Driver Digs the Drive and Riders Relish the Ride in 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring

The Mazda CX-9, on the return to Orange County from Arizona. All photos by Matt Coker

A recent turnaround trip to the Phoenix area was made quickly, comfortably and classily (?) by a “Soul Red Crystal Metallic” Mazda CX-9.

The all-wheel-drive ride arrived on my doorstep (or driveway, to be more precise) with a heap of praise. Car and Driver lists it among the 2018 10Best Trucks and SUVs, and U.S. News & World Report has the CX-9 tied at No. 6 (with the Nissan Murano) in its ’18 rankings of the Best Midsize SUVs.

Both sources mention great handling and superior steering, which is no surprise given it’s a Mazda, which puts all its intellectual and engineering eggs into the driving-experience basket. (Sorry … Easter hangover.)

The driving excitement hit me before I backed out of my doorstep, I mean, driveway. The sound of the 227-horsepower, 2.5-liter turbo engine just screams “MAZDA!” with no pings, huffs or puffs, just the constant, soothing hum of a (sorry) well-oiled machine. It immediately instills a feeling of good driving times ahead.

Frankly, that sound and superior performance are things I take for granted from the car maker, but that doesn’t mean you should if they are important to you while shopping for a new ride. 

Two of the three rows of leather-trimmed seats in the CX-9 are shown.

But there is more to the CX-9, which is deceptively roomy on the inside. There were three rows of sand-colored, leather-trimmed seats in my all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model, meaning seven adults could ride comfortably.

My own driver’s seat featured two-position memory and power adjusting capabilities, including a built-in lumbar pad, which I kept high and tight like my mom jeans. My seat and the front passenger’s could also be heated, as could the powered outside mirrors and leather-wrapped steering wheel (on a tilt and telescopic column). 

What I appreciated most on the Arizona trip was on that steering wheel: controls for the cruise control, which uses radar to judge the relative distance to the vehicle ahead of you to automatically control your speed. I wonder if, while in this mode, I passed any driverless vehicles being tested on the open ‘Zona roads?

It’s a great thing to have on a two-lane highway filled with some wide-open stretches and others that grind to a near halt when semis pass one another. Indeed, Mazda spoiled me as I found myself chewing out a subsequent Ride Me subject that had the old fashioned cruise control for a trip up and down the 5 to the Bay Area.


Audio, phone and cruise can be controlled on the CX-9’s steering wheel.

What my passengers in the back appreciated most during the desert rides to and from Phoenix were the one-touch, power-sliding glass moonroof and rear windows being tinted, as well as the latter having built-in sunshades.

Again, I hate to harp on other vehicles tested in this space, but for one that made the exact same trip a week after the CX-9, we had to buy static-cling sunshades at a truck stop. It’s better not to have to even think of such things. 

The need for more shade was due to one of those backseat passengers being a baby, so besides comfort we required a large dollop of vehicle safety. There are child-proof rear door locks and child-safety-seat anchors and upper tether anchors for the second-row, 60/40 split fold-down seats, which tilt and slide to get access to the 50/50 split fold-down third-row seats.

Also included are side impact door beams and air curtains with rollover protection, front side-impact air bags and front air bags with seat belt-use, passenger-weight sensors. Three-point seat belts for all seating positions are available as well as front seat-belt pretensioners with force limiters.

Other safety features include a rearview camera, rear backup sensors, front parking sensors, intermittent rear wiper/washer, hill launch assist, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, roll stability control and advanced blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.

There is a decent amount of cargo space, even when all three rows of seats are upright.

The actual driving system includes smart brake support, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, and Dynamic Stability Control with traction control and trailer stability assist. There are also systems to monitor the pressure of your tires and to immobilize the engine if someone is trying to steal your CX-9.

The Grand Touring model includes keyless entry, and from the same remote you can open your fuel door. There is push button starting, power windows with one-touch up and down, power door locks with speed sensing auto locking and three-zone automatic climate control with pollen filter.

The front door pockets and dual visor vanity mirrors are illuminated, and the first two rows of seat pockets fit water bottles. There are 12-volt power outlets in the front and in the cargo area and two USB ports in the storage area inside the front center console armrest. The second row also has an armrest with integrated cup holders, storage and two more USB inputs. Those riders face more pockets on the front seatbacks. 

For an SUV at this price point, there is an impressive amount of lighting. Fog lights, daytime running lights, combination taillights, front door courtesy lamps, turn signal lamps integrated into the power-side mirrors, accent lighting for the shifter, door pockets, door pulls, window/door switches and, of course, the headlights with auto on/off and auto height control are all LED.

The Mazda Connect infotainment system boasts multifunction commander control, voice command capability and data from radio broadcasts and the Mazda Navigation System displayed on the eight-inch color screen. 

Aha, Stitcher and Pandora Internet radio can be integrated into the Bose Centerpoint2 Surround Sound audio system with AudioPilot and 12 speakers and an auxiliary audio input jack. There is also AM/FM/HD radio built in, and CX-9 buyers get a four-month SiriusXM Satellite Radio trial subscription. If you use Bluetooth to pair your cellphone with the audio system, you can also enable Mazda’s automatic emergency notification feature that will send help should you get in an accident.

The grill makes it appear the CX-9 is smiling at you.

By the way, every feature that has been mentioned so far in this Ride Me is standard on the CX-9 Grand Touring. That also includes the rear liftgate, which is not only powered but has programmable height adjustment. It opens up to a cargo area with storage boxes and under floor storage.

Other standard features include: dual exhaust outlets; carpeted floor mats; aluminum interior trim; a leather-wrapped shift knob; body-color rear roof spoiler; aluminum roof rails in satin chrome finish; chrome front, side and rear lower body molding; rear window defogger with a timer; rain-sensing, variable-intermittent windshield wipers with a de-icer; front overhead console with sunglass holder; and auto dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink if you want to program your garage door opener.

The four-cylinder, 16-valve turbo engine is EPA rated to get 26 miles to a gallon of gas on the highway, 20 in the city and 23 combined. Annual fuel costs are estimated at $1,550. (The Grand Touring front-wheel drive version gets a couple miles better mpg.)

Like all 2018 Mazda vehicles, the CX-9 comes with a three-year, 36,000-mile (whichever comes first) bumper-to-bumper warranty and roadside assistance, and five years/60,000 miles on the powertrain.

For all that, my test ride came in with a $42,270 manufacturer’s suggested retail price, which was pushed up to $43,905 because of an optional cargo mat, that Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint job and delivery, processing and handling fees.

Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.

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