Car Reviews: 2012 Mazda CX9 Test Drive

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Our daughter liked its “cute, happy face.”

The family vehicle is an essential part of family travel. Much like the Griswolds, who piled into the Family Truckster for their trek to Wally World, many of us have wonderful (and not so wonderful) memories of family road trips.

A few weeks back we began the unpleasant task of car shopping, which was made even more unpleasant by the fact that our clunker Just. Didn’t. Make. It. But thanks to a few car manufacturers, we are not conducting our search for a new car completely car-less. Big thanks to Mazda Canada for helping me launch this section of Car Reviews with the CX-9 that looked so awesome in our driveway for a whole week.

And an even bigger thanks to Mr. Have Baby Will Travel for this comprehensive review – I think he should consider a new career as a car blogger!

2012 Mazda CX 9 Reviews & Test Drive:

-Exceptional interior room including 3rd row
-Sporty driving and styling belie the vehicle’s size
-Luxurious, solid built quality, and well appointed interior feels and performs like a luxury car

-Significant blind spots which require dependence on collision detection features
-Close maneuvering / parking in city core take some getting used to
-can seem thirsty

In the world of 3rd row crossovers and SUVS (aka I want something, anything, other than a mini-van) there are 3 distinct tiers: 1) 3rd row available but must be the approximate size of a LaLaLoopsy Doll to fit (if you have a daughter you definitely know who, or better “what” that is), 2) 3rd row is reasonably functional for normal-sized adults (not including me at 6’7” but I always get to drive), and 3) Full-fledged 3rd row but you need to sell one of your children to feed it gas. It appears to be a compromise for the most part, the larger the 3rd row and internal space the larger the vehicle and engine and fuel consumption so comparing vehicles with this feature can be complicated.

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Said Bub, “It’s a sweet wide.”

With that said, the CX-9 to me fits into the 2nd category and shares this class with heavy hitters like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, and Dodge Journey. All have V6 engines and available AWD, and all have comparable fuel economy (approximately 14L/ 100km).

Now I don’t want to bog down this review of the CX-9, a vehicle I thoroughly enjoyed, with too many caveats and explanations but it is important to understand where this vehicle fits in to the SUV food chain for numerous reasons. It is not a Honda CR-V or Ford Escape (economical and small) and it is also not a Toyota Sequoia (very roomy and enormous/thirsty). I find the CX-9 to be right in the middle, and as Goldilocks might agree, just right.

Let’s start with the most important feature of the car for me – internal space. At exactly 2 meters tall I have to try on vehicles and am always surprised that external size does not dictate internal capacity. The CX-9 had loads of room to spare for me in the front seat, and my seat in a comfortable position did not negate the space in the second row directly behind me. I could get by sitting in the 3rd row as well – a miracle really – and there was still sufficient room in the trunk area with 3rd row engaged. Headroom was great, as was the width of the 2nd row seats with 2 child seats installed.

How the vehicle drives and performance are next – and the CX-9 was rates very highly in this category as well. It feels like a luxury car, and is very pleasant to drive and the floaty boat-like feel of some larger SUVs is definitely absent. Power is always available on the highway, and it does not feel like you are driving what is a reasonably substantial vehicle.

To be honest I am a reasonably bad guys-guy and not much into cars and their various internal workings but I definitely have an opinion when it comes to styling and the CX-9 is a clear winner in this category (if not one of the most attractive vehicles on the road). It does not look like an urban assault vehicle, nor does it look like the legion of nondescript or what I call “meh” cars in this class. The CX-9 and it’s little brother the CX-7 are sharp looking wheels. And from what I have researched as far as professional and consumer reviews on reliability and recall issues the CX-9 scores very well.

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It matched our house!

So I loved how it drove, how it looks, and its functionality – a pretty good trifecta for a car that I am interested in. With that said the CX-9 does have some knocks, though few, that I think are worth mentioning. Clearly the sacrifice for styling was in visibility, with reasonably atrocious blind spots from the front roof beams (making keeping an eye on pedestrians at uncontrolled intersections tricky) and particularly over the driver’s side left shoulder. They do have a pretty nifty feature called “blind spot monitoring system” that detects objects in your blind spots with a cue light in the mirrors (and a chime if you have the signal light on towards that blind spot) but depending on that, or any system in lieu of actually being able to see if you are clear seems dubious to me.

Also, its styling does belie its size which is very nice until you are trying to park it in rush hour on a city street. I will say a car’s size is something you get used to over time in these tricky maneuvers but there is no hiding the CX-9 is a reasonably large automobile. And, as mentioned in my classification above, it has great fuel economy for its size and in comparison to others in its class but burning a tank of gas in a week of what I did not consider extensive driving and then filling said 75 litre tank with fuel costing $1.35 / L was a relatively enthusiasm-dampening experience. To be fair it is a big tank, and a big vehicle… but ouch.

What I loved the most about the CX-9 is it felt like a car that my family could grow with even though we may not need all of its space or capabilities right now. Certainly smaller vehicles in this class like the CR-V and RAV-4 may be easier to maneuver and lighter on the petrol but at an obvious penalty in space and, looking at the numbers, not a tremendous difference in MSRP price tags brand-new (base CX-9 and upgraded compact SUVs) which is actually quite shocking. What is also strange to me is that, unlike the Honda Pilot and the Dodge Journey (which seem to account for every second vehicle on the road) I see very few of these vehicles on the street day-to-day. I’ll admit I did not know about it either until I began my research for a family vehicle. I certainly do now.


**See what I mean about his new car blogging career? 😉 For me, I really enjoyed driving the CX-9. The kids’ car and booster seats were very easy to install, and I liked that there was still room in the back for the stroller and other odds and sods with the third row up. It is bigger than I am used to, but thanks to life-long city living, I could parallel park it – no prob.

A fully-loaded, brand new CX-9 is not in our budget, but based on how much we both liked it, a pre-owned one is a definite possibility for us.

Next up for review is the Toyota RAV-4, which both the MR. and I are enjoying bombing around in.**

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3 Responses to Car Reviews: 2012 Mazda CX9 Test Drive

  1. emily e at #

    We have a CX-9 and absolutely LOVE it. It handles great for something its size. It does feel luxurious without the luxury price. Plus it maintains its value well. We got a new one (sport model) in 09 and the bluebook value is still approximately what we paid.

  2. As with travel and pretty much every big purchase we make as a family, an endorsement from a fellow mom helps boost the profile of things we are considering. Thanks, Emily!

  3. Alexis at #

    Thanks for a very informative and engaging article. I have a CRV and a Ford Expedition plus we are a family of 6 and I can most definitely identify with the need to have a vehicle in between the two.

    For short jaunts in the city, the CRV is perfect. For long drives like to the summer capital of the Philippines, the Expedition is perfect if the whole gang is coming along. However, when driving in the city with the friends of my kids or when loading large parcels, the CRV is too small. The Expedition on the other hand is too big (and thirsty) for such trips.

    Ditto for out of town trips with just 4 people. While the CRV can handle this, the driving habits of Filipinos require a larger vehicle because it reduces the risk of getting bullied by other drivers, particularly bus and truck drivers.

    Personally I think my usage would be as follows:

    40 – CRV

    30 – CX9

    30 – Expedition

    This is how the hierarchy exists given my current and future needs…

    So I have placed the CX9 in my vision board and while I don’t know how it will happen, I fervently hope to see it parked in my garage anytime now 😉

    Thanks again and I hope you get your CX9 soon 🙂

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