2012 Mazda CX-9 GT
2012 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2007 Mazda CX-9
Test Drive: 2008 Mazda CX-9 GT
Test Drive: 2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
Inside Story: 2010 Mazda CX-9 GT

Manufacturer’s web site
Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Gallery:
2012 Mazda CX-9

There is no shortage of vehicles out there promising the functionality of a minivan in a more marketable package. The Mazda CX-9 is one of them. Seating for seven, crossover styling, and Mazda driving dynamics instead of the functional but dull MPV minivan that it replaced; it’s a proposition that I can’t argue with. Unfortunately, it comes at the expense of a low cost of entry and fuel efficiency. Convenient then, that Mazda has a true “mini”-van in its Mazda5, with seating for six, pricing that starts in the low 20s, and fuel efficiency to rival many compacts. But you’ll have months to hear about what I think of the Mazda5 during our Long-Term Test of a Mazda5 GS, so let’s get back to Mazda’s large family hauler, the CX-9.

Right from its launch in 2007, Mazda got the CX-9 styling right. It has all the design cues of Mazda SUVs at the time, with a swoopy profile and angled headlights, with the cheerful grille opening emphasized for the 2012 facelift. Its curvy styling also masks its 5,101-mm length, longer than a Honda Pilot (4,861 mm) or Ford Explorer (5,006), but short of the Chevrolet Traverse (5,207 mm).

2012 Mazda CX-9 GT
2012 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

These are all long, cumbersome vehicles, and the CX-9 is no exception, but it is redeemed by surprisingly rewarding and accurate steering, blind spot monitoring, and backup cameras to aid in various driving situations. The CX-9 also features dynamic and rollover stability control systems, the former to allow greater driving capability and the latter to reduce the risk of rollover. Further safety equipment includes active head restraints for front passengers, front, side, and curtain airbags, ABS and brakeforce distribution, LATCH anchors on second row seats (the sliding seats also made securing the tether on the seatback easy). While it achieved 5 Stars in most categories from the older NHTSA test, and Good ratings for front and side impact tests, it didn’t earn a Top Safety Pick.

Between the dynamic stability control, 20-inch wheels that are part of the GT package, and traditional hydraulic steering, this big crossover handles like a big, sporty crossover. Powering all four wheels (only the base CX-9 GS is front-wheel drive) is a 3.7L V6 making 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. The automatic transmission features six gears and a sport mode with manual gear selection.

2012 Mazda CX-9 GT
2012 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

The engine makes all the right V6 noises, and the transmission is up to its task, and I found it illuminating that the info cluster between the speed and tach gauges always displayed the current gear, even in regular D mode. This is not a fast car, but it can stay ahead of most traffic, get up to highway speeds quickly, and even has a fair bit of punch and quick gear-downs when reaching for more power to make a highway passing move. However, it is at the expense of fuel economy, racking up 12.9 L/100 km shuttling this 2,068-kg ute over 625 km of mostly highway cruising around the GTA environs. Transport Canada suggests 12.8 L/100 km in city driving and 9.0 for highway driving in their fantasy figures (converted US EPA estimates are 14.7/10.7/12.4 city/highway/combined).

Shifting that much mass around is never cheap, and changing directions isn’t easy, but while the CX-9 exhibits some body roll, it is better controlled than competitors like the Traverse and Pilot. Suspension is luxury-class forgiving (reminded me a lot of the Acura MDX I drove recently), with muted thumps and well-controlled body motions that kept the CX-9 moving along at a brisk pace. It could even be called fun to drive, but won’t quite set your heart racing with thrilling responsiveness.

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