shifts smoother than some with more speeds.

There is a sport mode that raises the shift points, but, unlike others, the mode doesn’t do more than that. It doesn’t change the throttle response or the steering quickness or weight. And there are no paddle shifters. These lapses defy the character of the car. They change it. They bring it up short.

All-wheel drive delivers up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels when they need it.

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