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2018 Mazda CX-9

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 8/28/2018 Jared Gall

Appreciating the Mazda CX-9 is as easy as turning on the radio or adjusting the air conditioning. Every knob moves with calibrated precision that imparts a feeling of quality. If inconsequential pieces like these benefit from tangibly thoughtful engineering, just imagine the care that went into the larger systems.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it-evidence of the Mazda’s engineering depth abounds. The CX-9’s engine testifies to how the company empowers its engineers to make smart decisions, and not just cost-effective ones. It’s unique among modern turbo fours for its extreme prioritization of low-end torque, which better matches the engine’s output curve to the usage patterns of most crossover buyers. The Traverse bettered the CX-9 in our observed fuel economy, but that’s partly because the Traverse was no fun whatsoever on our rally runs, so we didn’t push it. The CX-9 didn’t allow as much play as the Ascent did before stability control intervened, but we still figured out how to achieve small victories over its nannies. As long as we held a steering input, it would allow mild rotation to continue. With that in mind, we took some pretty weird lines through corners, turning in later and letting excess rotation compensate, using mild throttle inputs to tweak our heading. But the moment we countersteered, the portcullis came crashing down and the fun stopped immediately.

a motorcycle parked on top of a car: Yes, the CX-9 wins another one. Yes, we know that it is one of the smallest SUVs in its class. And, yes, we know some don’t think dynamics matter in three-row SUVs. However, we are not yet sick of all the winning.© Marc Urbano - Car and Driver Yes, the CX-9 wins another one. Yes, we know that it is one of the smallest SUVs in its class. And, yes, we know some don’t think dynamics matter in three-row SUVs. However, we are not yet sick of all the winning.

Though the Chevy’s Continental tires eked out a 0.01-g victory in absolute grip on pavement, the CX-9 dominated the slalom, in part because of G-Vectoring Control’s assist on turn-in. And for family vehicles, competent limit handling is a safety feature. Say you’ve got the kids and all your worldly belongings loaded up, and you’re swerving through the debris field from an apocalyptic swarm of super tornadoes. The CX-9 will get your family farther from the threat. It’ll also more competently avoid your neighbors’ cat, for which they’ll thank you, or a deer, for which you’ll thank you.

Of course, the Mazda’s big downside is that, once you reach safety, you’ll be starting over with less, as it doesn’t fit as much stuff inside. It reminds us of that Seinfeld stand-up bit about airplanes. “It’s a whole tiny world on the airplane . . . tiny table there, tiny computer, everyone’s in the little cramped seat, tiny food, tiny utensils . . . ” Mazda’s version is tiny doors, a tiny second row, cramped seats, and a tiny passageway to the tiny third row. The CX-9 is best suited for families that are small, either in stature or in head count.

So what’s it doing in first place? Intangibles like driver engagement don’t matter in a family vehicle, you say? But if all that mattered were practicality, these would all be minivans. That they are not says buyers pick and choose their priorities. So do we. We choose to prioritize quality and engagement. We choose the Mazda.

a screenshot of a cell phone© Car and Drivera car parked on the side of a road: The Mazda CX-9 finished first in our mid-size crossover comparison.© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc The Mazda CX-9 finished first in our mid-size crossover comparison.
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