Quick Drive: 2011 Mazda CX-9 GT

By Winding Road Staff

March 18, 2011

Based on the chatter around the water cooler at the WR office when we were loaned our CX-9, I’ll probably be in the minority opinion here, but I actually don’t particularly care for Mazda’s big crossover.

I’m probably suffering from some distortion based on visual proximity to the CX-7, a car that I truly enjoy, I’ll admit. The larger, but very similar looking 9 has got none of the pointy handling, or bubbling throttle response that I enjoy with the 7. I’ll admit that the handling profile probably merits inclusion in the “confident” club—at least as far as big people haulers go. But the CX-9 doesn’t want to rotate, and doesn’t have enough motor to make me feel like I’m racing up to traffic-speeds when I’m merging on to the highway.
Part of my lukewarm sentiment here has to do with the fact that good-driving cars in this class are starting to get pretty thick on the ground. Ford’s new Explorer seems a little better (at least) on most comparable fronts: interior fit/finish, handling, power, price. Even Jeep’s real-SUV 2011 Cherokee feels like a sportier drive, these days. The Mazda is still close though—I think a comparison test may be in order.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
I, too, would rather drive the CX-7 any day. The CX-9 isn’t bad, but it just feels one size too large. It doesn’t have a lot of body roll, but it’s there. It can get up to speed just fine, but it really doesn’t feel quick or powerful. It tracks straight on the highway, but it feels a little swollen and hard to properly place in the lane on city streets. The steering feels pretty good, but the vehicle doesn’t respond quite as linearly as I’d like.
That being said, I still manage to like this vehicle, probably because of the inherent Mazda DNA, which even at its worst is still not a bad thing in my opinion. Little things like pedal feel and seating position warm me up to any Mazda I drive. I still prefer the CX-9 to such vehicles as the Toyota Highlander and the GMC Acadia. Well, maybe not the Acadia.
The interior feels pretty familiar, reminding me of other Mazdas. The problem is that this costs more than other Mazdas. I wouldn’t mind if it felt a little more upscale. Some nicer materials or clever design elements would go a long way in making the CX-9 more competitive. As it is, it feels very flat, broad, and very middle-of-the-road.
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor
I’ve heard people describe driving an Aston Martin as being like wearing a perfectly tailored (and very expensive) suit. There is a measure of clean and exquisitely formed luxury that both items deliver in spades. Given that scale, I’d liken the driving experience of the Mazda CX-9 as wearing an extremely comfortable, oversized hooded sweatshirt.
The CX-9 isn’t comfortable in the same sense as a BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class, where there is a lot of technology at work in the vehicle systems to keep things smooth. Rather, it features a soft suspension that does a good job at soaking up road imperfections. Combine that with lazyboy-like seats and room for seven, and you get a vehicle that is perfect for bit of long distance roadtripping.
—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager
  • Confident and grippy handling but the competitive set is catching up, quick
  •  Lots of room for people, pets, and possessions
  • Seating position is arguably the best in the segment
  • Many newly released models in this segment have ballsier powertrains
  • Interior tends toward the uninspired
  • All-wheel drive and V-6 is a thirsty combination (16 city, 22 highway)