Mazda CX-9 doesn’t look or handle like a typical three-row SUV

SHARE Mazda CX-9 doesn’t look or handle like a typical three-row SUV

The 2017 Mazda CX-9 is a carryover from the 2016 redesign — that’s mostly good and a little bad. I learned this during my latest turn behind the wheel of a 2017 CX-9 Grand Touring AWD model.

The CX-9 doesn’t look like a typical three-row mid-size SUV. The “double bump” profile and very fast roof line give the CX-9 a very slim and athletic look. The nose rides high and proud with a handsome grille flanked by LED lights even on lower trim models. The wide stance, attractive 20-inch alloy wheels and subtle roof spoiler all combine to give the CX-9 an expensive look.

Under the hood, the CX-9 employs a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A V-6 is available in most of the CX-9’s competitors, but the CX-9’s “puffed” 2.5-liter four-cylinder puts up a good fight with 310 pound-feet of torque on regular unleaded or premium fuel. The power comes on quickly (mostly), and the six-speed automatic is a slick unit, but there should be paddle shifters on this “zoom, zoom” SUV and better fuel economy.

On the inside, the CX-9 mimics Mazda sedans with its low dash and aluminum accents. Some of the switchgear is out of place; the real disappointment is the infotainment system. The slim, bifocal dash-top info screen that fit in the Miata and was OK in the CX-5 just looks flimsy and inexpensive in the $40,000-plus Grand Touring model. Making it worse is that the system requires too much attention and knob work.

Standard goodies include power windows, locks and mirrors; Bluetooth audio streaming (no CD player); push-button start; and a rear-view camera. The Grand Touring trim steps up a few levels and includes three-zone climate control, power-adjustable heated and leather-covered seats, more USB inputs, proximity key, moon roof, adaptive cruise control and Bose speakers.

The CX-9 is advertised as a three-row seven-seater, but it’s close quarters. The rear headroom is extremely low, and to get back to the third row is difficult (and when you do, it’s very tight). Cargo space measures 14.4 cubic feet with the third row up and 38.2 cubic feet with second and third rows folded.

Mazda has always stressed driving excitement (or “zoom, zoom,” as they advertise it). The turbo and some engine/driveline tuning give the CX-9 V-6-like power and low-end torque. Ultimately, I felt it was not quite as zippy as its bigger-engine rivals, but according to Mazda, the 2017 CX-9 is faster from 0 to 60 than current V-6 versions of Pathfinder and Highlander. The steering is heavy and provides some road feel, but I would prefer a better connection. The CX-9 uses a tried-and-true front-strut and rear-multilink design that provides a well-dampened ride. The optional 20-inch alloy wheels put down a wide contact patch but make the ride too firm. Even with these vices, the CX-9 still handles better than competitive models.

All-wheel drive is optional, with up to 50 percent of engine power diverted to the rear wheels when a loss of traction occurs. But the CX-9 is not an off-roader, so banish thoughts of the Rubicon trail to your dreams.

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