2022 MAZDA CX-9 Signature Road Trip - Review by Thom Cannell and Steve Purdy +VIDEO
Two thumbs up!
By Thom Cannell and Steve Purdy
THE AUTO CHANEL
“While the average 7-seat CUV is out of touch with the road, the CX-9 is on a first name basis with it.” That’s Mazda’s opening salvo in the dystopian battle for SUV dominance. And while bold, both Steve and I share the opinion it’s not misguided nor inaccurate. You see, we traveled two nine-hour journeys in three days, from mid-Michigan to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for the #MAMA22Rally. Along the way we passed, braked, cruised and coffee-cupped into another historic travel story.
Yup. The MAMA Spring Rally at Road America is unarguably one of the best auto media events anywhere – scores of journalists, scores of cars and a couple days driving as many as we can on the race track, country roads, a couple challenging off-road courses and even an autocross track.
To get there we could drive through Chicago from our south-central Michigan base in a bit more than six hours. Or, we could take the scenic, relaxing route through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula taking a bout nine hours. We choose the latter and, being dedicated to our work, we use the trip for a product review as well. We’ve reviewed vehicles from many manufacturers on this very drive and are thankful to our friends at Mazda for loaning us this lovely large crossover - the CX-9
Mazda has positioned itself as an entry luxury brand, one with stellar interiors at reasonable price. It also retains what it used to call “Zoom-Zoom” ride and handling. I first noticed that at 75 (legal speed) how quiet it was. Then on my first stint at the wheel across Michigan Highway 2, 65 mph felt like 40 or less on that remarkably good road intermittently skimming along the north shore or Lake Michigan.
Mazda vehicles across the range have earned a reputation for crisp handling and better-than-most performance. Thoughtful driver-oriented engineering and design carries over from the Miata and former Mazdaspeed3 giving the rest of the Mazda lineup that sporty ambiance. They’ve also concentrated on getting the most out of existing technology as opposed to blazing trails which translates into a competent simplicity we find charming. Mazda was, though, the first less-than-high-end maker to incorporate a control knob to manage functions on the screen.
The CX-9 gets high praise in my estimation for not annoying me. Guys like Thom and me get into a lot of cars with which we must acclimate to controls and ergonomics. That can cause great consternation for those of us with short tempers. Not a problem with the CX9. We only had to go to the book once, and that was something so minor I forgot what it was.
The interior of the MSRP $47,210 (plus tax and destination) vehicle coddles and embraces all into comfortable seats with “Santos Rosewood interior trim, patterned aluminum on the dash and door handle bezels, and unique stitching on the steering wheel.” There’s also silver finished 20” wheels and tires, titanium metallic front grill with LED accent lights and dual exhaust. Our CX-9 arrived painted in Mazda’s signature Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, a worthy $595 option.
As top-of-the-line trim level, the Signature builds off the Touring Premium by adding a Bose 12-speaker premium audio system that I thought had weirdly tubby bass, a wireless phone charger, power moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, two third-row USB charging ports that we didn’t use, LED fog lights, and second-row retractable window sunshades.
Its Skyactive 2.5-liter, turbocharged, direct injected 250 horsepower motor isn’t going to head to LeMans, yet readily passes slower vehicles on two-lane highways. Though equipped with paddle shifters, we found little need for them. Our MPG hovered around 23 with lots of wide-open-throttle passing on two-lanes, not bad for a three-row.
Having just come off a 3,000-mile drive in one of the CX-9’s competitors costing a couple grand more and with about 10% more power, I can say this one was just as good. Interior boasts rich-looking materials in a well-organized, graceful, aesthetically pleasing (at least to me) design. Nanny functions and all expected electronic features are included, some of which need to lighten up a bit.
Handling, performance and driving dynamics did not disappoint. Like Thom, I find the paddle shifters mostly superfluous. They might be useful in the mountains or just for kicks but for passing on the two-lanes or dicing with heavy traffic on the freeway the Sport mode works great with better throttle response resulting from higher-rev shift algorithms. And, the turbo-enabled 320 lb-ft of torque makes for impressive thrust from higher rpms.
CX-9 is a tad less roomy inside than some so you’ll want to consider your hauling needs, but in terms of comfort and accommodations we have no complaints. Full-size people will not want to squeeze into the third row but kids and dogs will love it.
The Good: Comfortable Nappa leather seating, second row captain’s chairs, heated steering wheel and heated front and rear seats, reasonably useful 3rd row (primarily for children pre-teens), excellent design and style, decent fuel economy.
Needs Improvement: Older-generation Navigation system is far less adept or simple as your smart phone and, without perfect command structure, frustrating. Annoying Driver Attention Alert kept beeping at either driver, with both hands on wheel and eyes ahead or scanning highway (Mazda isn’t the only manufacturer guilty of this oddity).
Cool Hacks: Rotary control for Nav/Sound/HVAC wasn’t difficult. Latest IIHS CX-9 scores “good” and top score in new, tougher side impact test.
Nearly every automaker is playing in the 3-row crossover space taking customers away from traditional large SUVs, minivans, smaller crossovers and station wagons. If you need that kind of space and are shopping in this segment of the market, you’ll want to have the CX-9 on your list.