2012 Mazda CX-9 SUV - FROM $29,725
The 2012 Mazda CX-9 offers everything the typical family-friendly crossover does, plus a dash of spice in the form of driving excitement.
What's New for 2012
The 2012 Mazda CX-9 is essentially unchanged.
Many people imagine that unwieldy handling is an inescapable part of large-SUV ownership, but the 2012 Mazda CX-9 proves this assumption is a false one. The Mazda brand has long been known for offering vehicles that deliver relatively sporty handling, and the CX-9 upholds this tradition, despite its hefty size.
In addition to this pleasant perk, the CX-9 comes with all the features you'd expect from a competitive large crossover. Build quality is impressive and there's adult-size seating in all three rows; you also get a respectable 101 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Cabin design is handsome and upscale, and the driver enjoys a comfortable, carlike seating position. The CX-9's only notable drawbacks are long rear doors that can be cumbersome in tight parking spots, and the ride stiffness that comes with the Grand Touring's 20-inch wheels.
If engaging handling isn't on your list of priorities, you'll want to look at some capable competitors. With its spacious third-row seat, the Ford Flex offers minivan-like capacity, along with distinctive styling and scores of high-tech features. GM's large crossovers, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia, bring a smoother ride and a bigger cargo area than the Mazda. And for something just a little bit smaller, the recently redesigned Dodge Durango and Ford Explorer are also worthy choices. However, if you want a three-row crossover that melds family-friendly functionality with a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience, you won't do better than the Mazda CX-9.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Mazda CX-9 is a large seven-passenger crossover SUV that's available in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.
The entry-level Sport model includes 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, full power accessories, remote keyless entry, a leather-wrapped tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, a trip computer, Bluetooth and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Stepping up to the Touring version adds automatic headlights, heated mirrors, leather upholstery (for the front- and second-row seats) and heated power front seats. The Grand Touring adds 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights, foglights, automatic wipers, keyless ignition/entry, driver-seat memory presets, a second-row armrest, wood interior accents, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a blind-spot warning system.
Available options are dependent on trim level and include a sunroof, a power tailgate, a navigation system with a rearview camera, a stand-alone rearview camera (with a display in the rearview mirror), remote ignition, roof rails and a rear-seat entertainment system. Also available is an upgraded 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio and an in-dash audio display.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2012 Mazda CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic with manual shift control is the only transmission available, but buyers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive. Properly equipped, the CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
In Edmunds testing, a front-wheel-drive CX-9 accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 7.4 seconds, while an AWD model required 8.5 seconds. Compared to competing models, these figures are just about average. Fuel economy is on par with that of other large crossovers at an EPA-estimated 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg in combined driving for front-wheel-drive models. The all-wheel-drive CX-9 drops to 16/22/19 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for every 2012 Mazda CX-9 includes antilock disc brakes, stability control with a rollover sensor, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active head restraints.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the CX-9 its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashworthiness, but a second-lowest score of "Marginal" for roof-strength integrity. In Edmunds brake testing, an AWD Grand Touring model came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is impressive for this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2012 Mazda CX-9 features a cabin that's stylish and elegant, with a look that's more high end than that of many others in this segment. A graceful waterfall motif on the dash and doors presents visual flair, and except for some low-rent plastics on the center stack, materials quality is respectable. The center console bin -- with its unique split-opening lid -- is quite capacious, but overall, there aren't a lot of storage opportunities inside the cabin.
Within the first two rows, there's ample room even for taller passengers, but headroom is tighter for those seated in the third row. The second-row seat reclines and slides fore and aft to deliver optimal comfort. Access to the third row comes easily thanks to large openings for the rear doors and the fold-and-slide second row; however, the larger doors can be troublesome in tight parking spaces. With the second and third rows folded flat, the CX-9 offers up 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Like many large crossovers, the 2012 Mazda CX-9 provides admirable road trip transportation, offering a comfortable ride on long journeys. It separates itself from the pack by driving like a smaller, more agile vehicle thanks to its precise, communicative steering and buttoned-down composure in corners. The compliant suspension soaks up bumps and potholes to provide a poised, comfortable ride, but we would steer buyers away from the 20-inch tires of the Grand Touring trim, which tend to make the ride somewhat choppy over the rough stuff.