Mazda reached a crossroads in the middle of the last decade. The company’s minivan, the MPV, was too small to match other made-for-America mommy-mobiles in terms of interior space and functionality, yet it was too large to serve in overseas markets like Europe and Japan. Mazda decided to drop the MPV, replacing it with the even smaller Mazda 5 minivan, and develop a big, three-row crossover SUV to serve families that were increasingly choosing such vehicles over the more practical minivan. The result is the Mazda CX-9 (view photos), which, as a member of the zoom-zoom family, is one of the few crossover SUVs on the market imbued with genuine on-road athleticism in addition to weather-battling all-wheel drive and modest off-roading capability.
About Our Test Car
To determine whether the CX-9 is able to serve as a capable family schlepper during the week and an able canyon carver on the weekends, we spent a week with a Grand Touring AWD model. With a sticker price of $40,800, our Crystal White Pearl Mica CX-9 included an optional power liftgate, a navigation system with real-time traffic reporting, and a rear-seat entertainment system that includes a Bose Centerpoint 5.1 surround sound premium audio system and Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription. Our CX-9 also had a stainless steel rear bumper protection guard to reduce the risk of bumper damage while loading cargo.
The Grand Touring model is the most expensive CX-9 variant. Prices start at $29,930 for a CX-9 Sport with front-wheel drive. Moving up to the mid-grade CX-9 Touring ($31,850) adds leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver’s seat with power lumbar support, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and auto-off headlights. Choosing the Touring model is also the way to add options such as a power moonroof, a power liftgate, a reversing camera, Bluetooth audio streaming, keyless entry and ignition, Bose Centerpoint premium audio, and a multi-information display embedded in the dashboard.
The Grand Touring’s base price is $33,940, which includes Touring features plus a blind-spot monitoring system, a memory system for the driver’s seat, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry and ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirrors with Homelink, a storage bin for the second-row seat center armrest, and an anti-theft system. Visually, the Grand Touring sets itself apart from the Sport and Touring with standard 20-inch alloy wheels, Xenon HID automatic headlights, fog lights, side mirrors with signal indicators, chrome door handles, wood-tone interior trim with dark silver accents, and electroluminescent gauges, and an anti-theft alarm system. Exclusive options include a rear-seat entertainment system with gaming jacks and a 115-volt power outlet, and a navigation system.
Safety Reliability and Value
In terms of safety features, the 2015 Mazda CX-9 (view photos) is equipped with standard dual front airbags, side airbags for the front seat occupants, and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats that provide rollover protection. Stability control with roll stability control, traction control, and antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist are also standard. A reversing camera is optional on the CX-9 Touring and CX-9 Grand Touring models, while a blind spot monitoring system is standard, and available, only on the CX-9 Grand Touring.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) revised its crash-testing program for 2015, and has not put the Mazda CX-9 through the new program. That leaves the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) to give us an idea of how the CX-9 performs in crash tests. The IIHS says the CX-9 receives a Good rating for frontal and side impact protection, a marginal rating for rear crashworthiness, and a marginal rating for roof crush strength in a rollover accident. As a result of the Marginal ratings, the Mazda CX-9 is not a “Top Safety Pick” according to the IIHS.
Reliability is also a mixed bag when it comes to the Mazda CX-9. Based on market research conducted by Consumer Reports, the 2015 CX-9 is expected to provide better than average reliability. J.D. Power and Associates is less enthusiastic, saying that Mazda CX-9 owners rate initial quality as average during the first few months of ownership. Furthermore, the most recent reliability prediction from J.D. Power pegged the Mazda as average.
Similarly, the Mazda CX-9’s ability to retain its value over time is rated differently by different companies. Consumer Reports predicts CX-9 depreciation to be average over time, while Automotive Lease Guide’s four-star rating indicates an expected better-than-average performance in this regard.
In any event, fuel economy is not particularly good. The EPA says a Mazda CX-9 with AWD will get 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. With a fuel tank slightly bigger than 20 gallons and gas prices averaging $3.10 per gallon as this review is written, the CX-9 AWD will liberate more than $60 from your wallet every time you fill ‘er up.
We’re less than impressed with the Mazda’s warranty coverage, too. The standard warranty is three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. Mazda offers free roadside assistance for the same period of time, and covers the powertrain with a five-year/60,000-mile plan. This warranty is not as generous as that offered by many companies today.