Every time that Mazda throws me the keys to their latest new model, I get excited. Of course it’s not quite the same as if Ferrari were to call and say that they were delivering a 488 Spider, but it’s still more exciting than many of Mazda’s competitors. The Mazda3 is one of the best compacts you can buy and you’ll never be in a bad mood behind the wheel of the new MX-5 Miata. So when Mazda gave me the keys to the new CX-9 crossover, I was excited to see how Mazda could add some excitement to the somewhat boring three-row crossover segment. Here are the five things I either hated or loved about the 2017 Mazda CX-9.
1. It’s a looker
Mazda’s latest Kodo design language has done an amazing transformation on the CX-9. The old Ford-based CX-9 was dowdy looking and not very memorable. Now the new CX-9 could easily be one of the best looking “mainstream” three-row crossovers on the market. It doesn’t try to butch things up with a big imposing “fake” grille or place so much emphasis on interior volume that it ends up looking like a jacked up minivan. Instead, the new CX-9 looks sculpted and sleek.
2. You can only get it with four-cylinders
The Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer and Toyota Highlander all offer V6 powertrains, but the CX-9 is only available with a turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder. The last-generation borrowed its V6 from Ford, but now that, that relationship is done, Mazda doesn’t have a V6 to replace it. So instead, of a naturally-aspirated V6 under the hood, the CX-9 is motivated by a 250 horsepower four-cylinder engine with a healthy 310 lb-ft. of torque. To compare the V6-powered Pilot has 280 horsepower and 262 lb-ft. And the Highlander with its 3.5L V6 is rated at 295 hp and 263 lb.-ft.
On paper the CX-9 does take a small hit in terms of horsepower, but it has more torque than the Highlander and Pilot. But on the road, it feels like the differences are larger. The CX-9 feels very underpowered and the engine’s coarseness takes some getting used to. The transmission does have a manual mode, but overall the engine feels outdated by the size of the CX-9. Put this engine in the Mazda3 and it would be amazing, but in 4,000 pound SUV it just strains and whines.
3. Comfortable, stylish interior – for some
From the driver’s seat, the CX-9’s interior feels like a cockpit where everything is close at reach and not awkward, like some other crossover’s that feel more like a minivan with their high dashboards and weird center stacks. It also a nice premium feel that if it weren’t for the Mazda logo on the steering wheel, you could easily fool your friends into thinking they are in a luxury SUV.
But not everything is great, with its three rows of seats the CX-9 can technically fit up to seven people, but that should come with a disclaimer. The CX-9’s stylish exterior comes at a cost – interior room. With its long hood and low roofline, the CX-9 won’t be as comfortable for some of the passengers in the rear, especially the unlucky friends that get stuck in the third row seat. The lack of legroom in the third row makes it more suitable for children.
4. Lots of features, but one annoying screen
The Mazda CX-9 offers lots of features, like three-zone automatic climate control, standard alloy wheels, Bose speakers, auto wipers, a head-up display and even Nappa leather on the top Signature model. All this sounds great, but there is one thing that you’ll constantly look at and say – Why? The infotainment system. The infotainment system comes in two sizes, with a 7-inch screen on lower end trims or a 8-inch on top trim levels. Either way, the system feels archaic and useless. On a drive from Los Angeles to Santa Barbara, I didn’t even try to use the old feeling navigation system and instead had to use my phone. Mazda has yet to offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in any of its models, so it automatically feels old. Even worse, the screen sits on top of the dash and at night actually reflects on the windshield and not in a good way. I found it distracting at night and wished it had a function to lower it into the pretty dash.
5. Handles like a sedan
Handling is one thing that every Mazda excels at and the CX-9 is definitely on that list. The CX-9’s engine may need a bit more power, but when the road gets twisty, it hunkers down and handles more like a sedan than many of its rivals. It feels light on its feet and is the more entertaining pick if you have to have a three-row crossover.
Wrap Up: The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is one of the most stylish and sportiest three-row crossovers that you can buy. It’s sculpted exterior, premium feeling interior and nimble handling make it one of the best.
Pricing: The 2017 CX-9 is offered in four trim levels: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. You can choose between front or all-wheel drive on all but the Signature model, since the Signature comes standard with all-wheel drive. Pricing starts at $31,520.