The 2014 Mazda CX-9 is a family-friendly vehicle that is both sporty and sophisticated. Far from the boring minivan model, the 7-passenger CX-9 gives off a racy vibe. Unlike any minivan we've driven, the CX-9 is actually fun to drive, with excellent road manners, communicative steering and strong brakes. Some owners even compare it to more luxurious makes such as the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GL, except the CX-9's $31,000 starting price undercuts both luxury makes by wide margins.

Beyond its sleek styling and firm suspension, the CX-9's popularity is bolstered by its reasonable price, extensive list of comfort and safety features and strong reputation for reliability and resale. Its sharply raked windshield, flowing lines and low roofline give the CX-9 the appearance of a slightly oversized sport wagon. Add to the design an elegant set of 18- or 20-inch wheels, tasteful chrome trim and the option of all-wheel drive and the CX-9's popularity is easy to understand. If the CX-9 has one shortfall, it may be the limited cargo space offered when the third-row seat is in use. But this is a problem that plagues many 3-row SUVs, so we can't really ding Mazda for it.

What's New for 2014?

Changes for 2014 are limited to some new colors, a new wheel design and the addition of a rear cross-traffic alert system. 

What We Like

Sporty handling; smooth ride; confident V6; usable third-row seat 

What We Don't

Limited cargo room behind the third-row seat; so-so fuel economy; tow rating is a low 3,500 pounds 

How Much?

$30,780-$41,500 

Fuel Economy 

The 2014 Mazda CX-9 offers only one engine and transmission: a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive CX-9 is rated at 17 miles per gallon city/24 mpg hwy, with the all-wheel-drive version earning a slightly lower 16 mpg city/22 mpg hwy.

Two-wheel-drive models are pulled by their front wheels, while the available all-wheel-drive versions use Mazda's Active Torque Split to route power to the rear wheels, but only when needed. Under normal driving conditions, the all-wheel-drive models revert to front-wheel drive, helping save on fuel and tire wear. 

Standard Features & Options

The 2014 Mazda CX-9 is offered in three distinct trims: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All three can be ordered with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. 

The entry level Sport ($30,780) brings 18-in alloy wheels, rear wiper/washer, rear side privacy glass, 3-zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/HD/CD stereo with six speakers, auxiliary and USB audio input, Bluetooth, cruise control, multi-information display, tilt/telescopic steering wheel and cloth seats. 

The Touring ($33,275) adds heated side mirrors, auto on/off headlights, leather seating, heated front seats, an 8-way power driver's seat with manual lumbar support, 4-way power passenger seat, a rear backup camera, rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and a blind spot monitoring system. 

The top-level Grand Touring ($35,830) brings 20-in alloy wheels, tilt-in reverse side mirrors, fog lights, HID headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a power lift gate, memory for driver's seat and mirrors, driver's side power lumbar support, Mazda Advanced Key keyless entry and push-button start and anti-theft alarm. 

Options for the Sport trim include an 8-way power driver's seat, heated cloth front seats and heated side mirrors. The Touring trim can be equipped with a 10-speaker Bose Centerpoint audio system, fog lamps, keyless entry and start, a power moonroof, navigation and a power lift gate. The Grand Touring can be equipped with an 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint system, 115-volt outlet, navigation, rear-seat DVD entertainment system, a tow prep package and a power moonroof. 

With its third-row seat folded, the CX-9 offers a generous 48.3 cu ft of cargo space. However, with the seat up, the CX-9's cargo space shrinks to a modest 17.2 cu ft.

Safety

Mazda understands that occupants are the most important cargo its drivers will ever carry. Therefore, the automaker has equipped the CX-9 with a plethora of standard safety and assist features. Airbag protection is provided to the front and front side, while side-curtain airbags cover all three rows. To help the driver maintain control in an emergency maneuver, the CX-9 offers electronic traction control, dynamic stability control (when skidding or fishtailing, this system helps keep the vehicle moving in the direction the driver originally intended) and roll stability control, which intervenes when an imminent rollover is detected to slow and stabilize the vehicle.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the CX-9 three out of five stars in the frontal crash test, five stars in the side-impact test and four stars in the rollover test. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the CX-9 a Good rating in the front moderate overlap and side crash tests, but only a Moderate in the roof-strength and head-restraint and seat tests. 

Behind the Wheel

With four passengers on board, the CX-9 demonstrates strong acceleration and controlled handling. But if you push the occupant number to seven and add a bunch of cargo, the performance diminishes noticeably. The added weight seems to compact the rear suspension, taking away its ability to respond as quickly as when it's lightly burdened. To be fair, this is the case for any vehicle pushed to its weight limit, but it is worth mentioning since the CX-9 is more likely to carry its maximum weight regularly than a vehicle such as the BMW 3 Series. Despite the CX-9's size and weight, it is still amazingly spry when rounding corners or darting through traffic. Credit the car's rigid frame, MacPherson strut front suspension and independent multi-link rear suspension for the sports-car-like ride and handling.

At highway speeds, the CX-9's interior remains quiet and free of rattles or road noise, and the ride is smooth and controlled. The big V6 hums along with little fuss or commotion, delivering its power in a smooth, linear fashion without hesitation or strain. 

Other Cars to Consider

GMC Acadia -- The Acadia may not be as sporty as the CX-9, but it offers more room for its third-row occupants and a much larger cargo area behind the third-row seat.

Honda Pilot -- The Pilot is not as powerful as the CX-9, nor can it handle as well, but it does get slightly better fuel economy with the 5-speed automatic transmission and 2-wheel drive and has more cargo space (18.0 cu ft) behind the third row of seats.

Ford Explorer -- The Explorer offers more engine choices, and its 3.5-liter V6 has more power, gets better fuel economy and has a higher tow rating (5,000 pounds versus the Mazda's 3,500 pounds). However, you'll pay more for a comparably equipped Explorer, and you won't get as much maximum cargo volume. 

AutoTrader's Advice

If you can live without rain-sensing wipers and HID headlamps, go for the front-wheel-drive Touring. This nicely equipped CX-9 starts just over $33,000, but it can be equipped with many of the Grand Touring's high-end options, such as the Bose audio system, a power rear lift gate and a power sunroof. Even with all-wheel-drive, the Touring still starts under $35,000. 

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