Entry Price: $32,130
Price as Tested: $41,865

This week, we’re reviewing the impressive second generation 2018 Mazda CX-9, arriving this time in front-drive Grand Touring trim and featuring three rows of seating. As for history, the initial CX-9 came to market in 2006 and went all the way through model year 2015 in its first generation. Built in Hiroshima, Japan, all CX-9 models highlight Mazda’s Skyactiv build integration principles and then adds some of its “Zoom-Zoom” performance enhancements thanks to a turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood.

Categorized by the EPA as a midsize SUV, this second generation CX-9 is not only shorter in length than the last generation, it offers a longer wheelbase by 2.1-inches that impacts several areas of successful design. Notable are the larger interior dimensions yet a lighter overall weight by some 170 pounds, resulting in upping performance and fuel mileage thanks to lighter and stronger build components. The lighter curb weight also contributes to increased fuel mileage, overall.

When you add the above mentioned new CX-9 attributes and the Skyactiv vehicle dynamics into the build equation, you end up with a CX-9 that, although unseen to the eye, delivers a precisely matched suspension, fine shifting transmission, turbo engine and computerized high-tech safety. This results in a Mazda SUV that is sure-footed in the handling area while delivering energetic performance.

Starting at $32,130 for the entry Sport front-drive, next up is the Touring at $34,960 and then our Grand Touring at $40,470. These three front-drive models also offer optional AWD underpinnings for $1,800 more. If you choose the top flight Signature, these models arrive with standard AWD and are near fully loaded for a retail of $44,315.

Under the hood of all CX-9s sits the aforementioned 250-horsepower 2.5-liter turbo four that generates 310 lb. ft. of torque and mates to a six-speed automatic. Fuel mileage is decent as the EPA numbers are 22 city and 28 highway for front-drive models and 20 and 26, respectively, for the AWD CX-9. Expect zero to 60 mph in about 7.0 to 7.6 seconds depending on model choice. Traction is aided by large 20-inch all season tires on nice alloy wheels on the Grand Touring series. As for gasoline, regular fuel is fine, but when you fill up with premium 93-octane you’ll have the full Mazda turbo 250-horses available to you. On regular fuel, the engine produces about 227-horses due to its lower 87 octane rating.

This new generation CX-9 features a family resemblance that follows the progress of its other “CX” SUV siblings, specifically the CX-3 (sub-compact) and CX-5 (compact) models. Outwardly, CX-9 is very pleasing to the eye especially considering it receives a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, LED Fog lights, power sliding-glass moonroof with one-touch open feature, interior sunshade, front parking sensors, rear backup sensors, second-row retractable window sunshades, SiriusXM Satellite Radio with four-month trial subscription, and a Mazda Navigation System all as standard fare.

Additionally and most important are the safety considerations. This is an important area whereby selecting the upper class CX-9 models pay big dividends on the safety scale. Grand Touring and Signature models come standard with ultra-high-tech items like radar adaptive cruise control, cross traffic alerts, rear backup sensors, enhanced safety rear camera, lane departure, lane assist, crash avoidance smart brake support and smart city brake support.

Add the standard CX-9 across the board traction controls, four-wheel ABS disc brakes, stability control, modern airbag systems, rear camera and the Skyactiv body ring structure (like a race car roll bar built in) and you are traveling in one of the safest SUVs on the road today. Notable is that adaptive cruise and the emergency braking are standard on Grand Touring and Signature trims but not available on the Touring and Sport models.

Inside, third row passengers will appreciate the extra legroom the longer wheelbase offers, even if you have to sit in the third row. As for cargo, with third row seating in the down position there’s more than ample space for everyday needs. However, when you drop the second row seats you’ll enjoy more than 70 cu. ft. of space for those important home center visits. In addition to enough room for seven passengers, all Mazda CX-9s deliver outstanding road manners more like a Mazda6 sedan than an SUV or crossover. (We will be test driving the Mazda6 the week of Sept. 26 to Oct. 3).

To finalize, our tester came finished in special Machine Gray Metallic paint ($300 extra) and a $100 cargo mat that brought the final retail with $995 delivery to $41,865.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 115.3 inches, 4,166 lb. curb weight, 8.8 inch ground clearance, from 14.4 to 71.2 cu. ft. of cargo space, and 3,500 lb. tow capacity and a 19.0 gal. fuel tank.

Currently, Mazda dealers have leftover 2018 CX-9 models available and being that the 2019 CX-9 is similar, practical shoppers can receive some nice incentives. Your Mazda dealer is awaiting your visit to explain everything in detail. If you live in warm climate states, remember that the front-drive Grand Touring is identical to the Signature AWD model in that important safety area and amenities, too.

Likes: Great looks, solid build, interior fit and finish, Skyactiv philosophy.
Dislikes: Sport and Touring models don’t offer some high-tech safety features until you get to Grand Touring and Signature.

— Greg Zyla writes weekly for More Content Now and GateHouse Media.