For this past 4th of July week, since the 4th fell mid-week, my family and I thought we would road trip down to Los Angeles for some college touring and some general fun while visiting friends and relatives. As luck would have it, I was able to secure a loan of the 2018 Mazda CX-9 (the Grand Touring trim specifically) to pamper us safely on our voyage down and in and around greater Los Angeles. Towards the end of the trip, a heat wave hit LA which was fairly crippling when we were outside and not in the Mazda CX-9. Luckily our college tours always ended in the air-conditioned comfort of the CX-9. Don’t believe me about the heat? Take a look at what the CX-9 showed as the outside temp! (*Disclosure below.)
So, with that theme of cool and hot, I thought I would share my thoughts on some of the cool and hot features that my family and I uncovered in the 2018 Mazda CX-9 during our trip.
Remember, when I review vehicles, I don’t really geek on on the specs the way some car mags do. I try to approach my reviews as hands-on observations of things that families might appreciate. They might be tech features (which I love), comfort or safety features (which everyone should like), or general observations.
In no particular order (with the exception of the first item of course), here are things that really stood out to us in the 2018 Mazda CX-9:
3-Zone Climate Control
Yes, so I had to start with this feature which proved to be critical for our trip, especially towards the tail end when the outside temperatures broke triple digits. The Mazda CX-9 comes with three-zone climate controls, two zones up front for the driver and passenger to independently control the temperature, and then a middle row zone for the three passengers there (more about the middle row shortly).
From the front, the driver or front seat passenger can control the rear climate as well so if you have little kids strapped into their car seats, you can blast them with cool (or warm) air. But, if you want, that middle row can control the temperatures and fans as well.
Also, the front seats and middle row seats (side ones only) have seat warmers. The funny thing was, as we were packed into the CX-9 with a ton of luggage (more about that shortly as well), all three of my daughters were in the middle row. As they aren’t exactly “small kids” anymore and had pillows and blankets to make the trip at night extra comfortable, there were times that one of my daughters accidentally kicked on of the seat warmers and a few minutes later, another daughter said she was burning up! (I guess the seat warmers work pretty well – it just wasn’t appropriate for 100+ degree weather!)
The HUD (Heads Up Display) is actually called the Active Driving Display. It was difficult for me to get a good picture of it as it simply projects on the windshield in front of the driver. And the best display examples occurred when driving on the highway, so it wasn’t exactly safe for me to snap a photo. But here’s why I really liked it. It had a lot of very critical information for the driver.
I have driven a few cars with a HUD, but none had quite the same information as the CX-9. For starters, blind spot indicators actually appear on the HUD so that you don’t have to always look to your side mirrors to see the orange indicator lights. Also, obviously speed is displayed as well as the speed limit. Car distances in front of you are displayed as well as are adaptive cruise control settings. It also displays the lane and sign detection information (see below). And, of course, navigation details if you are using the GPS navigation in the CX-9.
Bottom line, there was enough critical information being projected in a non-distracting way on the windshield that I rarely took my eyes off of the road.
Lane and Sign Detection
As I mentioned in the previous section, the CX-9 has lane detection. This feature works when you are going over a certain speed. The forward facing camera can detect the lane lines. In fact, there is an initiative within California (and probably some other states) to replace or update many of the lane lines to make them a bit wider and more reflective so that cars equipped with lane detection will have an easier job doing so.
The funny thing is, for most of our trip, I thought that I had lane detection enabled. On the instrument panel, the CX-9 did show the lanes. But it wasn’t until I got back home and was exploring some more of the technology that I found the switch that enables or disables the actual lane detection actions. Once I activated it properly, the lanes actually showed up as being solid, and, as I intentionally (and safely) tried drifting out of the lane, a got an audio and visual alert that I was leaving the lane. Couple this with Lane-Keep Assist and if you do start drifting, the CX-9 will give some minor steering corrections to get you back into the lane. If you have your blinker on however, the lane drift detect is disabled.
For long highway drives, lane detection is a great safety feature to have.
Also, early on in my test drive, I started to notice speed limit and stop signs popping up on the HUD. Initially, I thought that the GPS navigation was feeding signs and limits to the HUD. But, as I did a bit of research, I learned that the CX-9 actually uses the forward-facing camera to detect signs along the road. This is an innovative feature that I really haven’t seen in other vehicles, but I’m sure it will become more commonplace as the technology evolves. And as cameras become more high-definition, the system can be (and probably has been) coupled with other camera types like infrared to allow for detection of other objects.
Adaptive Cruise Control
If you have lanes detection and sign detection, you will probably have a fairly techy cruise control system. But not all cruise controls are built the same. In my regular car, my cruise control is pretty “dumb.” You turn it on and set the speed, and you still have to be pretty focused on maintaining a safe distance between your car and the one ahead of you. That means, a lot of tapping the brake and then resuming the cruise control once your path is cleared.
With the Mazda CX-9, there is a built-in radar system which allows for adaptive cruise control. What this does is detects the vehicle in front of you and measures the gap distance. Then once you set your desired cruising speed, the CX-9 will automatically slow down if it detects a slower car ahead of you in your lane, all while maintaining a specified gap (short, medium, or far). Once your path is cleared, the CX-9 will automatically speed back up to your pre-set cruise speed.
While I totally love this adaptive cruise control feature, I still have some PTSD from my old-school cruise control (which I actually don’t use that much). So, even while I had faith in the CX-9’s ability to maintain both the pre-set speed as well as the safety gap between vehicles, I found my foot always hovering over the brake pedal.
2-3-2 seating & Cargo Space
This design feature of the 2018 Mazda CX-9 is one that my family really loved. We have done test-drive road trips in many SUVs. And typically, the seating was two up-front seats (duh – unless you are in a truck with bench seating), two in the middle row (captains chairs), and three in the rear row (bench seating). And typically, if you want storage, you fold down the rear row to load up the back.
But that tends to pose a problem with a family of 5. In those 2-2-3 types of seating configurations, one child has to be in the rear row all alone. Sometimes that is not a bad thing, particularly if you don’t have much luggage or the vehicle has ample storage space behind the 3rd row. But more often than not, if you have the third row active, your storage space is limited (not with the CX-9, see below).
With the CX-9, the configuration is 2-3-2 and in this case, perfect for my family. All three of my girls shared the middle row and were comfortable in the process. And we could, therefore, fold down the rear row. What that translates to is the ability to really load up the rear cargo area with tons of luggage (which is exactly what we did). But, the nice thing is, without luggage, you still can easily and comfortably fit 7 people.
I had to add this feature in specifically because my wife commented on it. She was impressed by how wide the windshield of the CX-9 is. And I have to agree. Where you normally would expect the front pillars, the glass curves away a few more inches to provide some extra visibility. Frequently, the front pillars obstruct the view, but it wasn’t really the case with the CX-9.
And while I’m talking about blind spots (and yes, as I mentioned, there are blind spot indicators on the side view mirrors as well as on the HUD), I actually found that the Mazda CX-9 actually had excellent visibility. Glancing over your shoulder when backing up or turning, you didn’t have much of your view obstructed. Kudos to the design team for crafting a design with good visibility.
Auto Lock doors
And here is another feature “for my wife.” With our older cars, my wife sometimes will leave the doors unlocked as she has her hands full. As part of my routine, I automatically lock the doors of the cars at night just in case. The CX-9 has a nice feature buried in the settings which allows you to auto-lock the doors as you walk away from the vehicle. As with most modern vehicles, the CX-9 is keyless. You simply carry a key fob on you and use the buttons on the door handles to unlock or lock the doors.
Well, this setting proved to be quite handy, even for me. As you walk away from the CX-9, you hear a beep and then as you walk further away, it beeps again, and all of the doors automatically lock. I was a bit worried about somehow locking the keys in the car, but I couldn’t figure out a way to actually do this. If you leave the vehicle while the car is running and you have the key fob in your pocket for example (sort of the opposite scenario), the CX-9 will notify you of this audibly. Regardless, by activating this setting, I knew that the car was securely locked when we walked away.
So yes, I do have to talk about the CX-9’s engine here. Down on the center console area near the shifter was a small little button that merely said “Sport.” I decided to be a sport and test it out. While the CX-9 is pretty peppy for an SUV, when you kick on the Sport mode, it becomes just a little bit peppier. From pure observation and experience only, I noticed a couple of things. For starters, the ride stiffened a bit. Bumps in the road were a bit more apparent. Turning was a bit tighter. And the engine allowed higher RPMs closer to the redline before shifting than in the standard mode.
What this meant was that getting off the line was a bit faster (and more fun in my opinion, but my kids don’t really like it when I test out acceleration). And the whole drive experience was definitely more “sporty” (as sporty as an SUV can get). I actually used the Sport mode when we had a full load so that I could accelerate onto the highway a bit faster as well as pass vehicles a bit more quickly.
The Mazda CX-9 has 227 HP (using 87 octane gas). If you want a few extra horses, put in 93 octane gas and the HP bumps up to 250. (I guess since I’m a bit of a cheapskate that I didn’t experience the full horsepower as I only used 87 octane gas!) The engine type is the SKYACTIVE-G 2.5T Dynamic Pressure Turbo DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with Variable Valve Timing (VVT).
The CX-9 we drove was the All Wheel Drive (AWD) version which has an EPA MPG of 20 City and 26 Highway. On our trip, we averaged 20.6 MPG (which was a combination of heavy load and a mixture of city and highway driving with the air conditioning blasting pretty much the whole time).
Jog Dial Controls
Right near the shifter knob is the CX-9’s “Commander.” This wheel is the heart of controlling the Infotainment system and display. I have driven other cars that have similar as well as different ways to control the mid-dashboard displays, and I always find the round controllers to be the most intuitive and easy to operate while your eyes are on the road. The CX-9’s jog dial controller is no exception. You twist the dial (there are clicks to help guide you tactilely) to make menu selections, zoom on GPS, manually tune radio stations, etc. You can also press the dial to the sides and up and down to jump between items (think of it as arrow key navigation). And then you push down on the top to make a selection. Just using it a few minutes makes it very easy to understand.
Surrounding the Commander are several key buttons. There is a smaller dial for volume control (easily reachable by the passenger). Press down on the volume to mute. And there are handy buttons as well: Favorites (for the radio), Navigation, Music, Home, and Back (if you are doing menus).
This is one little feature that most people miss, but I didn’t. Again, buried in the vehicle settings screen is the ability to set up ambient lighting. This is most apparent near the door handles where the handles are softly backlit. One thing that I also noticed was a tiny little light up near the sunroof controllers. This light casts a very soft glow down on the space between the driver and the passenger. It can be useful (and a bit less for ambiance), but I appreciated that I could use that light instead of firing up the reading lights which are much brighter.
I definitely have to mention the paint job on the Mazda CX-9. The Grand Touring we received had a beautiful red color to it. But it was almost 3-dimensional in its brilliance. The red color, known as the Soul Red Crystal Metallic simply shimmered in the sun. The pictures probably don’t do it justice. You really have to see it to believe it.
Quiet Ride for the Premium Sound
Last but not least, I need to talk about sound. And there are two parts to the equation here. First is road noise. I was quite amazed at how easy it was to have a normal conversation while driving down the highway. Typically, road noise is always a competition with in-vehicle sounds. According to Mazda, they added 53 pounds of sound-deadening material in conjunction with sound-insulated glass and better seals on doors and windows. And I must say, it works!
This is particularly important when you bring in the Bose premium sound. The CX-9 uses a 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2 Surround Sound System. It will lower the sound volume at lower speeds and bring it back up when it might be conflicting with road noise. There is an 8” full-color touchscreen display (but because you have the Commander dial to control things, I rarely used the touchscreen). Obviously, you can connect your Bluetooth device for hands-free calling as well as music streaming. And there are voice controls for just about every possible control (I only lightly tested out the voice controls but they were numerous). You also have SiriusXM available (with subscription), AM, FM (HD Radio), and app integration for services like Aha, Pandora, or Stitcher. And, once you pair your smartphone, you can receive notification of texts/SMS’s and have them optionally read to you. You can also connect USB devices to stream music or audio (with did that during the long drive to listen to some podcasts – scary ones are my family’s favorites!).
The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is Both Hot & Cool!
Circling back to the theme of hot and cool features while we drove in hot Los Angeles and staying cool in the 2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Grand Touring model, my family really did enjoy how comfortable the ride was. We spent many hours and traveled many miles of highway and city driving and felt this was truly a great family car. Having the 2-3-2 seating combination really worked especially well for our family.
The MSRP on the 2018 Mazda CX-9 AWD Grand Touring is $42,270. The price as tested was $43,905, mainly for the optional Soul Red paint. I felt this price was fairly reasonable for a family vehicle that was good for city and highway driving, and having the AWD option makes it truly nice for rainy or snowy driving conditions. Definitely take one out for a test drive if you are looking for a primary family car.
Disclosure: Apart from the 10-day loan of the 2018 Mazda CX-9, I have not received any compensation for writing this content, and I have no material connection to the brands, topics, and/or products that are mentioned herein. All opinions within this article are my own and are not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. More information can be found in my About page.
HTD says: While it was over 100 degrees outside on our road trip, inside the 2018 Mazda CX-9 we were all cool and comfortable. The CX-9 is a great family vehicle with a ton of hot and cool features that parents and kids can both appreciate.