What would be your “perfect” road trip vehicle?
This is a question that yields many answers. But, there are a few things to consider. How many people are you taking? What are you bringing along? Where are you going? How much money do you have to spend on a road trip?
Those are the basic questions. Believe us when we say that there’s a lot more to consider than just throwing people and bags in a car.
If you are driving on a highway for hours, comfort is important, right? What about entertainment? Extra space for souvenirs? Reliability? Performance? Ease of operation? Safety?
If it is starting to sound like you usual Ride Review in Lavender, it is. But, we put a twist in it. Because this issue is about fall getaways, we wondered which vehicle would be perfect for one?
In the GLBT community, it would be some Subaru, Mitsubishi Outlander, or Volvo XC-something. All of these were wonderful choices, but we were given a challenge. What if it wasn’t any of our more favorite vehicles? What if it was something else?
When a 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD model arrived for us to evaluate, the challenge was on to see if this brand-changing, evolving three-row SUV/crossover was the “perfect” road trip vehicle.
Perhaps that was too easy to send out a challenge, because the CX-9 delivered what could be the best design package in its class. This is the best expression of what Mazda intended through its KODO—Soul of Motion design language. The top edge of the grille form just out more than the rest of the front clip, with an enlarged, chrome-encased grille flanked by small headlamps units. The lower fascia is integrated well with this front clip, creating a bold statement to anyone seeing it in their rearview mirror.
While the front end starts the conversation, the rest of the body continues it. It seems smaller than the previous generation CX-9, but with taller doors and a lower ground height than before. The rear end is very compelling with slim tail lamp units and a high beltline that frames the two halves of the tailgate perfectly. Most vehicles in its class usually do one design element well and forget about the rest. Not Mazda. They created a handsome and compelling looking mid-sized three-row SUV that is aspirational and very handsome.
This Grand Touring AWD model wore big 20-inch wheels with Bridgestone Ecopia all-season tires. The chrome overall was tastefully done, giving the impression of upward mobility in a vehicle that is aimed at the heart of the mid-sized three-row market. Mazda may have something that could do battle with the likes of the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander and Hyundai Santa Fe (three-row model, that is), while staring down the barrel of premium products, such as the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE.
With the Grand Touring, you get perforated leather seats, wrapped in some large chairs up front and two more rows of seating behind them. Due to a wider center console, there is a feeling that the front seats are closer to it, rather than balanced between it and the door. The chairs are very supportive with excellent power adjustments for rake, height, recline and lumbar support. The second-row seats are adjustable for rake and recline, as well. It also has a single lever control to flip and move forward the second rows for third-row access. It also helps to have extra wide doors that open to almost 90 degrees for better overall third-row access.
Second-row room is fantastic for adults of all sizes. Third-row seating is best for children not needing additional safety equipment. Child seats are best left for the second row, for parental access of course! The third row can also be folded flat for a great load area. In total, cargo space behind the second row is 38.2 cubic feet. If you have all three rows up, the CX-9 gives you just 14.4 cubic feet of cargo space. For larger items, the CX-9 can give up to 71.2 cubic feet of space to take it all on the road.
New for Mazda is a color TFT screen in the right dial of the instrument cluster. It shows plenty of information for trip, fuel consumption, and vehicle functions. This screen should appear on other Mazda models within the next model year and so. Otherwise, the large three-dial instrument cluster is indeed a nod to the idea of Feel(ing) Alive with its sporty intentions on display. The steering wheel offers better, more tactile switches for audio, cruise control and the information screen. Mazda’s recent tablet-like infotainment screen sits on top of the center of the instrument panel, with the control knob and separate volume control on the console. Additional audio and climate controls anchor the wide center console with the shifter and other pertinent controls at the driver’s reach.
Mazda Connect works quite well. Bluetooth is great for phone calls and music playback. The USB connection can be fed back from the center console through the opening in-between the armrest/compartment access. Bose offers 12 speakers of superb sound throughout the CX-9’s vast cabin.
Unlike the current Mazda lineup, the CX-9 offerings do not stop with the Grand Touring. Mazda’s upmarket aspirations are summed up in a new Signature trim level. The Nappa leather seating, woodgrain trim, and additional LED lighting elevate the Mazda CX-9 to new heights.
While most of its competitors are settling with V6 power, Mazda dropped their Skyactiv turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine underneath the CX-9s hood. The result is a horsepower rating that actually depends on which fuel you put in the tank. If you elect to go with just regular fuel, you are limited to just 227 horsepower. Fuel up with the 93 octane Premium stuff and that horsepower rating goes up to 250. For octane ratings in-between, your actual horsepower will vary depending on the fuel grade being pumped in. No matter which fuel you use, the torque number is the same at 310 pound-feet.
Sending power to Mazda’s all-wheel drive system is the Skyactiv six-speed automatic transmission. This is a smooth shifting transmission, facilitating a very smooth and powerful engine. Turbo lag is undetectable with a quick throttle response. Of any vehicle in its class, I love how it responds to the accelerator and keeps the momentum up nicely. Consider this in the context of a 4,300-pound vehicle, with a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. In terms of fuel economy, I averaged 22.8 MPG.
You will appreciate the ride quality in the new CX-9. It is smooth for the family and for the driver up front. The suspension absorbs the cracks and bumps very well. Cornering is on the soft side, so expect some roll and lean, if pushed past the limit. Steering is quite good with excellent feel on-center with a good turning radius and great response from the wheel. Expect a bit of numbness, which is expected in today’s SUVs. Brakes are among the best in class, with great stopping power and response in normal and panic situations.
The CX-9 was designed for active safety integration. This includes features such as Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support, both using the sensor behind the Mazda badge to ensure that the vehicle is stopped when an obstruction is in the way. By obstruction, I mean the vehicle in front of you. The CX-9 Grand Touring also offers as standard other active safety features, such as Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Rear Backup Sensors, Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, and Mazda Radar Cruise Control.
Pricing for the CX-9 starts with a Sport model that is well-equipped for middle-of-the road customers. Pricing starts at $32,130 for the front-drive model. Adding all-wheel drive bumps the base price up to $33,930. The Grand Touring is not the top of the line, however, our example came with a sticker price of $45,560. If you must ask, the top shelf Signature model has a base price of $44,315.
The obvious answer to the question about the Mazda CX-9’s worthiness as a road trip vehicle is “yes.” “Yes,” it will accommodate up to seven people over longer distances. “Yes,” it can deliver performance, comfort, and space to execute such a journey.
And, “yes,” you can consider the Mazda CX-9 as a worthy three-row midsized SUV/crossover for your Rainbow family, or sort of “family” you are taking along inside of it.