After its 2001 introduction, the Toyota Highlander quickly established a reputation for reliability and utility -- its strong sales record is no surprise. The Mazda CX-9 is, by contrast, a relative newcomer to the market, first appearing on the scene in 2007.
The CX-9 has generated plenty of buzz as an up-and-coming contender in the crowded crossover segment. But does it live up to the standards of incumbents like the Highlander?
What we Like About the Toyota Highlander
Few vehicles are as versatile as the Highlander. With seating for seven, a variety of interior configurations, two great engine options and available all-wheel drive, the Highlander is a solid choice in a competitive market.
Just as importantly, the Highlander is more agile than some more cumbersome competitors. It drives like a car, offering easy maneuverability in tight spaces and cramped parking lots. Plus, it offers best-in-class safety features and gobs of technological options.
What we Like About the Mazda CX-9
Built on the Ford Edge platform, the CX-9 also rides a lot like a car. It seats seven, like the Highlander, but has a more spacious interior. Available in three trim levels, the CX-9 features only a single engine choice -- but it's a good one. The 3.7-liter V6 engine, unibody construction, optional all-wheel drive and independent four-wheel suspension deliver the "zoom zoom" driving experience.
Access to third-row seating is rather innovative and easy to use. And the crossover's overall design -- inside and out -- is refreshing and smart.
Can the CX-9 Compete with the Highlander?
The short answer: Yes. The name "Mazda" doesn't always appear on a Toyota shopper's comparison list. But if you're giving serious consideration to a Highlander, the CX-9 deserves a test drive.
Our Verdict: Mazda CX-9
It's a close call, but we give an edge to the Mazda CX-9 for matching the Highlander's utility in a package that's more fun to drive.