Mazda's CX-9 crossover has had the ability to put a spell on us since the beginning. Not only did we name it our 2008 Sport/Utility of the year, we placed it ahead of five of its competitors in a 2011 comparison test as well. The introduction of numerous new or refreshed competitors hasn't made CX-9's combination of practicality and driving enjoyment any less compelling, but that doesn't mean Mazda has been content to stand still. For 2013, the CX-9 has been updated extensively, receiving, among other things, a new nose featuring Mazda's new Kodo design language, giving it familial similarity with the smaller CX-5 and new 2014 Mazda6 sedan. The five-point grille and redesigned headlights give the CX-9 a fresher, more contemporary look, but from the A-pillar rearward, exterior changes are minimal.

Inside, it's a similar story, with the main theme being electronics and feature updates. A new 5.8-inch multi-information display features TomTom navigation, which is updatable by the owner via an SD slot. The audio system also now features HD Radio and Pandora integration. The head unit also allows for audio text message receipt and delivery as well as visual text message display.

Despite these tech updates, the CX-9's cabin is starting to show its age. Our Grand Touring model was equipped with keyless ignition, but instead of push-button start, the CX-9 features a twist tumbler switch. Although intuitive, it comes across as a cost-cutting measure. However, it's not as egregious as some models that have a plastic plug covering the ignition hole on the steering column. Overall quality of the materials and design is befitting that of a $40,000 crossover.

The CX-9 continues to have a firm, athletic feel, though the ride isn't harsh. Steering is direct, appropriately weighted, with ample feedback. The ride is controlled, but comfortable. However, there's no mistaking the CX-9's 4515 pounds. It will never be taken for a Miata. Then again, a Miata doesn't have three rows of seating for actual adults, while still giving you more than 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row. Although we wouldn't recommend a 500-mile road trip in the CX-9's third row, it's plenty accommodating for adults for short jaunts. GM's Lambda models still take the gold in third-row room and comfort, but the CX-9 is not far behind.

The 3.7-liter V-6 carries over from the 2012 model, and aside from its being a little behind its peers in rated fuel economy, we have no major complaints. Its 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque provide plenty of power for normal driving situations, delivering a 7.5-second 0-60 time and 15.9-second quarter mile. Engine sound quality and volume is appropriately refined for the class.

The CX-9 remains a compelling package in the large crossover class, and is still benchmarked by other manufacturers as one of the best examples of the genre. However, there are some areas for improvement. Obviously, the CX-9 is starting to be surpassed by its peers in fuel economy. Shedding a few hundred pounds, as well as switching to a more efficient engine would make it class-competitive in that increasingly important category. Also, a more contemporary cabin and switchgear, beyond its mid-cycle refresh, would complete the update promised by the new Kodo-fied nose.

But we'd caution Mazda not to downsize the CX-9 too much, as its size gives it a meaningful edge in versatility and practicality over many of its peers, most of which are slightly but noticeably smaller. Balancing size and weight is easier said than done, especially while maintaining an affordable mass-market price point. But if any brand can do it, it would be Mazda.

As it stands, the 2013 CX-9 is a worthwhile refresh that maintains all of the core attributes that have made it a favorite among our staff and buyers, while bringing it in line with the post-iPhone world of connectivity and convenience. If you enjoy driving, but practical necessities require a three-row crossover, the CX-9 remains one of the best choices available.


2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD
BASE PRICE $37,170
PRICE AS TESTED $39,605
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.7L/273-hp/270-lb V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4516 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 113.2 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 200.6 x 76.2 x 68.0 in
0-60 MPH 7.5 sec
QUARTER MILE 15.9 sec @ 88.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 116 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.78 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.1 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/22 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.06 lb/mi