The Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring Is the Anti-SUV Crossover of Choice

Among a sea of soccer moms and their Suburbans, this SUV delivers standout style.

byErica Lourd| UPDATED Apr 2, 2018 12:58 PM
The Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring Is the Anti-SUV Crossover of Choice

Welcome to Critic's Notebook, a quick and off-the-cuff car review consisting of impressions, jottings, and marginalia regarding whatever The Drive writers happen to be driving. Today's edition: the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.

Mazda’s style is unique, there's no denying it. With the company's most recent design refresh, the Japanese carmaker went bold; with that large grille and huge Mazda emblem, every vehicle’s front end now looks like a beak. That piercing angry bird look certainly draws eyes, and all things considered, it makes for a fairly attractive car. And with every vehicle in the line up sharing that aesthetic, you'll never miss out on a stylish ride, even if you opt for one of the company's crossovers. Aren’t SUVs supposed to be large, bulky, and anything but a sight for sore eyes? Apparently not to Mazda. 

Which brings us to the CX-9, Mazda’s three-row, seven-seater SUV. The Grand Touring I drove over a weekend dazzled in a bright flashy red, a shade called Soul Red Crystal Metallic that's the only paint on the the list to cost an extra $595. Right off the bat, the CX-9 makes big look cool, with aggressive lines and smooth, sloping curves. The lines are rather station wagon-like—which admittedly causes passengers in the third row to lose out on a bit of headroom, but it gives the roof a nice shape. It’s a looker, all right...but in a class packed with competitors like the Ford Explorer and the Chevrolet Traverse, how does it compare all around to its foes? The Drive took this CX-9 on a weekend road trip to Connecticut to find out.

The CX-9 Grille, Mazda

The Pros:

  • I wasn't expecting the wave of torque the first time I stepped on the gas to merge onto the highway (which is definitely a blessing on Connecticut's Merritt Parkway,  with its short on-ramps). When I think huge crossover or SUV, I assume, hey, you put your foot to the floor, it considers accelerating for a while, then finally it goes. The CX-9 does not fit into this stereotype—the power is immediate.
  • As long as you are less than six feet tall, every row is comfortable. Someone Will Sabel Courtney's height could happily sit in the first two, but if he wanted to sit in the third row, it couldn’t be for a long journey. Plus, the second row can be adjusted backwards and forwards if nobody is sitting in the third row (or if you don't like the passenger behind you).
  • I love the front and rear parking sensors so much, especially for street-parking this big SUV. As a driver used to small four-door sedans, it was initially a little daunting to wrap my mind around parallel-parking a 199-inch-long car. However, I was able to swing close to the curb and between two cars without issue. The transition between both the front and rear cameras is instant, and the beep-beep-beep warnings work well.
Mean looking tail light, Mazda

The Cons:

  • Personally, I'm not a fan of the Mazda infotainment setup. It all looks very pretty, but once you dive into the settings, it doesn't seem very intuitive. For example, it took a little too long just to figure out how to adjust the head-up display; it was hidden under Settings and then under AD Display, which is a term I never would think to look for, even when going through the physical manual. 
  • The moonroof is itty-bitty. When dealing with a car of this physical magnitude, it really should be panoramic. Maybe I have a large moonroof problem, but who doesn’t like to see the sky?
  • I drove almost constantly in wet conditions, and no matter how I adjusted the wiper speed, the automatic rain sensor would take over with a mind of its own. Indeed, not just take over, but it would switch to medium/high speed even in the slightest bit of rain. I like the idea of a rain sensor, but this one seemed hypersensitive—and it felt silly to have the wipers going as fast as they were when it was barely raining.
  • If all three rows are being used, trunk space isn't great; there's only 14 cubic feet back behind the last row of seats. At least the seats are extremely easy to fold flat if you need more room. 

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring, Ranked:

Performance: 4/5

Comfort: 4/5

Luxury: 3/5

Hauling people: 5/5

Hauling stuff: 3/5

Curb appeal: 4/5

“Wow” factor: 3/5

Overall: 4/5


The Bottom Line:

This is the soccer mom-mobile for soccer moms that don’t want to own up to being soccer moms. And not just that, but also want some get up and go as they take their kids to practice. The CX-9 is perfect for those who need lots of the space, but don’t want to lose the sexy and the power in the process. When your budget isn’t especially generous but the load of people you need to carry is significant, the CX-9 is a pretty good choice. 

As a single 20-something living in New York City, though, this three-row Mazda is far too large for my particular needs. The one-rung-down CX-5 is probably a better choice for someone in my shoes—if not the even-smaller CX-3. The CX-9 is 199 inches long, compared to the CX-5's 179 and the CX-3's 168; it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to be hauling around an extra 30 inches, even if it's part of a fun-to-drive SUV. And hey, don't forget—no matter which Mazda crossover you chose, it's going to be damn good-looking. 

The 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring, By the Numbers:

Base Price (Price as Tested): $42,930 ($43,905)

Powertrain: 2.5-liter turbocharged inline-four, 250 horsepower, 310 pound-feet of torque; six-speed automatic; all-wheel-drive

Fuel Economy: 22 city, 28 highway

Brightness of the red paint: Blinding