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Saturday, 28 April 2018

Mazda CX-9 review: 90% of the luxury for 75% of the price

Language is imprecise and fungible. One person's SUV is another person's crossover. One company's mid-size crossover is another company's full-size SUV. In other words, marketing materials and commercials don't tell the whole story when it comes to the most popular car segment in the US. I recently spent a week behind the wheel of a 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD. Mazda calls it a three-row, mid-size, seven-passenger SUV. Volkswagen makes a very similar looking vehicle named the Atlas and also calls it a three-row, mid-size, seven-passenger SUV. And while they're also priced within a few thousand dollars of each other, they may as well inhabit different universes.

Last year, we looked at the CX-5, Mazda's most recently revamped SUV aimed up-market. The year before that vehicle debuted, Mazda took the same luxury-aspiring design philosophy and aimed the CX-9 at the mid-size SUV segment currently occupied by the likes of the Audi Q7 and Acura MDX. Unlike the Audi or Acura, you can get into a very nicely specced-out CX-9 for under $50,000. Is it a worthwhile alternative at that price?

Let's start with the looks. While not unattractive, nothing about the CX-9 jumps out. It's kind of thick-looking, with a gently sloping roofline and a cabin that tapers inward at the rear. Head-on, you can see Mazda's Kodo design language in action—the SUV gives the impression of a smart, metallic being that has just decided what kind of shenanigans it's about to get into. The familiar Mazda grill blends into the LED headlights to form the eyes of the face, while metal trim several inches below the grill accounts for the crafty smile. On the back side, Mazda uses a piece of metallic trim to join the taillights and another bit of trim just above the twin exhaust pipes. From the side, the CX-9 looks vaguely Q7-ish.

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