Mazda’s first production car to feature the brand’s now ubiquitous Kodo design language was the 2012 CX-5. Since then, Kodo (Japanese for “soul of motion”) has permeated throughout Mazda’s entire product line. What we have today is a brand that is leading the way for automotive design in the 21st century, and that brand’s flagship is the 2017 CX-9. Inside and out, the new Mazda CX-9 is proof that craftsmanship, luxury, and attention to detail are no longer elements relegated only to premium price tags.
EXT: What Mazda has done with the new CX-9 is design and build one of the most inspired-looking vehicles this side of a $150,000 MSRP. Every exterior line has purpose and keeps you visually engaged. From the huge front grille that screams, “KODO!” to the unabashedly fuel-burning dual exhaust pipes – Mazda’s new SUV is a delight behold from any angle. What the CX-9 has, in terms of design, is the soul of a performance car; but then again, doesn’t every Mazda these days? That’s what makes this SUV’s aesthetics, as well as Mazda’s brand language overall, so special. Mazda has taken their “Driving Matters” slogan and manifested it in the design of their cars, with the new CX-9 being the apex of this philosophy. Full sized, three-row SUV’s are not supposed to evoke the same visually-driven emotions as sports cars – however, since “driving matters” to Mazda, the CX-9 certainly does. It’s one thing for a hatchback or sedan to remind you of a sports car (e.g. Mazda3, Mazda6). It is quite another for a big people carrier like the CX-9.
Our CX-9 came in Machine Gray, a perfect color for truly showing off the SUV’s body. The front end is pronounced to the point of demanding attention. Beyond just their sheer size, very few SUV’s have presence, especially presence that is style-driven. The CX-9 is not one of them. LED headlights flow seamlessly with the overall look of the front end.
Just as seamless as the front, the rear is somewhat reminiscent of the fun-loving Mazda3, with its squinty tail lights and aggressive dual exhaust pipes. In it’s aim to embody the Kodo design language and philosophy, the CX-9’s design is so meticulously purposeful that it was shock to some of our passers-by that the SUV actually features third-row seating. How usable that third-row is, is up for debate, but we’ll get to that later.
The 2017 Mazda CX-9’s exterior is an achievement in automotive design. Equally as classic as it is forward-looking, this new SUV from Mazda has managed to encapsulate everything that the brand represents from a purely visual perspective – no easy task.
INT: In terms of design, the CX-9’s interior is perfectly aligned with the vehicle’s exterior. Form and function exist harmoniously, in an environment that is equal parts luxury and sportiness. The level of attention to detail in the CX-9’s cabin is remarkable. Aluminum, rosewood, and auburn Nappa leather trims and bits fill the space as if they were all hand-laid. Ergonomics are driver-centric enough to make you feel like you’re in a purpose built cockpit, while at the same time luxurious enough for a comfortable and breathable ambiance.
Another industry-leading aspect of Mazda vehicles at the moment is infotainment. The CX-9’s command center, not unlike that of other Mazdas’, is a breeze to operate. A large-enough screen (it could be larger, but couldn’t all car screens?…except for maybe Tesla’s!) contains all necessary information and is controlled by a directional knob. In its simplicity, the CX-9’s infotainment is actually a joy to use. iPhone, much? Safety features like Mazda Radar cruise control, lane keep assist, and smart brake support can all be easily monitored through the SUV’s head’s up display.
Rear seating is comfortable, even for passengers >6ft tall. The back seats are a pleasant place to be; the foldable center arm rest offers additional cup holders and the near-flat floor provides ample leg room. The third row, however, is a different story. Yes, the CX-9 offers a third-row. Yes, the CX-9 can seat up to 7 people. Are the third-row seats easy to access? No. Are the third-row seats comfortable for anyone >5ft tall? No. We fumbled with the back seats for a solid 45 seconds before being able to fold them down in order to access the third row. After making it into the third row, it became quickly apparent that adults probably will not be sitting back there too often.
In keeping true to Mazda’s brand attributes, the CX-9 is like pretty much all Mazda vehicles – fun to drive. At least, for an SUV. The turbo four-banger and six-speed auto will get the CX-9 to 60 mph in about 7 seconds, not bad at all for a 4000lb+ seven-seater. The CX-9 is just as capable around town and lower RPMs as it is at interstate speeds. During our test, the CX-9 never really left us in need of more oomph.
Steering is precise and direct. Chassis dynamics and suspension are also nicely reactive. What this steering/suspension combo allows for is the CX-9 to dance graciously through S-curves, given its size. The I-ACTIV All Wheel Drive was more than competent enough to handle the ever-soaked backroads of Seattle. Grip was present even during quick cornering on wet surfaces.
Grip is heavily aided by 20-inch wheels on Falken rubber, a combo that inspires confidence in any corner. Even under emergency braking from 60 mph, the CX-9 remained stable and sure-footed. However, brake feel itself left much to be desired. Braking felt somewhat spongy and pedal travel was a bit deep for our taste.
As mentioned earlier, our CX-9 came with a heads up display. One of the simpler, easier to read systems we’ve seen, the CX-9’s heads up display shows the usual, pertinent information like speed, speed limit, and adaptive cruise distance. When activated, the vehicle’s lane keep assist feature nudged us back into the correct lane when veering out of lane lines. A visual cue is also used for lane keep assist, in the form of a blinking yellow lane divider featured in the HUD. Our one gripe with the system, or more specifically, the early collision warning system, is that the vehicle tends to react a little prematurely to what it thinks are oncoming obstacles.
The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is just about everything you could expect from an SUV, and more – especially in this price range. It punches above its weight class, particularly in terms of refinement and drivability. In every other regard, the CX-9 exists within the same realm of SUVs that cost $10K-$20K more, making it an absolute class leader.
Cumbersome back seat folding
Sensitive collision warning system
Handling and chassis dynamics
Exterior/interior design and refinement
Engine – SKYACTIV-G 2.5T Turbo 4 Cylinder
Drivetrain – I-ACTIV AWD
Horsepower – 250 @ N/A
Torque – 310 @ 2000 RPM
Transmission – SKYACTIV-DRIVE 6-speed Sport Mode Automatic
Weight – 4336 lbs
Starting Price – $32,420; Tested at $45,215