Mazda has refreshed its large crossover, the CX-9, for 2013, essentially giving the family hauler a new front end that carries the "Kodo" design philosophy seen in the rest of the automaker's lineup, especially the all-new Mazda 6 sedan.
Appearance: We really loved the new design on the Mazda 6, and on the CX-9 the update mostly does a good job of modernizing the starting-to-age platform. Slender chrome trim sets off the elegant grille, which extends into new wraparound headlights. It's simple and tasteful. (Only in profile does the new front end look a bit ungainly.) The fenders also have slight flares over the wheels that contribute to the sleek look. Our tester had the 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels and chrome dual exhaust, which stood out nicely against the Meteor Gray paint.
Performance: The 3.7-liter V-6 puts out 273 horsepower, which is more than adequate for the crossover, which has great throttle response. The 6-speed automatic transmission isn't new, but it is a decent gearbox. The best part of the CX-9's performance is the ride, which doesn't seem to fit a large crossover. It's fun to drive, has precise steering and corners like a smaller SUV or even a sedan. Our tester had front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is available. The 17/24 mpg is about what you would expect for a 4,300-pound vehicle, but we hope there will be a version with Mazda's Skyactiv technology that betters this figure. The towing capacity is 3,500 pounds with the towing package.
Interior: Considering that our tester had the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim, we found its black-on-black interior a bit dull in what is otherwise a stylish cabin that features well-bolstered leather-trimmed seats and an attractive center console. We especially liked that the console trim has a contemporary look. There is a lot of plastic in the cabin, but it's generally of good quality with a lot of soft-touch materials. The rear doors open wide to accommodate entry to the third row, which really is best for kids. Both the second- and third-row seats fold. The third row folds with the pull of straps: one to fold down the headrest and another to drop the back. With both rows folded, there is slightly more than 100 cubic feet of cargo space. We also found the touchscreen too small (5.8 inches), especially for a large crossover. The CX-9 does have a lot of standard tech features, such as Bluetooth, USB connection, Pandora and text-message audio delivery. Our tester also had the TomTom navigation system with rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring (a must, we think) and rear backup sensors. A power rear hatch is available.
Our 3 favorites
Ride: Mazda really takes the fun factor seriously, even in family vehicles.
Refresh: The new grille is an improvement across the line.
Cabin: I like the stylish design despite the lack of color contrast.
New face: Classy and elegant with the chrome trim. Much more mature.
Door controls: Window and mirror buttons are angled and easier to use.
Easy folding: The back seats fold down easily. And the power lift gate is helpful.
The bottom line: The CX-9 may not spring readily to mind when you are considering a large family vehicle but it is the best of both worlds: lots of cargo and passenger space, yet agile and fun to drive.