Car Review: 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD

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For the past six years, Mazda has been selling the Mazda CX-9, and with a refresh for 2013, the Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD we tested seems to have made a great vehicle even better. Many SUVs on the road today seem to just blend in with each other, but the CX-9 has a look all its own and an interior that elevates this segment.

EXTERIOR

The largest vehicle in the lineup, the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD is a mid-size SUV that seemingly towers over its Mazda brethren in size and maturity. The KODO design language exudes aggression and grace, energy and poise, and strength and elegance. Mazda’s most expressive design theme yet, KODO captures the fluidity of movement, all while standing still. The unfiltered refinement of the 2013 CX-9 further vocalizes this with the precisely etched features in its new front-end and rear-facing appeal. From the slight snarl of the five-point front grille and its chrome outline that points deftly and defined into eagle-eyed headlamps, to the commanding calm of the rear taillights overseeing a masculine landscape that develops into the redesigned robust plateau of the rear bumper, no one said utilitarian had to be ugly.

The fog lights have also been redesigned to sync with the KODO-esque attributes of the front fascia, as have the dual rear exhaust pipes, changing from a lean trapezoid to a fog light-matching round shape. The overall stature of the CX-9 continues to be one of prominence and luxury, with strong, 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels dusted in a satin chrome finish and paired with Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 P245/50R20 all-season rubbers.

The steeply raked windshield further accentuates the vehicle’s agile ability and continues the course into an expansive roofline that ostensibly dares you to load it with any amount of rooftop cargo. Any number of optional roof rack systems is possible courtesy of the standard roof rails. The body-colored rear spoiler is standard too! The large-view side and rear windows form an open and modern greenhouse, as well as provide outward visibility from all seating positions.

INTERIOR

This is where the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD really separates itself from the competition with the mettle to impress consumers who expect nothing less than spaciousness, functionality and premium content from every SUV on their shopping lists. Sitting on a 113.2-inch wheelbase, the CX-9 has a lot of length for design minds to play with, and with an overall width of 76.2 inches, a roomy interior for seven adults to reap the rewards. Its organized and efficient interior layout is also replete with rich touch points. When moonroof-equipped, the skylight reduces the space by 1.7 cubic feet to a still comfortable 137.7 cubic feet. The front row features a headache-free 38.4 inches of headroom. The second- and third-row dimensions remain unchanged. Legroom is measured at a stretchable 40.9 inches in the front row, 39.8 inches in the second and 32.4 inches in the third.

For versatility points, the 60/40-split second row easily accommodates three passengers and offers approximately five inches of fore-and-aft travel in addition to a reclining backrest. In the 50/50-split third row, seating position and legroom are among the leaders in the mid-size SUV segment, both in numbers and real-world comfort. Access into the third row is also effortless with nearly 26 inches of ingress space between a folded second-row seat and the C-pillar.

Extra thought was invested in all the finer functionality details, such as how the seat releases are configured. For example, releasing the second row seat in order to enter the third row requires only one simple hand motion to unlatch the seat and move it forward. Likewise, a clever strap attached behind the third row seat’s backrest serves as both a release for folding the seat down and as a means to pulling it back up.

With all seats occupied, the CX-9 provides 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space, which eclipses many large sedans. Both second and third row seats fold flat to provide up to 100.7 cubic feet of storage space from the rear hatch and up towards the seat backs of the front row.

Sport and Touring models exhibit piano black trim accents, while Grand Touring models feature a high-quality Bordeaux throughout the vehicle. Fitted along the door panels and hugging alongside an updated center console, this detail is not overly brash but elegantly subtle. A redesigned leather-wrapped shift knob is standard and provides the palm-perfect fit from park to drive and all the gears in between.

Visibility is important in all lighting situations because the less focused your eyes are on the flash of the dash, the more focused you are on the road. Changing from red-on-black to white-on-dark, the panel details are equally readable in the bright of day and without a harsh appearance in the dark of night. In addition, intuitive operational switches and knobs abound. Some controls are repetitive, such as radio and phone operations, so as to offer consumers more choices in adjusting vehicle settings to their preference rather than changing their natural habits to adapt to the vehicle. The black leather seating surface was extra smooth and the seats were sleek and very refined and comfortable. I guess the word “refined” is the best way to describe the upscale cabin of the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD from the driver’s seat all the back to the third row seats.

A 5.8-inch multi-information display (MID) screen is new for 2013 and standard on all trim levels. All-new infotainment features include HD Radio Technology and Pandora. HD Radio is a subscription-free digital AM and FM broadcast radio service that provides crystal-clear sound, on-screen information and additional programming choices via HD2 and HD3 channels. Pandora offers personalized stations based on the input of a single “seed” and continually customizes its playlist using musicological “DNA” and listener feedback. When music from a personal device is preferred, MP3 players and smartphones can be connected via the Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio system. This allows all information and folders to display and be controlled via the MID. A USB connection port offers an alternative for users, such as infrequent passengers, who do not want to connect their devices via Bluetooth. All the aforementioned systems, including an auxiliary jack, are standard.

The Bluetooth system itself has been updated from the previous CX-9 model year. Version 1.4 of the Audio/Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) now allows users to repeat tracks, shuffle tracks and select folders. The speech recognition functionality has also been significantly improved and features a new microphone with enhanced noise-control processing and high-performance wind-noise suppression processing. Initiating phone calls using voice recognition is simplified, and contacts can be saved into the directory with a single operation. The directory can now hold up to 1,000 contacts, a figure up significantly from the previous version’s maximum allotment of 32.

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PERFORMANCE

A more than potent MZR 3.7-liter V-6 engine powers the 2013 CX-9, making even the most harried drives seem like a stroll along the beach. Its peak power of 273 horsepower at 6,250 rpm offers explosive acceleration and passing performance. The torque curve keeps 250 lb-ft at 3,000 to 6,000 rpm and peaks at 270 lb-ft at 4,250 rpm.

The 60-degree short-stroke V-6 is state of the art throughout. Advanced features include a die-cast aluminum block with cast-in iron cylinder liners and aluminum cylinder heads for minimizing vehicle weight. The valve train includes chain-drive dual overhead camshafts for minimal maintenance, four valves-per-cylinder with direct acting bucket-type actuators and variable intake valve timing. The throttle is electronically controlled for on-the-spot responsiveness.

Two close-coupled catalytic converters clean the exhaust without hindering power. Computer-aided engineering analysis was used extensively to configure the cylinder block casting, to shape intake and exhaust ports and to design the high-volume exhaust system fitted with three large mufflers. Very low back pressure is one of the reasons why the power curve is still ascending at the 6,500-rpm redline. In addition, the forged-steel crankshaft is fitted with induction-hardened journals and a full complement of counterweights. Engineering details also extend to a roller-chain cam-drive sprocket lined with rubber for added noise reduction.

The 2013 CX-9 utilizes an Aisin-supplied six-speed Sport AT automatic transmission with a manual mode as standard equipment. Broad ratios maximize flexibility by providing enthusiastic launching with quiet cruising speeds. The top two gears are both overdrive ratios. This is how the vehicle is able to offer excellent acceleration and average fuel economy. The drive is so smooth that at times you forget that you’re at the wheel of a three-row SUV.

Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard on all trim levels with Mazda’s Active Torque All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) available as an option and on our Grand Touring test model. This AWD system rapidly adjusts to changing traction needs by monitoring wheel slippage, steering angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration and available driveline torque. In normal driving situations, 100 percent of the driving torque is delivered to the front wheels. During aggressive acceleration, or when one front wheel is on the verge of slipping, a controlled percentage of the available torque is directed to the rear axle. We drove the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD during the warm summer months in the Midwest, but have confidence that this machine will handle winter with ease.

A power take-off device integrated with the vehicle’s transaxle spins a drive shaft attached to an active coupling built into the rear differential. Commanded by a control module, the servo-controlled multi-plate coupling can route from zero and up to 50 percent of the available torque to the rear wheels. Fuel economy for the AWD system came in at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg in highway driving, which is certainly respectable, but we would like to see some improvement in that category if the CX-9 wants to reach big time status.

OVERVIEW

Mazda has done so much right with the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD, from the sleek skin, to an interior that can battle with the best in class and luxury models to boot. Our loaded Grand Touring came in with a sticker price of $39,605 as tested, which is really a bargain for what you drive home. As mentioned above, there has to be a way to extract better fuel economy from the CX-9, and once that happens, this zoom-zoom SUV could surprise even her staunched fans at what could be higher than expected sales.

  

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