Three-row SUVs typically offer an excellent blend of passenger room, cargo space and towing capabilities. Mazda’s entry is the sleek looking CX-9, motivated by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and outfitted with the latest technologies and available premium features.

Best Value

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 operates in a sea of competitors, delivering four trims for your consideration: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature. Our pick is the mid-range Touring with all-wheel drive as it includes automatic headlights, heated outside mirrors, a power liftgate, heated, power front seats, and leather upholstery. That's in addition to the CX-9's impressive roster of standard equipment.

Advanced safety features roll out at this level and include lane keep assist, lane departure warning and full-speed adaptive cruise control. This is an impressive list of equipment for a middling trim level like the CX-9 Touring – typically, these features only exist as a package or on top-trim models (or as a package limited to a top trim level). You could spring for a more expensive trim, but we think most customers will be satisfied at the Touring level.

Mazda CX-9
  • Model: 2018 Mazda CX-9 Touring AWD
  • Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four
  • Output: 227 hp/310 lb.-ft.
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
  • MPG: 22 city/28 highway
  • Options: The 2018 CX-9 Touring offers a Touring Premium Package ($1,625) with such features as LED fog lights, a power sliding moonroof with an interior sunshade, front and rear parking sensors, a 12-speaker Bose audio system, satellite radio, navigation and a second-row retractable window sunshade. We like this package as it adds amenities to the CX-9 typically associated with far more expensive SUVs, while keeping this model’s final price well below $40,000.
  • Base Price: $37,735 (including $975 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $39,625

Performance

The CX-9's 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder spools up quickly, but it doesn’t match most V6 engines in out-of-the-gate performance. The transmission shifts nicely, but in a market where eight-speed transmissions are common, the standard six-speed automatic just doesn't feel as advanced as it should. The CX-9’s strong suit is with its steering – this vehicle drives like a smaller crossover, something no other model in this segment has mastered.

We recommend the 18-inch wheels for optimum comfort, although the CX-9 trails the Buick Enclave in ride contentment.

Interior and Exterior

No other midsize SUV matches the CX-9’s beautifully executed exterior. Front to back, the Mazda is simple, yet superb and elegant, but not overwrought. We haven’t seen such a beautiful tapestry among mainstream models. Standard features include LED headlights and taillights, 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, a roof spoiler and dual exhaust outlets.

Inside, the CX-9 offers three rows of seating, but is most useful and comfortable with two rows. The third-row is tight; consider those two seats as jump seats — what you might want in a pinch when you need to accommodate two additional riders. Otherwise, fold the rear seat to expand the tight 14.4 cubic feet of storage space to 38.2 cubic feet.

The cabin comes outfitted with nice-looking materials, including a surprising amount of glossy finishes. The dashboard sits low and the infotainment screen is unobtrusive, although we’re disappointed it doesn’t offer touchscreen capabilities. Standard features include push-button start, cloth seats, three-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Best and Worst Things

The 2018 CX-9 is one of the best-styled vehicles in the segment. Its Kodo or “soul of motion” design executes well, giving this vehicle a premium look straight away. On the other hand, interior room is tight and that immediately puts this model at a disadvantage in a highly competitive segment.

Right for…

Owners looking for an ideal blend of style, amenities and quality. This Mazda clearly punches above its segment without charging the higher price.

Wrong for…

Customers looking for other powertrain choices. The lone powertrain restricts Mazda, a manufacturer that long ago abandoned large engines to concentrate on four-cylinder choices, naturally aspirated and turbocharged. But the segment features V6 engines and Mazda’s lack of an advanced powertrain immediately scratches the CX-9 off of not a few purchase consideration lists.

The Bottom Line

Load this model down and the turbo four struggles. The Mazda CX-9 operates best as a five-passenger model with ample storage space. A handsome exterior, polished interior and advanced safety technologies are features we like with a competitive price only enhancing the CX-9’s appeal.