My parents have been minivan people since before I can remember. With seven of us fighting for valuable in-car real estate, the youngest three always sequestered to the back row, the minivan was nothing more than the obvious choice. After most of us grew up and flew the coop, it was hard for my mom to shake the minivan bug. In a somewhat painless transition, she replaced our long line of Ford Aerostars, Windstars and Toyota Siennas with the Mazda CX-9. As a full sized SUV that still had seating for seven, the CX-9 has always been one of the most pleasurable driving options in its segment, while still retaining many of the space conveniences of the minivan.
It’s too bad the last CX-9 model my folks purchased was the 2015, missing the big redesign in 2016. Since its complete visual transformation, the CX-9 has established itself as one of the best looking big crossovers on the road. Mazda hasn’t played it safe in any aspect. The shape is wind-swept and sleek. Edges flow in a sharp but natural way that won’t enrapture everyone, but will certainly turn heads wherever you go. What amounts to the sweet, butter-cream icing on the cake is that, more than just a pretty face, the new Mazda CX-9 is better behind the wheel than its ever been.
310 lb ft of torque comes via a 2.5L turbo engine, measured out through its I-Active all-wheel drive system. Such plentiful power delivers sharp acceleration off the line and easily propels the big CX-9 past slower traffic. Brakes are a perfect match, providing dependable stopping power with an easy to modulate pedal. In keeping with the Zoom-Zoom theme, equal attention is paid to the steering feel and chassis. Straight-line stability is great, but when you bend the CX-9 around a tight corner you’ll really appreciate the crisp response and way the steering effort builds gradually, communicating to the driver what’s going on under the four tires. With the additional help of front and rear stabilizing bars and G-vectoring control, the new CX-9 is much more nimble than its size should allow. A high driving position will result in some body roll, but it never feels overly loose, only poised and stable. It truly drives like a much smaller vehicle. Athletic, highly maneuverable, with enough power to satisfy most. Compared to other SUV’s and crossovers, the CX-9 is miles ahead most in the handling department.
My Signature edition is the top of the line model. Trailing behind you’ll find the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trims. Each ups the ante a little more, but my Signature model added exterior LED accent lighting, upscale interior trim, premium Nappa leather and the all wheel drive system. The ride is smooth and quiet with seats that are well sculpted and comfortable. Every piece and part of the interior feels thoughtfully designed and carefully integrated. For a non-luxury SUV, Mazda has done a remarkable job of making good use of each available inch and using quality materials and trim elements to create a space of unexpected luxury and refinement.
Much like what you’d find in higher-end German SUV counterparts, A dial-based infotainment system is used. It’s intuitive and easy to navigate around in, truly one of the better infotainment interfaces out there. New for 2018 are a collection of now standard safety features and driving aides. They range from front parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, power assisted steering and automatic high beams that were so quick to react to oncoming traffic on dark roads it had me laughing out loud. In the extreme Arizona heat, I noticed the AC had some trouble getting down to the lowest 60 degree temperature setting, but aside from that, the CX-9 has an interior full of tech and luxury treatment that only continues to improve with each new model year.
For considerably less money than many of its competitors, the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature edition delivers in big ways. It’s comfortable, controllable, relatively powerful, with a surprisingly polished interior and an exterior with arresting good looks. Toss in the fact that it’s funner to drive than many sedans even, while still providing seating for seven, and you’ll start to realize that while in life, you normally can’t have your cake and eat it too, with the new CX-9, you can at least get pretty close.
Price as tested: $48,060.00
By: Brandon Randall