"Driving Matters" is the tagline Mazda uses to promote its CX-9 three-row family mover, casting it as the driver’s choice among the soccer-mom mobile crowd. Turns out that this slogan is quite apt; the CX-9 is particularly agile, comfortable riding, and quiet among affordable midsized three-row SUVs. Long, sleek, and rakish, the CX-9 has a presence that contrasts with some rivals that come across as tall wagons in a "rugged" off-roader costume. Although we have some quibbles over accommodations, controls, and feature content, the CX-9 is a compelling alternative to the more popular players.
Mazda’s flagship is all-new from the ground up. It loses 250 pounds compared to the previous model and offers only a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Doing more with less is the Mazda mantra, forced from being a small company with a shoestring budget.
Making just 227 horsepower on regular fuel, the CX-9 is eclipsed on paper by V6-powered rivals like the 280-hp Honda Pilot, 290-hp Kia Sorento, and 270-hp Toyota Highlander. But don’t let that spec-sheet comparison fool you. With a whopping 310 lb.-ft. of torque, about 50 lb.-ft. more than its peers, the CX-9 feels fleet and responsive. A welcome swell of thrust comes early on, effortlessly propelling this sizable SUV in everyday driving. That said, the Mazda's turbo four cylinder lacks the slickness and polished sound of a V6. At 22 mpg overall, fuel economy is one better than most rivals.