CX-9 moves people ... literally, if not emotionally
"With the CX-9 you get a vehicle that attempts to fulfill the minivan role but falls way short on several fronts."
The Mazda CX-9 is one of those vehicles that arose out of an era where minivan was a bad word and a company prospered or failed depending on what its people movers looked like.
For the record - and this should come as no surprise because we’ve said it so many times – minivan are still probably the best way to move a family around, whether you have to take the nuclear family and the grandparents to the restaurant, or the kids and some friends to the movies or soccer practice. And with recent advancements, it’s also easy to break the seating array apart and haul a bunch of home-improvement stuff home from the garden centre or lumber yard.
And, having those garage-like doors on both sides of the vehicle helps get entities (animated or inanimate) in and out fairly easy regardless of how much clearance you have to the sides.
However, slap anything except a traditional hinged door on the side of the vehicle and you may as well slap the potential buyer insultingly in the face.
And that’s too bad because with the CX-9 you get a vehicle that attempts to fulfill the minivan role but falls way short on several fronts (except maybe being able to tackle off-road trails and massive snow dumps more effectively due to its higher ground clearance).
The high floor makes it harder to step into – not difficult, mind you, but harder than you would in say the Mazda MPV minivan (the vehicle replaced by the CX-9 in 2006). Those rear doors are pretty massive, too, making it more difficult to slip into the middle row of seats in today’s tight parking lot spaces, and nigh on impossible to execute the turn-lunge-slide into the rear seats.
The third row is ok for kids and unacceptable for full-sized adults due to practically necessitating hugging knees to chest (the cushions pretty well sit right on the floor). The middle seats are adjustable fore/aft, meaning that shin room is not really problematic, but your knees are still up around your chest.
Speaking of the middle bench – it’s split 40/20/40, meaning far more comfortable seats for outboard passengers than you find in most vehicles, but a pretty useless centre position for all but a very small child or a pull-down armrest. To expand cargo room, the middle seats do not go down flat, though the rear row does. There’s also the added versatility of underfloor storage behind the third row (under decent trunk space).
Loaded up, the CX-9 doesn’t handle its weight too well. The 3.7-litre V6 does ok with 273 hp when it’s empty, getting off the line decently and returning non-dramatic passing manoeuvres, but that expands exponentially once you move in several hundred pounds of human bodies. The six-speed automatic is a little too leisurely in its shifting to counteract that, though it’s main function is basically to improve fuel economy and on that front it delivers nicely – averaging 12.3 litres per 100 km on its 800-km stay with us. That isn’t great, as far as economy goes, but for a vehicle this bulky it isn’t bad (take a look at a minivan’s fuel consumption ... sheesh!).
And the other downside to CX-9 is its looks. It looks old. But that too looks to be corrected for the 2013 model year, when a new look CX-9 (with a front end more like the new Mazda6 sedan) comes to market (it’s already debuted at the Australian International Auto Show in Sydney).
And though that will go a long way toward getting more people interested in the large wagon, it won’t really move much toward the versatility and utility of a minivan.
2012 Mazda CX-9
Trim level: GT
Price as tested: $49,940
Options on test vehicle: Navigation system ($2,675); rear entertainment system ($1,520).
Configuration: front engine/ all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.7L V6/6-spd. auto. with sequential shift
Power/torque: 273 hp/ 270 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): Regular (76L)
Fuel economy ratings: 12.8 L/100km city; 9.0 L/100km hwy
Observed economy: 12.3 L/100km over 800 km.
Warranties: 3 years/ 80,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Chevrolet Traverse; Ford Flex; Honda Pilot
Strengths: ground clearance; versatility;
Weaknesses: hard to access interior in tight parking areas; old looking