The three-row SUV segment is very crowded with so many options to choose from, but what if you need a large SUV, but you don’t want to lose some of the driving fun that comes with them? Most large SUVs are a bore to drive with their greater emphasis on comfort and space for the family, but there is one three-row SUV that is aimed at driver’s that want to enjoy their time behind the wheel while they drive their kids to school, the 2023 Mazda CX-9.
The 2023 Mazda CX-9 stands out in the segment with its fun to drive nature, which is something we expect from Mazda. Rather than create a cumbersome, floaty SUV, Mazda does what it does, by trying to embed a higher level of sport in every vehicle it offers. The current generation CX-9 arrived in 2016 and even though it’s definitely on the older end of the spectrum, the CX-9 is still more stylish than many of its rivals, like the Toyota Highlander. It’s classy, sculpted exterior has stood the test of time.
Inside the CX-9’s cabin could easily be mistaken for a luxury vehicle, with its upscale materials and minimalistic design. The upscale cabin is available with brushed aluminum and genuine rosewood trim and cushy Nappa leather seats. While the CX-9 is the driver’s three-row SUV, it does come with some compromises, primarily space. There are three rows of seats, but the third row lacks sufficient legroom and headroom for adults. There’s also less cargo space behind the third row than some of its rivals. There’s only 14.4 cubic feet of space behind the third row, which expands to 38.2 cubic feet with the third row folded, both the Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride have more cargo space.
On the top of the dashboard there’s a 10.25-inch display, which looks modern and sleek. The system also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but we have one big issue with the CX-9’s infotainment system. The system is controlled via a Multifunction Commander control, which is basically a dial on the center console. The system is not easy to use since you have to turn it to make your selections on the screen. Simply trying to navigate your playlists or enter a destination takes way too many steps that it becomes frustrating.
On the safety front, the CX-9 comes standard with adaptive cruise control with stop and go functionality, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning with lane keep assist. Automatic rear emergency braking and adaptive headlights are available in addition to a windshield wiper de-icer. The CX-9 performs well in crash test results, since the IIHS gave the 2022 CX-9 its highest award – Top Safety Pick+.
Under the hood the CX-9 doesn’t offer a V6, like most of its rivals. Instead the CX-9 is powered by a turbocharged 3.5-liter four-cylinder engine that’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a standard all-wheel drive system. The engine generates 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque with 93 octane fuel or 227 hp and 310 lb-ft with 87 octane fuel.
Although the CX-9 has two less cylinders, that doesn’t mean it’s a slouch. All that torque is available as low as 2,500 rpm with 93 octane fuel, which makes the CX-9 feel punchy from a stop. There’s zero turbo lag, which makes it easy to pass on the highway or take off from a stop. Overall the CX-9’s powertrain feels a lot more athletic than you would probably expect.
Mazda didn’t just stop with the engine in its quest to make a fun to drive three-row SUV. The CX-9’s suspension does a great job of keeping the ride comfortable, while making the big SUV feel agile and responsive. Tackling a twisty back road is a breeze in the CX-9 thanks to its great suspension and accurate steering. With the CX-9 you never feel like you’re driving a big SUV.
The CX-9 is also more fuel efficient than some of its rivals. The CX-9 is rated at 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined. Unlike some of its rivals, the CX-9 is only available with all-wheel drive. The CX-9 can tow up to up to 3,500 pounds, which is less than the Kia Telluride or Toyota Highlander.
For the 2023 model year, the former Sport trim level has been dropped. That means the CX-9 is available in Touring, Touring Plus, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and Signature. The pricing starts at $40,025, while the top of the line CX-9 Signature is priced at $49,735, including destination.
At the end of the day, the 2023 Mazda CX-9 is the perfect three-row SUV for buyers that want three rows of seats, but also enjoy driving. It’s upscale exterior and interior make the CX-9 feel more like a large luxury SUV rather than a more modest family oriented rig. The interior may have some compromises, but the CX-9 is still one of our favorite three-row family SUVs.