2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 front 3/4 view

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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 front 3/4 view

  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 front view

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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 interior

  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 interior

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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 front seats

  • 2012 Mazda CX-9
  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 steering wheel

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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 rear cargo area

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  • 2012 Mazda CX-9 rear cargo area

Aging Three-Row Still Light On Its Feet



All of the auto industry's big-time players are making large three-row crossovers these days, so the segment has become extremely competitive. With stalwarts like the Honda Pilot, Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Explorer at the top of the sales charts, how does a smaller automaker like Mazda compete? Two oft-repeated words: Zoom-Zoom.

The Mazda CX-9 checks the same boxes as its competition: a beefy V6 engine, seating for up to seven, available all-wheel drive and a bevy of technology optio­­ns. Those features are all part of the price of admission, but to make headway in this crowded field, that's not enough to cut it. On the market since 2007, we wanted to find out the 4,546-pound CX-9 still has the engineering mojo to dance to the head of the pack, so we grabbed the keys to a loaded Grand Touring AWD and headed for the floor.
2012 Mazda CX-9 side view

2012 Mazda CX-9 front view2012 Mazda CX-9 rear view

Our Stormy Blue Mica tester is a Grand Touring model that boasts standard features like leather seating surfaces, along with hide-covered steering wheel and shift knob, eight-way power driver's seat and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. Options include Mazda's Moonroof and Bose audio package ($2,255), navigation package ($1,665) and power liftgate ($400). With all options present and accounted for, our tester rang in at $39,990, including a $795 destination fee.

From the outside, there haven't been any changes to the CX-9 since its subtle refresh for 2010. Yet while the form of the big Mazda crossover hasn't been altered, it's still a modern-looking and attractive outer shell. The CX-9 features many of the same distinctive styling elements of the smaller CX-7, but the larger utility vehicle appears less edgy and a bit more mature. We're also fans of its nicely fitted 20-inch wheels, mated here to P245/50R20 all-season tires. The 20s are standard with the Grand Touring model, while lesser trim levels receive subtler 18-inch wheels.

2012 Mazda CX-9 interior
2012 Mazda CX-9 front seats2012 Mazda CX-9 rear seats2012 Mazda CX-9 rear cargo area

The same familiarity can be found in the cabin of the CX-9. The interior hasn't gone through changes since 2010, yet it continues to be class competitive. The overall feel of the cabin is one of space and accommodation, with attractive-looking materials and pleasant contrasting tones. Every CX-9 comes standard with the aforementioned leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, providing drivers with plush materials at their most frequented touch points. The seats are also a joy, being both comfortable to occupy and well-bolstered. The CX-9 also does a solid job of keeping out road noise, which is appreciated when attempting to hold a conversation with occupants in the second or third row.

The rest of the dash materials look refined and feature nice graining, but are still rock-hard. That's too bad, but the Traverse, Pilot and Highlander are also guilty of the same crime. The CX-9 does provide plenty of room for seven passengers, with a trick second row that slides fore and aft to provide extra space for third row occupants. Strangely, that last row of seating isn't covered in real leather like the rest, but we're okay with that since it likely won't be used very often. Even with the third row in use, the CX-9 offers 17.2 cubic feet of storage space. That's down from the 24 cubes in the Traverse, but within a foot of the 18 cubes in the Pilot. With the second and third rows stowed, the CX-9 boasts 100.7 cubic feet of space, or 13 cubes more than the Pilot.


Unfortunately, the CX-9 comes up a bit short on the technology front, as we struggled trying to figure out how to best use the hands-free Bluetooth system. We synced our smart phone and added our contacts, yet the system would still only accept phone numbers. We've experienced the same issue with other Mazda models. The navigation system also failed to give a good first impression, being slow and and offering an interface that was difficult to, well, navigate. Mazda says it's working on an all-new connectivity and navigation package, and it can't come soon enough.

While our overall experience of the CX-9's interior treneded slightly toward the positive, we were more interested in how well this biggest of Mazdas drives. We can say with confidence that Mazda chose a competent powertrain, which is a good start. The 3.7-liter V6 engine produces 273 horsepower at 6,250 revolutions per minute and a healthy 270 pound-feet of torque at 4,250 rpm. The industrial-strength six-cylinder is complimented by a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode.

2012 Mazda CX-9 engine

The powertrain affords the CX-9 plenty of power off the line, with an official 0-60 time of 7.4 seconds. That sounds about right to our bottoms, as we were impressed with how eager this three-row crossover is to leave the starting blocks. The CX-9 also boasts impressive passing power, as the automatic transmission doesn't hesitate to drop a gear or two when asked. Our tester also came with Mazda's Active Torque Split All-Wheel-Drive system that applies power to all four wheels. We were able to test this AWD system on some wet and sloppy roads, but they weren't sloppy enough to throw the torque-splitting system for a loop.

A willing powertrain is appreciated, but living up to Mazda's age-old tagline requires more than just horsepower – it requires nimble handling – no easy trick in something this large. For the CX-9, Mazda engineers have fitted MacPherson struts up front and a multilink independent suspension out back. When coupled with the AWD system, the suspension feels very composed, even when cornering hard at higher speeds, with limited body roll that isn't normally associated with high-riding 4,500-pound vehicles. Steering comes courtesy of a rack and pinion setup with variable power assist. Many crossovers feature higher steering ratios, but that isn't the case with the CX-9. The big Mazda features a 16.3:1 ratio, which helps the CX-9 drive smaller and feel more athletic. Braking's a snap thanks to 12.6-inch rotors at all four corners, though the pedal is sensitive and can take a bit of practice to avoid what feel like panic stops at the first few stop signs.

2012 Mazda CX-9 rear 3/4 view2012 Mazda CX-9 headlight2012 Mazda CX-9 fog light2012 Mazda CX-9 wheel

The CX-9 handles better than most any vehicle in its class, but when it comes to fuel economy, this Mazda is no different than other three-row crossovers. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the AWD-equipped CX-9 will deliver 22 miles per gallon on the highway and 16 mpg in city driving. This is where the weight and engaging driving dynamics came back to bite us, because we averaged just over 18 miles per gallon during our week with the CX-9. That's one mile per gallon less than the EPA says we should've averaged, and we likely would've gained it back were the CX-9 not as fun to drive for a three-row CUV.

Does the 2012 Mazda CX-9 deliver what the marketing campaigns have promised? This big CUV is no seven-seat MX-5 Miata, but Mazda has done well here balancing the size requirements of the typical crossover buyer with its own identity of offering more engaging rides than the next brand. We would like to see better fuel economy and a more state-of-the-art infotainment system, but even after many years on the market, the CX-9 still acquits itself well enough to shine as the clear enthusiast's choice in a segment not exactly known for driving engagement.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 49 Comments
      BC
      • 3 Years Ago
      Is this another post where the photo car is different from the one which was tested? Because that looks like Dolphin Gray Mica, not Stormy Blue Mica.
      PikeAndPine
      • 3 Years Ago
      hey... the guy who gave us the new Fusion / Mondeo is also the same guy who designed this... his brother also designed Aston Martin DB7, DB9, Vanquish, Vantage, XK, XJ, etc.
      007 Vodka Martini
      • 3 Years Ago
      haha, I spent five minutes looking at this POS. A few pointers quickly got my wife back to the Flex. Our Taurus X made this thing look like a joke.
        NightFlight
        • 3 Years Ago
        @007 Vodka Martini
        You drive a Taurus X and you call this thing a POS? Oh the irony.
        Steven Johnson
        • 3 Years Ago
        @007 Vodka Martini
        I wouldn't say the cx9 is a POS, but the new explorer's interior easily bests that of the cx9.
        6thGear
        • 3 Years Ago
        @007 Vodka Martini
        Anyone who would take a Taurus X over the CX-9 needs to have their eyes examined. I suggest you take your wife along.
        inkarri
        • 3 Years Ago
        @007 Vodka Martini
        I test drove the Freestyle and I liked it a lot...But, it just never looked quite....right. The T-X had the best front end of the 500/Freestyle/Taurus/T-X quads. My father has a 500 and the wheels look huge on it, but the SUV version needs some a little bigger. On the Other Hand, I love the FLEX but my wife hated it. i was shopping for her car...she got what she wanted.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        inkarri
        • 3 Years Ago
        Only if you compare it to a sports sedan or coupe. Comparing it to to other Apples and you will see its slicker and neater looking than anything else in its class!
          Justin
          • 3 Years Ago
          @inkarri
          Would look sportier without the extra ground clearance though.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      godwhomismike
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just configured a fully loaded 2012 Kia Sorento SX (AWD) with the Premium Package, and it came out to $36,100. Its got slightly more horsepower and it's also 600 lbs lighter, has a sporty suspension, gets better fuel economy (18/24) vs the (16/22) for the CX-9, and has better features (like air cooled seats) that as not available on the Mazda.
        Steveo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @godwhomismike
        Are you busy at the dealership?
        axiomatik
        • 3 Years Ago
        @godwhomismike
        The Sorento is also substantially smaller, wheelbase is 7 inches shorter, overall length is 16 inches shorter, 2 inches narrower. A CX-9 feels almost as big as our old Expedition.
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      • 3 Years Ago
      [blocked]
        Hal Jordan
        • 3 Years Ago
        I like Mazda and Ford, but Mazda will be just fine without them. In fact, they will be even better since they won't have to appease the giant conglomerate. Mazda is a small manufacturer and nimble, and has their own identity. My wife has a 2007 CX9, and really looks forward to the next generation, but I do have my doubts. Mazda does not typically make huge crossovers. The CX9 is a Ford Edge, which has been Mazdaized, i.e. good handling, etc. I hope they make a new one with Skyactive technology.
        007 Vodka Martini
        • 3 Years Ago
        Volvo have already dried up too.
      Susan
      • 3 Years Ago
      Wow, almost $40,000 for a crossover/van? What recession?
      Radioactive Flea
      • 3 Years Ago
      It's old. And too expensive.
      theharpyeagle
      • 3 Years Ago
      For those who complain about this being boring, do take a look at the Honda Pilot and the Chevrolet Traverse. For it's category, it's one of the better looking cross-overs. If you are looking for something more uplifting, look somewhere else. I am sure some will vehemently disagree, but IMO the Ford Explorer is the best looking of the whole lot.
        inkarri
        • 3 Years Ago
        @theharpyeagle
        Like the Explorer overall, but the front is just too busy.
      artandcolour2010
      • 3 Years Ago
      some say boring, I say clean and tasteful without garish body lines or detailing. When I see one in a parking lot, it always catches my eye, in a good way.
        Jake
        • 3 Years Ago
        @artandcolour2010
        Without the garish body lines..... once you get past the jack-o-lantern front-end.
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