2023 Mazda CX-9 Review

Pros: Lovely to drive; premium interior; standard AWD; will make you forget you’re driving a family hauler

Cons: Limited third-row and cargo space for the segment; starting to feel dated inside; only one powertrain option

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 isn’t long for this world now that the 2024 Mazda CX-90 is out. Unlike the CX-5 and CX-50 twins being sold alongside each other, Mazda has said that won’t be the case for the CX-9. Basically, don’t expect this three-row SUV to live much longer. In the meantime, though, the CX-9 is still here, and if you care deeply about how your big SUV drives and would rather not own a vehicle that so obviously screams “family hauler!” it’s a great one to get.

However, if maximum space in all three rows and excess cargo room are the priorities, the CX-9 may not be for you. Among this class of big SUVs, the CX-9 is one of the least utilitarian offerings out there. Not only is the third row and cargo space small compared to others, but towing capacity is also lacking at only 3,500 pounds. It’s better to think of the CX-9 as a two-row SUV with a bonus third row in case of an emergency, as frequent use of that third row will be rather unenjoyable for everyone involved. In that way, it’s more like a Kia Sorento than Kia Telluride. As a driver, though, the CX-9 will be much more satisfying from behind the wheel than either of those and most others. Its quiet cabin and composed ride combined with responsive handling and direct steering make it a pleasure to cruise around in. You may no longer be seeking out winding roads like you might have with that small, sporty car of your pre-kid years, but the CX-9 at least comports itself respectably when called upon.

Interior & Technology   |   Passenger & Cargo Space   |   Performance & Fuel Economy

What it’s like to drive   |   Pricing & Trim Levels   |   Crash Ratings & Safety Features

What’s new for 2023?

Mazda drops the base Sport model for 2023, making the more expensive Touring trim the new base CX-9. Outside of this, the CX-9 is a carryover model.

2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature

What are the CX-9’s interior and in-car technology like?

The interior ambience varies by trim level, but as Mazda continues on its “path to premium,” the higher trims present more as entry-level luxury than budget. There are some really nice materials in use, including Nappa leather and open pore wood, termed Santos Rosewood, in the top-line Signature model. However, the CX-9’s interior is still rocking some older elements of Mazda, such as the plasticky steering wheel buttons, dated-looking climate controls and older instrument cluster. Compared to a Telluride, Palisade or other more recently redesign models, the CX-9 may feel a bit dated. 

Mazda’s infotainment interface is at least similar to what you’ll find in other newer models. The dashtop screen is large and easy to see. The knob that controls it is ergonomically placed on the center console, and like BMW’s iDrive controller, can rotate through menus or move up/down, left/right among icons. This latter feature is key for using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Wheeling through playlists or contacts is actually easier with a knob, but selecting icons on the menu screen is time consuming and annoying. That said, the system responds well, without lag or bugginess. In other words, it won’t be for everyone, but it definitely has its merits.

How big is the CX-9?

It’s a big, three-row crossover with seating for seven passengers. At 199.4 inches long, 77.5 inches wide and 69.0 inches tall, with a 115.3-inch wheelbase, the Mazda CX-9 is big, but not big enough to contend with the giants of this segment such as the Chevy Traverse or Jeep Grand Cherokee L. It’s most comparable to a Ford Explorer or Subaru Ascent in footprint.

However, that exterior space doesn’t really translate into a similar advantage inside where it matters most. For starters, most of its competitors can be configured for seven or eight passengers. The CX-9, like the Explorer, is limited to 7, or 6 if you opt for captain’s chairs in the second row. Its third row is also smaller than the competition, with less legroom, notably less headroom and a generally more claustrophobic feel. It’s similar to the Toyota Highlander in this way.

It’s a similar situation in terms of cargo space. Its 14 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row and maximum 71.2 cubic-feet is less than most of the competition, including Telluride (21.0/87.0 cubic feet), Explorer (18.2/87.8), Ascent (17.8/86.5) and Traverse (23.0/98.2).

2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature

What are the CX-9’s fuel economy and performance specs?

The CX-9 employs a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine providing 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque (it produces 250 hp and 320 pound-feet of torque with 93 octane). That’s less horsepower but more torque than much of the competition. A six-speed automatic transmission is the only transmission option. Mazda rates the CX-9 to tow 3,500 pounds, while most of its competitors can tow 5,000 pounds. This is one area where the new CX-90 will come in clutch, as it can tow 5,000 pounds.

All-wheel drive comes standard. Fuel economy for the CX-9 is 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.

What’s the CX-9 like to drive?

It’s clear that Mazda kept the driver in mind when creating the CX-9, as it’s actually a pleasant ute to drive — verging on fun when put in perspective with the rest of the three-row SUV world. In a segment that is far more utilitarian than entertaining, this is the closest thing to an enthusiast pick available at its price. It handles well and responds to inputs in a satisfying way. Its ride isn’t detached or anything approaching squishy, but it’s still fairly compliant, and therefore comfortable even on lousy roads. That said, it is a big vehicle, which means you’ll feel its weight and size at all times. Still, that’ll be the case with any three-row crossover. And if you’re reluctant to make that family-forced plunge from a smaller, fun-to-drive car, the CX-9 should make the impact a little less painful.

Despite having less horsepower than the competition, the CX-9 doesn’t feel sluggish around town thanks to torque peaking at a low 2,000 rpm. That pep fades quickly at the higher end of the rev range, especially when loaded up with people and cargo. In general, the CX-9’s engine is a lovely torque monster for around town driving. Just don’t expect to blow anybody’s doors off on the highway.

What other Mazda CX-9 reviews can I read?

2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature Interior Review | A convincing move toward luxury

2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature

 

Mazda CX-9 | How much fits behind the third row?

The Mazda CX-9 may look terrific and drive even better, but that zest comes at the expense of cargo capacity, as we’re about to see. The big culprit is that rakish liftgate, which not only robs the CX-9 of luggage space, but third-row headroom as well.

 

2019 Subaru Ascent vs. 2018 Mazda CX-9: Driving two class leaders side-by-side

If you’re cross-shopping the CX-9 or the Subaru Ascent, this is a good read to highlight the two cars’ strengths and weaknesses. It’s a tough choice, but we’re here to help you make an informed decision.

 

What is the 2023 CX-9’s price?

Pricing for the 2023 Mazda CX-9 starts with the Touring trim level with all-wheel drive at $40,025, including the $1,275 destination charge. Notable standard equipment on the Touring includes 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, LED headlights and taillights, a power liftgate, rear privacy glass, three-zone climate control, proximity entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and the Mazda Connect infotainment with a 10.25-inch screen featuring both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Step up to the Touring Plus, and you’ll add niceties like 20-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, a power/memory driver’s seat and a frameless rearview mirror. The Carbon Edition is largely a gray and red appearance package, but it also adds a heated steering wheel, paddle shifters, adaptive front headlights and a 7-inch screen in the cluster flanked by analog gauges. Go up to the Grand Touring, and Mazda throws in power-folding mirrors, a 360-degree camera, navigation and the ability to option heated rear seats. Lastly, the Signature brings the luxury with quilted leather seats, contrasted piping, real wood and aluminum trim and a number of exterior appearance items to standout such as a gray-finished grille, larger exhaust tips and unique 20-inch wheels.

Pricing for all the available trims is listed below.

  • Touring: $40,025
  • Touring Plus: $42,775
  • Carbon Edition: $46,055
  • Grand Touring: $46,915
  • Signature: $49,735

What are the CX-9’s safety ratings and driver assistance features?

Every Mazda CX-9 comes standard with Mazda’s array of driver assistance systems included in the iActivsense suite. These include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, front low-speed emergency braking assist with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist and automatic high beam control. The Carbon Edition adds rear automatic emergency braking and the Grand Touring adds traffic sign recognition.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Mazda CX-9 a five-star overall safety rating, with four-star frontal and rollover ratings, and a five-star side crash rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the 2023 CX-9 a Top Safety Pick+ for its best-possible crash and headlight scores, as well as sufficiently high ratings for its accident-avoidance tech.

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