The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a sporty three-row SUV, for drivers who prioritize fun over interior space and practicality. With three rows of seats, the CX-9 squares off against the Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot, among many other three-row crossover SUVs. It’s a driver-focused crossover SUV, which may or may not be what your family needs. Cargo and third-row space are below average, but the 2023 CX-9 is priced well, beautifully appointed inside, and polished to drive.

2023 Mazda CX-9 Second Take Review

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a cut above the typical family-oriented crossover SUV. It’s a great choice if you want to stand out in the carpool lineup. The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a stylish vehicle, with sporty lines and a gorgeous interior. Subtly curvy, the 2023 CX-9 boasts a big shield-like grille up front surrounded by narrow headlights. A smattering of brightwork up front is repeated at the rear, one of few styling flourishes you’ll find here. The CX-9 eschews hard edges for soft curves, and hints of unpainted plastic give it a hint of ruggedness but this SUV has a low enough stance that it won’t be confused with anything from the Jeep lineup. It’s particularly gorgeous in extra-cost Soul Red.

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a lot of fun to drive, but it won’t win a drag race. Mazda bills itself as a builder of sporty cars, and the CX-9 delivers compared to other three-row SUVs. Its polished handling overcomes its average acceleration. All-wheel drive is standard. Don’t take the CX-9 off-road, though, as its long overhangs mean it isn’t meant for serious four-wheeling.


With regular unleaded, its 2.5-liter turbo-4 puts out 227 hp. Another 23 hp appears with costlier premium fuel. Either way, the turbo-4 furnishes acceptable but hardly blistering acceleration. The turbo-4 thrums at idle and emits a sporty raspy snarl under heavy throttle. The smooth 6-speed automatic transmission is a classy operator, but its lack of cogs against rivals with eight or 10 speeds means lower fuel economy and occasional out-of-breath moments.

Offsetting its pokiness is a combination of terrific steering feel and planted, balanced handling. The thick steering wheel serves up limited feel but boasts predictable heft and admirable accuracy. Even on the base 18-inch wheels, grip is terrific. Those smaller wheels (all but the base version ride on 20-inchers) furnish the best ride quality, though every CX-9 is controlled and comfortable. With composure more akin to a mid-size sedan than a big SUV, the CX-9 eagerly rips down winding roads yet maintains its line well on windy roads at high speed.

The 6-speed automatic holds the 2023 Mazda CX-9 back at the gas pump. It’s not a particularly frugal choice. EPA estimates clock in at 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined. Regular fuel is acceptable, but running more expensive premium unleaded unlocks an additional 23 hp. For most day-to-day tasks you probably won’t notice the missing oomph.

Top crash-test scores make the 2023 Mazda CX-9 a very safe choice with all signs pointing to a very safe three-row crossover SUV thanks to top marks from the IIHS and the NHTSA plus a good array of standard fare. Every version comes with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitors, and active lane control. If a crash is unavoidable, the IIHS says the CX-9 holds up well enough to earn a Top Safety Pick+ score and the NHTSA rates it at five stars overall.

2023 Mazda CX-9 Second Take Review

Inside, the CX-9 is simple and elegant, especially in range-topping Signature trim. The purposeful dash is low and light on knobs and buttons, admittedly to the detriment of its infotainment interface. The chunky, three-spoke steering wheel and crystal clear gauges tell us everything we need to know: the CX-9 was built to be driven. Where the CX-9 really shines is in its interior trim. Standard leather this year can be upgraded to soft nappa hides with real wood trim accents, something not often seen in mass-market brands.

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a two-row SUV with an occasional-use third row. If you regularly need three rows of seats, there are better choices. The Mazda CX-9 is a comfortable, well-equipped SUV with plenty of space for four and their gear, but not a lot more. Cargo space is on the small side for a three-row SUV but still plentiful. There’s 14.4 cubic feet of space behind row three, which grows to 38.2 cubes behind the second row and tops out at 71.2 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity.

The front seats include standard power adjustment for the driver and heating for both occupants. They’re firm but supportive. Row two includes captain’s chairs on most versions, which are accessed via wide-opening doors. The third row is a challenge to reach and offers limited room once aboard. Think Spirit Airlines-grade space, except a higher likelihood of reaching your destination on time.

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 would score well for features and value even if space is at a premium. The CX-9 Sport costs $40,025 this year, which is a lot for a base three-row SUV but still a decent value given its standard fare. You’ll find crash-avoidance and driver-assistance tech, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, leather seats that are heated and power-adjustable up front, a wireless charging pad, a power tailgate, a sunroof, and 18-inch alloy wheels, plus standard all-wheel drive.

We can’t blame you for stepping up to the $42,775 Touring Plus. It adds 20-inch alloy wheels, cooled front seats, a second-row console, and more USB ports. The CX-9 lineup tops out at $49,735 for the Signature, which comes with a surround-view camera system, Bose audio, a heated steering wheel, nappa leather, and real wood trim. It’s kitted out better than some rivals costing way, way more. Mazda’s 3-year/36,000-mile warranty is nothing special, though.

If you’re looking for a three-row crossover that knows how to dance on road and you’re not always hauling people in all seven seats, the 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a great choice. Our advice would be to get the Touring Plus which gives you almost all the options of the Signature without the price. In any trim level though, you’ll still get a great driving SUV that’s family safe with Mazda proven reliability all wrapped in an incredibly stylish SUV.

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2023-mazda-cx-9-second-take-review-roomy-zoom-zoomIf you’re looking for a three-row crossover that knows how to dance on road and you’re not always hauling people in all seven seats, the 2023 Mazda CX-9 is a great choice.