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2018 Mazda CX-9: New Car Review

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author photo by Autotrader October 2017

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is not only the company's largest SUV, but also its most important. In the 3-row, 7-passenger crossover segment, any company that can't compete here runs the risk of losing loyal customers trying to move out of their small cars. Thankfully, the 2018 CX-9 rates near the top of the field, with more expressive styling than the Honda Pilot, a more luxurious interior than the Toyota Highlander and better fuel economy than the GMC Acadia.

Continuing a trend away from large V6 and V8 engines, the 2018 CX-9 derives its power from a SKYACTIV turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that develops an impressive 250 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Of course, you'll need to use premium fuel to achieve those numbers; filling the CX-9's gas tank with regular drops output to 227 hp.

From its modern, upscale interior to its nearly clairvoyant i-ACTIV all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, the new CX-9 provides families an efficient, safe, powerful and attractive way to get around while offering the driver the kind of sporty handling rarely found at this price point.

What's New for 2018?

Mazda's Smart City Brake Support is made standard on all CX-9s, as is blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and the G-Vectoring torque control system. The CX-9's second-row seat has been redesigned to make access to the third row easier, while all trims gain more standard equipment

What We Like

Strong acceleration; good fuel economy; impressive AWD ability; handsome interior; great handling

What We Don't

Turbocharged engine is untested as far as reliability and longevity; seating limited to seven passengers; third-row seat still only fit for kids; no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay

How Much?

$33,070-$45,500

Fuel Economy

No matter which trim you purchase, they'll all be powered by a SKYACTIV turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which produces 250 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque when using 93-octane premium fuel. When burning 87-octane regular gas, the CX-9's power rating drops to 227 hp, but torque remains the same.

A 6-speed automatic transmission with a manual-shift mode is also standard on all trims. Fuel economy for the front-wheel-drive (FWD) models is rated at 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The i-ACTIV AWD models get 20 mpg city/26 mpg hwy.

Standard Features & Options

The Mazda CX-9 is offered in four well-appointed trims: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. The first three are offered with a choice of FWD or AWD, while AWD is standard on the Signature trim.

The CX-9 Sport ($33,070 FWD, $34,870 AWD) comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, auto-off LED headlights, Smart City Brake Support, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, rear privacy glass, tri-zone automatic air conditioning, HD Radio with six speakers, two USB ports, a 7-in full-color touchscreen display, remote keyless entry, the MazdaConnect infotainment system, a 60/40-split folding second-row seat, a 50/50-split folding third-row seat and a tilt-telescopic steering wheel with cruise, audio and Bluetooth controls.

The CX-9 Touring ($35,900 FWD, $37,700 AWD) adds leather seating, heated side mirrors, a power rear lift gate, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, Advanced Key keyless entry and push-button start, an 8-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, a 6-way power passenger seat with lumbar support, an 8-in full-color touchscreen display and two rear-seat USB ports. Additional safety features include Smart Brake Support, auto high beams and adaptive cruise control.

The CX-9 Grand Touring ($41,410 FWD, $43,210 AWD) adds 20-in alloy wheels, adaptive front headlights, LED fog lights, a power glass moonroof, a heads-up display, a Bose Centerpoint 2.0 Surround Sound system with 12 speakers including a subwoofer, driver's-seat memory, navigation, second-row retractable window sunshades, heated second-row seats, a heated steering wheel, a windshield wiper de-icer and lane-keep assist.

The CX-9 Signature ($45,255) features Mazda's i-ACTIV AWD, LED grille lighting accents, Nappa leather seating and rosewood interior trim.

The Sport trim can be equipped with the Sport package, which adds auto-on/off headlights, auto high beams, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, heated front seats, an 8-way power driver's seat and adaptive cruise control.

The Touring trim offers the Touring Premium package, which adds Bose audio, LED fog lights, navigation, a power moonroof, SiriusXM satellite radio, front and rear parking sensors and rear-door sunshades.

Safety

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 comes standard with a long list of safety features, including Smart City Brake Support low-speed collision warning and avoidance (up to 19 mph), rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, electronic traction and stability control and anti-lock brakes. A full complement of airbags includes front, front side-impact and side-curtain airbags covering all three rows. Available safety equipment includes lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and Smart Brake Support highway-speed forward-collision warning and avoidance.

In crash tests, the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the CX-9 top marks of Good in every test and a Superior rating in the crash avoidance and mitigation test. The IIHS also awarded the CX-9 a Top Safety Pick+ rating.

Behind the Wheel

Given the CX-9's size and weight, we were expecting the 4-cylinder turbo to struggle when fully loaded and exhibit some turbo lag at low speeds. Boy, were we wrong. The 2.5-liter SkyActiv engine is quick off the line and develops most of its 310 lb-ft of torque right around 2,000 rpm.

Using some nifty exhaust management, engineers coaxed a 20-25 percent quicker throttle response when revving below 1,500 rpm. Not only does this provide satisfying acceleration when launching, it also all but erases turbo lag. Power off the line is strong, but it does fade away somewhat as the tachometer passes the 5,000 range. The 6-speed automatic works seamlessly and always seems to know just when to hold a gear and when to let go.

Where the CX-9 really impresses is behind the wheel. The steering is amazingly precise and on center, and the ride is smooth over most surfaces. However, that ride does get noticeably stiffer on models wearing 20-in tires. The cabin is well-isolated from exterior road noise, and wind and engine noise are barely noticeable, even at high speeds. We found the CX-9's front seat incredibly comfortable, although the third-row seats offer little room for adults and are best left to the 8-and-under crowd.

Other Cars to Consider

2018 Honda Pilot -- The Pilot has seating for eight people, a larger cargo area, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto plus a V6 engine, but it's not as elegantly styled and its fuel economy isn't as good.

2018 Toyota Highlander -- The Highlander is a sharp-looking SUV that offers a rather weak standard 4-cylinder engine and an optional 295-hp V6, the latter being great for towing but not so good on gas. Like the Pilot, the Highlander can seat eight passengers, although its third-row seat is also rather small. There's also a hybrid model.

2018 Ford Explorer -- The Explorer offers a choice of powerful engines including a turbocharged EcoBoost 280-hp 4-cylinder, a 3.5-liter 290-hp V6 and a 3.5-liter 365-hp twin-turbo EcoBoost V6. The Explorer also offers a more advanced AWD system and more upscale features.

2018 Nissan Pathfinder -- The Pathfinder offers a similarly sleek exterior and a modern cabin filled with high-tech options. The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds versus the CX-9's 3,500-pound limit.

Used Infiniti JX35/QX60 -- A 2013-2016 Infiniti JX35/QX60 (the name changed for 2014) offers exceptional style and comfort, a stunning interior and impressive ride and handling characteristics.

Autotrader's Advice

For the money, we think most people will be quite happy with the Touring trim. It comes with the most desirable features and can be upgraded to include many of the Grand Touring's add-ons, should you want to spend the extra cash. Thanks to its smaller 18-in wheel and tire package, we prefer the Touring's ride to that of the Grand Touring.

Find a Mazda CX-9 for sale

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New 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
New 2018 Mazda CX-9
MSRP $43,210
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New 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring
New 2018 Mazda CX-9
MSRP $43,510
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New 2018 Mazda CX-9 Sport
New 2018 Mazda CX-9
MSRP $36,460
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New 2018 Mazda CX-9 Touring
New 2018 Mazda CX-9
MSRP $37,700
This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2018 Mazda CX-9: New Car Review - Autotrader