The Mazda CX-9 Predictably Won a Comparison Test of Minivan Alternatives, As Mazdas Do

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

Shocker. The 2017 Mazda CX-9 entered a buff book comparison test against four comparable three-row crossovers and scored a victory.

That’s what Mazdas do. It’s what I assumed the CX-9 would do when, one year ago, I called the second-generation CX-9 a class leader, asking “is perfect too strong a word?”

Swaying the jury seems to be straightforward business for Mazda. The justification for rendering a pro-Mazda verdict is familiar. “It drives so much better than any of the others,” Car And Driver’s Jeff Sabatini writes of the CX-9, after the Mazda bested the Honda Pilot, Dodge Durango, GMC Acadia, and Volkswagen Atlas. “The CX-9 is nimble and agile,” Car And Driver says. “Weight transfers smoothly in the CX-9,” and, “There is a flow to the controls.” The publication credits the quiet cabin and the attractive exterior, as well.

Also described? The reason 98 percent of buyers in the Mazda CX-9’s segment choose a different vehicle.

Essentially, if you need the three-row Mazda CX-9 to operate as a three-row vehicle, you ought to look elsewhere.

Granted, if you truly need a three-row vehicle, a minivan’s the better option. But we already knew that.

“Because if you have too many offspring — perhaps as few as two — your family will have outgrown the Mazda CX-9,” Sabatini writes. “Its third row is tiny and tough to access, and even the second row is comparatively tight.”

If you need a minivan but have determined that you’re willing to make certain compromises in order to not look like you drive a minivan, the Mazda CX-9 is too small. And it doesn’t matter if it’s agile. It doesn’t matter that, with 310 lb-ft of torque, acceleration is at least mid-pack. It doesn’t matter that the interior, both in terms of design and materials, is stunning. And it doesn’t matter that the CX-9 is an attractive vehicle outside, standing out from a crowd of all too similar crossovers.

Mazda has enough of a problem getting U.S. consumers to consider a Mazda. But in the CX-9’s case, a prospective buyer who actually explores the idea of Mazda ownership after cross-shopping a Pilot, Highlander, or Durango discovers all-around smallness.

Undeniably, U.S. sales of the new Mazda CX-9 are significantly healthier than they’d been in years. That’s not surprising given the old CX-9’s age, the market’s resurgent interest in utility vehicles, and the dramatic CX-9 improvements.

Yet the CX-9 remains a rare beast, with the current pace suggesting around 25,000 will be sold in the U.S. in 2017, well off its peak pace of 34,421 sales in 2011. Compared with rivals — not just a Ford Explorer that can sell as many copies in one month as the CX-9 does all year but also the surging Toyota Highlander and the new GMC Acadia — the CX-9 is a drop in the midsize crossover bucket. And if you think the second-gen model is still gaining momentum, you’d be wrong. June volume fell to a five-month low of 1,699 units, down 11 percent compared with the CX-9’s launch month from a year ago.

It was never Mazda’s intention to sell boatloads of CX-9s in America — global capacity is capped at 50,000 units. But 80 percent of that capacity, or 40,000 annual units, was originally expected to be used in North America, where only around 15,000 CX-9s were sold in the first half of 2017.

So the CX-9 isn’t popular. It may even be less popular than expected. But if you can overlook the fact the Mazda CX-9 is not an adequate minivan replacement, well, it’s best in class material.

[Images: Mazda]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and and the founder and former editor of Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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  • Cimarron typeR Cimarron typeR on Jul 17, 2017

    Interesting, we went from an Enclave to Sienna AWD. Much better driveline and sight lines. Little bit more road noise, but we'd never go back.We don't mind the stigma, well ,because my wife's hot.

    • Stevelovescars Stevelovescars on Sep 07, 2017

      You win, best comment of this thread. As a guy who used to drive a Porsche 911 Carrera 3.2 with my son's booster seat strapped to the front passenger seat, I'll just say you aren't fooling anyone that you aren't a mom or dad by driving an SUV any more than I was. It was like that scene from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, flirting with the cute girl in the car next to you only to realize she's laughing at your pirate costume... or noticing your toddler singing along to kid's songs on the Blaupunkt. Get over it and enjoy the ride. That said, I am pretty anti SUV and agree that the minivan is superior at hauling people and stuff. However, I only have two kids and rarely use the third row of my current car, but it is handy to have it. I'm sorry to admit that I'm eyeing a CX-9 at the moment despite really wanting an Alfa Giulia.

  • Ashy Larry Ashy Larry on Jul 26, 2017

    I adore the interior on this car and appreciate Mazda's steadfast detrmination to make a family CUV drive like a much smaller car, but its staggering length is surprising given the comparatively small interior space. This is a big miss by Mazda, i think. Seems like form over function -- in an effort to make the car seem lower and sleeker, they stretched the nose (hell, everything forward of the windshield) to its limit. The car looks great (perhaps long-nosed form some angles) but it will take up tons of garage space, and parking a car with that long of a nose seems like a potential challenge as well. If I am going to have a car with this big of a footprint, I want to be able to have high cargo capacity. I will allow some reduced capacity for the sloping rear roof given the looks but Mazda probably went too far in style over function. Still, with that Signature interior, WOW!

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.