2014 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring Road Test

Can a three-row crossover be fun to drive?

What It Is
A three-row crossover that is a dark horse in its segment.
Best Thing
Stable ride, responsive handling, and plenty of utility.
Worst Thing
Fuel economy could be better with all-wheel drive.
Snap Judgment
Fun and practical, the Mazda CX-9 stands out from the horde of other large crossovers.

As the saying goes, there will always be someone prettier, smarter, and more interesting than you. And if you are a three-row crossover, you would be talking about the Mazda CX-9. This vehicle boasts many advantages over its competitors in terms of utility and ride quality, and we consider it a top player in its segment.

The Mazda CX-9 seats seven passengers in legitimate comfort. Buyers will enjoy a number of advanced features on this model and we think it is a good fit for many large families. Still, there are a few factors that may limit its appeal for certain buyers. Read on to learn more about what we thought of the 2014 Mazda CX-9.

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What We Drove

For under $30,000, you can get a base CX-9, which is equipped with three-zone auto climate control, keyless entry, HD Radio, 5.8-inch touchscreen, and other advanced features. But we drove the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model, which ups the ante with LED daytime running lights, a power liftgate, and more.

In addition to this, our model came with a number of options that bumped up the price further. A $2,435 technology package added SiriusXM satellite radio, navigation, power sliding moonroof, and a Bose audio system. Along with roof rails, a rear bumper guard, and a standard destination fee, the total cost of our CX-9 came out to $40,340.

Safety features on the CX-9 include backup sensors, ABS with brake assist, blind spot monitoring, three-row side air curtains with rollover protection, and roll stability control. The CX-9 scored four stars in government tests, excelling in side crash tests with five stars. However, it only scored three stars in front crash tests.

The Commute

Unlike many three-row crossovers, driving the Mazda CX-9 doesn't make you feel like you're navigating a bus. The CX-9 features sporty handling for its size and accelerates smoothly on the road. Managing potholes and sudden stops with ease, the CX-9 delivers a confident and stable ride that many drivers will enjoy.

Whether commuting on the highway or on busy city streets, the CX-9 is as easy to navigate as it is to operate the interior controls. During busy drives to work, the last thing you want to do is try to learn a new infotainment system. Our Grand Touring model came with a simple, easy-to-use instrument cluster that doesn't require much effort to figure out. With just a few buttons on the instrument cluster, controlling the radio is simple, and drivers will enjoy SiriusXM.

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The Grocery Run

Perhaps the best feature of the CX-9 is its ample space for cargo and kids. When all the seats are up, there is room for just four large grocery bags, which is typical of large crossovers in the segment. But that space expands once you start folding seats down. Behind the second row is 48.3 cubic feet of space, and behind the first row, that number increases to over 100 cubic feet. Hands down, the CX-9 beats the competition when it comes to carrying cargo.

While it is typically difficult to park an SUV of this size, we didn't have any problems maneuvering in and out of tight spaces. A rearview camera helps in this regard, as does the car's relatively nimble nature. Still, there is no getting around the width of this vehicle, so be prepared to squeeze in and out of doors when exiting the vehicle in a busy parking lot.

The Weekend Fun

Living with the Mazda CX-9 during the week is slightly different than on the weekends. When taking the CX-9 out for long distances, you start to notice its lackluster fuel economy. It achieves 16/22 mpg city/highway, and while that's not unusual for its segment, it ranks slightly below the Toyota Highlander, Ford Explorer, and Nissan Pathfinder.

When loading up passengers for long weekend drives, the CX-9 has distinct advantages. The second row seats recline and slide individually to accommodate a number of seating scenarios. This makes it relatively easy to enter the third row. Surprisingly, even this back row is habitable with enough legroom for average adults. Short of buying a minivan, the CX-9 is about as practical as you can get in terms of space and utility.

The clean layout of the center console also makes the CX-9 popular among those in the front seats. A few simple buttons frame an easy-to-use touchscreen, making it easy to access the radio or other controls. TomTom powers Mazda's navigation system, which has simple menus and an intuitive layout. We also found that Mazda's one-shot address entry, accessed through voice commands, is accurate even with road noise. Thanks to this system, we were able to get to all our destinations quickly and safely.

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A responsive drive, spacious cabin, and easy-to-use technology are important in any vehicle, but this combination can be hard to come by in large crossovers. A dark horse in its segment, the Mazda CX-9 deserves a lot of credit because it is the rare model that achieves all of these qualities. Still, we wish the CX-9 achieved slightly better fuel economy to add to its practicality. Buyers looking for something reliable yet different in this segment may want to consider this model. But we would hesitate on getting the top trim level, as the only notable extra feature you gain is a power liftgate. Most buyers will be satisfied with the Touring model, which comes with leather upholstery, blind spot monitoring, and a rearview camera.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $40,340
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 16
EPA Highway: 22
EPA Combined: 18
Cargo Space: 100.7 cubic feet with all seats down, 4 grocery bags with all seats up
Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Good
Child Seat Fitment, Third Row: Good
Estimated Combined Range: 362 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Poor (Grand Touring)