2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Introduction
Mazda is at a crossroads. On the one hand, it has spent years building a reputation as a zoom-zoom performance brand, one supplying fun-to-drive character in everything it builds. On the other hand, the automaker’s divorce from Ford coupled with demand for more fuel-efficient vehicles has forced Mazda to develop its new SkyActiv engine technology to maximize fuel economy and meet future efficiency regulations. As a result, its current lineup is split between vehicles developed with the goal of achieving the former, and of achieving the latter.
The 2013 Mazda CX-9 is a 3-row, 7-passenger crossover suv meant to be fun to drive. It is updated this year, equipped with new styling, new features, and other minor upgrades. However, it would appear that Mazda has not addressed two of the family SUV’s more significant flaws with this 2013 re-boot, which makes it a tough sell to its primary audience: parents looking for value in a crossover.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Models and Prices
Mazda sells the 2013 CX-9 in three different levels of specification: Sport ($30,580), Touring ($33,025), and Grand Touring ($35,580). Choose all-wheel drive, and the price rises by $1,590.
In addition to standard equipment for the CX-9 Sport, this model can be upgraded with an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated cloth front seats, and heated side mirrors. Otherwise, it is necessary to select the CX-9 Touring for upgrades.
The Touring model adds leather seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, a 4-way power front passenger’s seat, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, and auto-off headlights. Safety-related upgrades include rear parking assist sensors, a reversing camera, and a blind-spot information system. An optional Touring Technology Package adds a power sunroof, a power tailgate, keyless passive entry with push-button staring, a Bose audio system, satellite radio, a navigation system, and fog lights.
Grand Touring models add 20-inch aluminum wheels, automatic bi-Xenon HID headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, and turn signal indicators embedded into the side mirror housings. Speaking of mirrors, the CX-9 is equipped with a “tilt-in-reverse” function for the side mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and memory for the mirror and driver’s seat settings. Additional upgrades with Grand Touring trim include a power tailgate, Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry & Start, a universal garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers, a center storage console for the rear center armrest, a alarm system, a cargo cover, Bordeaux interior trim, and chrome door handles.
A Grand Touring Technology package (power sunroof, Bose audio, navigation, satellite radio) is optional for the CX-9 GT. This model can also be upgraded with a rear-seat entertainment system, which includes the Bose sound system, satellite radio, navigation, and a DVD player with a rear 9-inch viewing screen and a 115-volt power plug complemented by gaming jacks. A Towing Prep Package is also optional for Grand Touring models with front-wheel drive.
For my zip code in Southern California, Mazda’s website adds an unexplained $425 surcharge for the 6-speed automatic transmission to every front-wheel-drive variant. Extra-charge Crystal White Paint is also optional for all models, along with cargo storage solutions, all-weather floor mats, cargo rack roof rails, remote engine starting, and more.
My Meteor Gray Mica CX-9 Grand Touring AWD had the GT Technology Package, and a sticker price of $39,605. As this review is written, Mazda is offering 0% financing for 60 months on the CX-9.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Design
- Redesigned front end
- Updated rear styling
- Grand Touring adds bi-Xenon headlights and LED running lights
- Grand Touring adds Satin Chrome 20-inch aluminum wheels
- Grand Touring adds Bordeaux interior trim
- Zeal Red and Meteor Gray paint colors
- Sand leather interior color
- Black leather gains suede trim and red contrast stitching
For 2013, the Mazda CX-9 is restyled from the windshield forward, now equipped with automaker’s “Kodo” design theme. As is typical of such a re-fresh, the new look works better on vehicles like the CX-5 and Mazda 6, which were designed from the ground up to reflect the tenets of this styling approach. Here, on the CX-9, it looks like the nose job that it is. Nevertheless, it represents an improvement over the previous model. We just wish the 20-inch aluminum wheels that come standard on the Grand Touring model were offered for the Touring variant.
Inside, the CX-9 looks much the same as it has since it debuted for the 2007 model year. Sand-colored leather is a new option for 2013, and when wrapped in Black leather, the seats have suede trim and red contrast stitching. Grand Touring models also feature vertical trim elements in a Bordeaux color that isn’t as off-putting as it might sound. A new 5.8-inch color touchscreen is also included for the 2013 CX-9, which looks smaller in size than what Mazda installed in previous examples of its family crossover.
I’ve got no quibble with the Mazda CX-9’s interior materials. The company provides soft padding where occupants are most likely to come into contact with the interior, and uses hard plastic in the spots that are rarely touched. The new suede material looks good on the door panels, but I’d rather it wasn’t on the seats, even if it does add visual contrast. I’m also glad to see that the CX-9 is equipped with a fabric mesh headliner. Overall, the Mazda CX-9 GT’s cabin looks convincingly upscale.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Comfort and Cargo
- Grand Touring adds standard power liftgate
When getting into the Mazda CX-9’s front seats, you’re going to want to watch your head. The SUV’s rakish windshield pillars and leading roofline pose a threat when entering and exiting the vehicle, especially if you like to sit tall behind the wheel, as I do.
Once settled in, occupants are likely to find the front seats comfortable, though the 4-way power front passenger’s seat in the Grand Touring model could use additional adjustment options. The driving position is excellent, and outward visibility is great. Mazda designed the 7-passenger CX-9 with large rear quarter windows that really help to open up the cabin and keep the third-row seat from serving as a total penalty box, and the third-row headrests collapse to improve visibility when the seat is raised by nobody is riding in it.
The CX-9’s second-row seats are mounted low, and are relatively flat, lacking thigh support for taller passengers. The seat slides forward and the seatback tilts forward to aid access to third-row seat, returning to a position that leaves just enough legroom in both rows, as long as adults don’t mind being severely cramped. Graceful entry and exit to and from the third-row seat is impossible. Also, note that the tracks in which the second-row seat slides are susceptible to the detritus that accompanies transfer of children, trapping food, small toys, writing utensils, etc.
The CX-9’s third-row seat is like most of its ilk: low, thin, flat, with no foot room, very little legroom, and head restraints that are flush with the rear window. However, due to the sloped rear glass, the CX-9 offers 17.2 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind the third-row seat than other crossovers, more than a midsize sedan if you stack to the glass and fill the bin under the cargo floor.
To maximize cargo room, fold the third-row seat, but note that this task cannot be accomplished without first sliding the second-row seats up a bit so that the large third-row headrests can clear them. So configured, the CX-9 swallows 48.3 cu.-ft. of your stuff. Fold the second-row seats in half, and this crossover SUV supplies a generous 100.7 cu.-ft. of maximum cargo volume.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Features and Controls
- Standard 5.8-inch multi-information display
- Standard HD Radio and USB port
- Standard Bluetooth with music streaming capability
- Standard SMS text messaging capability
- Grand Touring adds mirror and driver’s seat memory
In terms of the CX-9’s control layout, Mazda provides a symmetrical array of buttons and knobs that are clearly marked, logically grouped, and easy to use, and this crossover SUV’s gauges are a model of clarity. Surprisingly deep front cupholders are designed to secure beverages even when taking corners at an enthusiastic speed,
By contrast, the red digital displays remind me of the clock I had in high school back in the early 1980s, and the new 5.8-inch color touchscreen display used to access the CX-9’s stereo, navigation system, and connectivity features is too small for a vehicle this large. My test vehicle was delivered with point-of-interest icons displayed, and for the life of me, I could not figure out how to turn them off.
In the past, I have been critical of the CX-9’s lack of storage space, and this criticism continues for 2013. For a vehicle equipped with such a large center console, the space inside is conservative, as is the glove box, and as are the door panel bins. Grand Touring models have additional storage inside the rear center armrest.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Safety and Ratings
- Touring models add standard rear parking assist sensors
- Touring models add standard reversing camera
- Touring models add standard blind-spot information system
Unlike some car companies, Mazda makes it easier to access safety technology by making a reversing camera, rear parking assist sensors, and a blind-spot information system standard on the mid-level Touring model. If these inclusions mean we can’t get the nicer 20-inch wheels on this model, so be it. In addition, the CX-9 Grand Touring adds automatic headlights and rain-sensing wipers as standard equipment.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Crash-Test Ratings:
While it is admirable that Mazda offers useful safety features at an accessible price point, what would be better is if the automaker strengthened the family-sized SUV’s underlying structure so that it would perform better in crash tests conducted by the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Now in its seventh year of production without a structural redesign, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 receives a 4-star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, but frontal-impact crashworthiness rates only 3 stars, and the vehicle receives a 3-star rating for protection in the side-impact pole test.
In crash tests conducted by the IIHS, the 2013 CX-9 receives a “Good” rating for moderate overlap frontal-impact and side-impact protection. In the rear-impact injury prevention test, the SUV rates “Marginal,” as it does in the roof crush strength test.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- No changes for 2013
A 3.7-liter V-6 engine is standard in every 2013 CX-9, generating 273 horsepower at 6,350 rpm and 270 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,250 rpm. A 6-speed automatic transmission delivers the power to the Mazda’s front wheels, and includes Adaptive Shift Logic and a manual shift gate. Note that when operating the transmission in manual mode, the driver shifts down for an upshift and up for a downshift. That’s just like F1 racing, where acceleration and braking forces warrant such a counterintuitive pattern. In the real world, in a crossover SUV driven by people who don’t know what “F1” even means, it is simply nonsensical.
With front-wheel drive, the CX-9 is rated to return 17 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. An Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system is optional, and so equipped, the CX-9’s fuel economy estimates drop to 16 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. Our test vehicle had the AWD system, and it averaged 17.2 mpg over 300 miles of evenly split driving.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Driving Impressions
Among 3-row crossover SUVs, the Mazda CX-9 remains among the more athletic examples of the breed. The majority of the time, this vehicle feels quick, nimble, responsive, and communicative, which makes it fun to drive around town and on the highway.
In the event that you are an enthusiastic driver, like me, and you might be inclined to take a CX-9 out onto a favorite back road, like I did, you may very well come away from the experience somewhat disappointed. Appropriately, the CX-9’s stability control system is calibrated to activate early rather than late, and to its credit it operates unobtrusively the majority of the time. Nevertheless, it works overtime to keep the crossover well within its limits.
The P245/50R20 Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 tires don’t do much to improve handling, squealing and scrubbing the moment excess cornering velocity goes becomes a directive rather than a hint. In kinky S-curves, I also found it surprisingly easy to beat the CX-9 steering assist.
Slow it down a notch or two, and this big Mazda regains its composure. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension is perfectly tuned to provide an excellent ride combined with clear communication from the tire contact patches, and front and rear stabilizer bars contribute to impressive roll control in corners. The brake pedal feels great under the driver’s foot, the 4-wheel ventilated-disc brakes easy to modulate and displaying stamina under duress. The CX-9’s accurate and responsive steering feels terrific, too, if a little heavy in terms of low-speed effort.
As for the CX-9’s powertrain, the V-6 engine proves muscular enough but is very thirsty, while the transmission’s adaptive shift logic works brilliantly to deliver the right amount of power depending on how the driver is accelerating and whether the vehicle is traveling up or down a hill.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Final Thoughts
Mediocre crash-test scores and dismal fuel economy kneecap the stylish, comfortable, roomy, and nimble 2013 Mazda CX-9, a vehicle intended to serve families seeking safe transport for their children, a demographic typically operating under tight budgets that leave little extra to feed this beast. That leaves driving enthusiasts who highly value Mazda’s zoom-zoom driving dynamics to take advantage of the regularly available deals on this midsize crossover SUV.
As much as I genuinely like the aging Mazda CX-9, a complete redesign, as well as SkyActiv engine technology, can’t come soon enough.
2013 Mazda CX-9 Road Test and Review: Pros and Cons
- Entertaining driving dynamics
- Quality interior materials
- Key safety features standard on mid-grade model
- Lots of cargo space
- Mediocre crash protection
- Unimpressive gas mileage
- Tiny infotainment screen
- Watch your head when getting in
Mazda supplied the vehicle for this review
2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring photos by Christian Wardlaw