Supersize my CX-5. Mazda’s CX-5 is a fine SUV, but it’s only a five-seater. If you like its style but need more space, the CX-9 is here to help. Non-Mazda aficionados would be hard-pushed to tell the two models apart at a glance, especially from the front. That’s no bad thing, though. The CX-9 has an outsize shield grille, compact but assertive headlamps, and a curvy exterior that catches the light well. Mazda’s Soul Crystal Red paint looks stunning but it’s notorious for chipping; other shades may be a safer bet.

Inside, there’s the same sense of a CX-5 that’s been slightly enlarged. Third-row accommodation is modest, and it’s not the easiest to reach, but lightly colored leather helps to improve the ambiance. With the back row of seats upright, there are 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space, increasing to 38 and 71 cubes by the time only the front seats are left standing.

A quality cabin. Space may not be as generous in the CX-9 as in rivals like the Subaru Ascent, but there’s a quality and use of materials here that eclipses anything else at this price point. The cabin is beautifully assembled using high-grade materials, with a minimalist design ethos that allows those materials to shine. Standard leather includes heated front seats, while a chunky three-spoke steering wheel falls nicely to the hand from the powered driver’s seat. Second-row occupants are pampered in most models with comfy captain’s chairs flanking a large and generously appointed center console. Our only bone of contention involves the infotainment system, which is controlled by a rotary dial rather than the usual touchscreen. Play about with it in the dealership to ensure you can live with it, though from personal experience, it does become more intuitive with regular use.

The CX-9 range starts with the $40,000 Sport, packing a power tailgate, a sunroof, and wireless device charging alongside a 10.3-inch infotainment screen. A couple of thousand dollars extra brings Touring Plus’s ventilated seats and bigger wheels, while the $50,000 Signature includes everything from a Bose stereo to Nappa leather and wooden dash trim. In this guise, the cabin is a particularly lovely place to sit, and it can teach more expensive vehicles a thing or two about comfort.

2023 Mazda CX-9 Interior

Excellent road manners. Comfort is also a term that applies to the CX-9’s road manners. Larger wheels inevitably have a detrimental effect on ride quality, but the car remains composed and pliant. More of a surprise is the amount of driving enjoyment accessible through the chunky steering wheel – there’s plenty of heft and a good sense of accuracy, while standard AWD means grip is exceptional. Even traditional SUV issues like crosswinds are successfully mitigated.

Although the CX-9’s engines are fine in themselves, they don’t really allow the chassis to shine as it otherwise might. Performance is adequate rather than impressive, with the lower-output 227 hp engine further hamstrung by a six-speed automatic transmission which is smooth but often lacks the optimal ratio for a particular situation. If you’re going to be routinely carrying half a dozen passengers, the more potent 250-hp version of the 2.5-liter turbocharged gas engine is highly recommended. It does require premium fuel, and a combined fuel economy of 23 MPG is nothing to write home about.

Impressive safety. You know you’re in good hands when America’s two safety agencies award a vehicle their top marks. The CX-9 achieves this outcome, and also comes stacked with a standard safety kit. Every model benefits from adaptive cruise and lane control, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking. If it wasn’t for disappointing over-the-shoulder vision, it’d be even more impressive. Signature models are the only ones to receive a surround-view camera system.

Final thoughts. The large SUV sector is fiercely congested, with no standout models. In a market of fine margins, the CX-9 falls short in a few areas, but not by much. Third-row space isn’t as generous as it is in some rivals, the infotainment system is an acquired taste, the fuel economy is sadly typical in this sector, and performance in either of the 2.5-liter engine’s states of tune is underwhelming.

After that, it’s good news all the way. The CX-9 delivers unexpected driving pleasure thanks to accurate steering and impressive road-holding, all allied to standard AWD. The front two rows of seats are pleasurable places to sit, surrounded by tactile materials and attractive design elements. If you choose the right color for those comfortable leather seats, you and your passengers will enjoy a bright and airy cabin, safe in the knowledge everyone will be well-protected should an accident occur. Add in reasonable pricing, and this becomes an easy car to recommend, provided you don’t regularly need to transport half a dozen large passengers.

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