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2013 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD Review

2013 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD
Photo: Justin Pritchard
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Justin Pritchard
Style, dynamics add character
Ultimately, the style, space and driving dynamics of the Mazda CX-9 should connect with family-minded driving enthusiasts looking for an upscale crossover. I found the up-level GT variant of Mazda’s restyled family hauler to be engaging and entertaining, confident in the snow, and a worthy contender against the Honda Pilot, GMC Acadia and Ford Explorer.

A challenging proposition
It was a snow day up north: just the right type of weather to check out the 2013 Mazda CX-9 GT AWD’s winter readiness. And, even covered with and surrounded by ice and snow, the new design specified as the centerpiece of this machine’s most recent update shone through.

Mazda has a history of building track-tuned and enthusiast-oriented vehicles like the Mazdaspeed3 and 6, the MX-5, and a range of oil-chugging rotary-powered coupes like the RX-7 and RX-8.

It’s tricky business marketing a big, heavy SUV when your reputation is built upon lightweight rides for thrill seekers. After all, most crossovers (especially large ones) are about as exciting as a bowl of rocks.

However, the CX-9’s new-for-2013 face and body are more elegant, mature, distinctive, and more modern than before. Thanks to a new KODO design language (a la new Mazda6 and CX-5) this big hauler packs much of the visual energy and passion you’ll find in your favourite sports car.

That’s a good start to making a crossover with some excitement value.

Premium and car-like cockpit
On board the 2013 Mazda CX-9, drivers sit up high and get a commanding forward view: The centre console, dashboard and instrument cluster surround the driver and are mounted high, resulting in a cabin that feels more like a sporty sedan than an SUV. You don’t reach far for anything in here; all controls and switchgear fall right at your fingertips.

Perforated leather, suede inserts, glossy and metallic accents, and intricate panel intersections show off some attention to detail in the 2013 Mazda CX-9. Materials used are about average for the segment, but the design touches could rival most premium crossover cabins any day of the week.

So, as it is with the body, the CX-9’s cabin pulls off a substantially sporty and upscale appearance.

The goods
Go with the top-line GT model and you get a sunroof, heated leather memory seats, suede trim, keyless entry and start, and plenty more.

I liked the powerful, high-performance xenon lighting system. And those who don’t like to look behind them while driving will appreciate the blind spot monitoring mirrors and backup camera included on the GT trim level of the 2013 Mazda CX-9. The Bose stereo was rich, meaty and clear, and proved a welcom companion for several lengthy road trips.

Space to spare
In the first and second seating rows of the 2013 Mazda CX-9, expect generous space for adults and all of their stuff thanks to plenty of storage. Rear seat occupants get their own climate control, and the seats slide back and recline as needed. The cargo hold is positively massive, and a third seating row flips out of the floor as needed when you’ve got more than five total occupants along for the ride. The form-fitted rubber mats from the CX-9’s accessory catalog made it easy to keep the cabin clean and tidy, too.

Moving along
The 2013 Mazda CX-9’s 3.7L, 273 horsepower V6 isn’t a quiet engine, but it sounds good and blasts the big ‘ute along adequately when you give it the boot. Mazda’s slick Active Torque Split AWD system made quick work of slippery winter conditions, and I noted no issues with needless wheelspin.

The tester wore a set of Blizzak winter tires, and proved confidently entertaining even during a snow-plowing session through over a foot of powder on my favourite empty back road.

Appreciably, the stability control system in the 2013 Mazda CX-9 is relaxed at low speeds, enabling plenty of on-demand wheelspin to clear deep powder and allow a frisky, tail-happy experience -- if desired.

The 6-speed automatic works well with the engine, quickly finding a gear ratio to maximize acceleration or gas mileage depending on your intentions.

And, even if it’s not the most zoom-zoom Mazda model on the road, the 2013 CX-9 stays flat through the corners, feels more agile than its size suggests, and steers and maneuvers like a big car, not a small tank. It’s relatively easy to park, and also notably quiet at highway speeds even when wearing aggressive winter tires. The CX-9 rides with a firm sportiness without compromising comfort. It’s a nicely balanced ride-and-handling equation.

As expected of a big powerful ‘ute, it gets thirsty with the gas. During a lead-footed filming session in very deep snow, the fuel mileage figure of 21L/100km sucked harder than getting fired and dumped on your birthday.

I discounted this exceptional situation from my overall mileage figure which ultimately landed at an “as expected” 15L/100km over a week of extreme cold and heavy snow.

The remote tailgate only worked some of the time, and the leather on the steering wheel is on the slippery side -- so make sure you’re grabbing on well.

Mazda CX-9
Engine: 3.7L V6, DOHC, 273 horsepower
Drivetrain: Active Torque Split AWD
Observed Average Mileage: 15L / 100km
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Features: heated seats, keyless start, Bose audio, automatic climate control, power tailgate
What’s Hot: great looks, great cabin, very roomy, very flexible, upscale all-around driving experience, great relative maneuverability

What’s Not: Can get thirsty, fussy power tailgate, dated navigation system

Price As Tested: $47,250
2013 Mazda CX-9 GT
mazda cx-9 2013
2013 Mazda CX-9 GT
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Justin Pritchard
Justin Pritchard
Automotive expert