Mazda’s CX-9: Three rows, six cylinders…and nine model years

2015 Mazda CX-9

Mazda’s CX-9 is near the end of a long, winding road…buy one!

The Mazda press release for its CX-9 describes the 3-row CUV as the ‘elder statesmen’ of the Mazda lineup. And while not sure if I think Mitch McConnell, Harry Reid or Dick Cheney when reading that, I’m helped by the photo caption, where I’m told the “CX-9 looms large above the plucky Mazda2…and almost aloof next to the CX-5 compact SUV.” (Where do they get this ‘stuff’?) What we do know is that, after nine years of production, the CX-9 in its current iteration isn’t long for this retail world. And that despite its years of dedicated service, and the absolute glut of newer, more feature-laden 3-row CUVs competing for the same consumer dollar, there are any number of good reasons to consider its purchase before it’s replaced.

Introduced to the U.S. market for the 2007 model year, the CX-9 was engineered and built in partnership with Ford Motor Company; at that point Ford owned a controlling percentage of Mazda shares. Built atop the same platform as what became the Ford Edge, and using a Ford-derived V6, the CX-9 was well-received from the git-go, earning an SUV of the Year nod from Motor Trend in ’08, and winning that same pub’s 3-row comparison test – against much newer rivals – in March of 2011. In the ensuing EIGHT model years since its intro the CX-9 has enjoyed two facelifts (2010 and 2013), but no significant engineering updates since, save the upgrade from a 3.5 liter V6 to the 3.7 liter V6 in 2008.

Volvo XC90 2014

Volvo’s XC90 has enjoyed an even longer run

In short, Mazda’s CX-9 serves as the elder statesman in the zoom-zoom lineup, and while no definitive info is available regarding its replacement, we can safely assume the next CX-9 will enjoy SkyActiv technologies, newish Kodo design elements, and a wealth of competitive technology both beneath the hood and behind the dash. And for me, all of that makes for a good reason to buy a remaining example of the current gen.

As empty nesters with but one grandchild, we’re more inclined to rent a 3rd-row when needed than to actually buy one. In virtually all instances, stretching a wheelbase and overall length to accommodate the third row in an SUV or CUV makes the footprint – at least in my view – too long to be nimble, and too heavy to be athletic. That said, the CX-9 comports itself quite well within its 113-inch wheelbase, 200-inch overall length and 4,500 pound curb weight. The steering is beautifully weighted, the ride/handling compromise doesn’t smell of a compromise, and its interior volume is well up to the task – as is most of its immediate competition – of accommodating five comfortably and seven in a pinch. To be sure, you can’t easily travel with six or seven; for that you need a Suburban or Caravan.

Given its age, the CX-9 controls are intuitive rather than confounding. Our Grand Touring came with navigation, and while hampered by a smallish screen I didn’t really care; I’m more comfortable using my iPhone. Views from the driver’s seat are relatively unencumbered, although we wish the Mazda’s D-Pillar wasn’t as visually intrusive. And while the Mazda’s steeply raked windshield assists with its aero numbers, for those of us entering the car with the driver’s seat pushed relatively forward, know that the Mazda’s A-Pillar can tag you if not careful.

2014 F-150

Ford’s steel-bodied F-Series: It’s still a steal

Regardless of size or segment, there are a number of platforms that, whether because of perceived heft or suspension tuning, feel larger than they actually are. The CX-9, to its everlasting credit, feels smaller. The steering – as noted – is well connected, the suspension isolates bumps without isolating the driver, and body roll is no more than you’d expect from something in the ‘family’ niche. For those accustomed to European platforms, the CX-9 will feel almost immediately comfortable, assuredly compliant.

Inside, the interior appointments of our Grand Touring were well designed, well executed and still reasonably fresh. The front buckets were supportive, while the rear bench proved spacious for two, and genuinely comfortable for three. The third row is easier to access than you might think, but for all but small children it’s little more than a penalty box. The good news? The third row folds easily, allowing for a genuinely useful amount of cargo room.

Priced between about $30K and our test vehicle’s fully-optioned (save AWD) $38K, the CX-9 represents a terrific buy relative to any number of SUVs pushing $50,000. Kelley Blue Book figures a savings of around $4K on a typical CX-9 transaction; if purchasing the base CX-9 for $30K provides even 10% savings, it would seem to be a screaming deal, providing upmarket size and content for CX-5 or CR-V money.

The same ‘buy now’ argument could be made in support of Volvo’s XC90. And on that we know the future, as an all-new XC90 is just around the corner. Rather than the nine model years of production the CX-9 has enjoyed, Volvo’s XC90 was introduced to North America for the 2003 model year. At its introduction it rather overwhelmed both consumers and the Volvo dealer body; no one was quite sure what to make of it. Today, I’m all about its ‘Volvoness’, with carefully crafted sheetmetal conveying an upright, almost stoic veneer, while the interior – totally traditional – does a credible job of merging Scandinavian design themes with the very real needs of an average family.

Most of all, we like the size of the XC90 footprint, its generous greenhouse unencumbered by the excesses of stylistic fashion, and – finally – a design ethos without pretension or novelty. And while its replacement undoubtedly looks attractive, and will possess a ‘gee whiz’ moment in virtually each and every corner of its cabin, there’s nothing quite like the proven durability of a long production run. With production officially over, however, the time to move on a new ’14 one is yesterday.

Obviously, these aren’t the only two models at or near the end of their product cycle. Ford is moving to an all-new F-Series, but still enjoys good inventories (at least at most dealerships) of the outgoing pickup. And I’m already feeling nostalgic toward the ‘14 Mustang. The 2015 variant is much improved, but it also lacks the rawness of its predecessor; rather, I think, like putting an English saddle on the Ford’s equine namesake…