2016 Mazda CX-9 Long-Term Test Update: Deep Dive into Cargo Capacity and Seating

The Mazda CX-9 is starting to earn its keep as the AutoGuide.com long-term tester, and its schedule is quickly filling up with new missions and tests that will push it to its limits to find out just how much it can handle.

We’ve had the CX-9 for just more than four weeks now, and we’ve quickly put almost a couple thousand miles on it. That will quickly double with an impromptu road trip that AutoGuide.com video producer Anthony Delacruz will be taking down to NYC, so we’ll get a great idea of its highway manners and fuel consumption and hopefully some great photos of it visiting The Big Apple. We’ve also installed the hitch and our towing pro Stephen Elmer will bring his truck expertise to bear in an evaluation of the CX-9’s towing ability in our next report.

Interior Deep Dive

After our introduction, some of our readers expressed disappointment with the CX-9’s cargo capacity, so we thought we’d take a deeper look at that in our first update. As mentioned, the CX-9 lists 14.4 cubic feet with all seats up, 38.2 with the back row flat and 71.2 with all rear seats dropped.

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With all seats up, it’s enough room to fit a week’s groceries for a family of four, and even some moderately bulky items like regular strollers, a cooler or a set of golf clubs. It also has a removable floor that either gives you a bit more height so that you can fit a children’s bike or a small dresser, and there are a couple smaller covered cubbies on the sides as well. Of the top sellers in the segment, only the Sorento (11.3 cu. ft.), Santa Fe (13.5) and Highlander (13.8) provide less space behind the third row, while Pilot (16) and Pathfinder (16) beat it slightly and the Explorer tops the segment with a whopping 21 cubic feet.

Vertically Challenged

However, if you’re like most average families with just one or two kids, the third row will stay down most of the time, tapping into the added width and depth of the greater cargo area. With the third row down, that 38 cubic feet is big enough for major Costco runs, the whole family’s hockey equipment, and even standard home appliances like dishwashers or washer or dryer (but not both, and probably not those ginormous front-loading washers, either). Height is definitely an issue, and I was foiled in my efforts to clear out both a disassembled crib and an assembled table because the tailgate-to-roof opening and floor-to-roof space is limited, especially compared to taller competitors.

With the third row down, the CX-9 falls to the very back of the pack among mid-size seven-seaters (along with the Sorento), with the Pilot and Pathfinder at 46 cu. ft. or more and most at least 40+, with taller cargo bays that could better handle awkward and tall items. With all seats folded, it again beats only the Sorento. One final note is that the third row, while easy to collapse, is a bit of a chore to get back up, with a long reach that requires leaning and bracing against the bumper (I wouldn’t want to do that in the dead of winter…) and handles that don’t seem all that sturdy for lifting the slightly heavy seats back up.

Catch Up on our Long-term Test: 2016 Mazda CX-9 Long-Term Test: Introduction

The lack of cargo is attributable to the CX-9’s sleek shape, its 67.6 inches in height the lowest of any of the competitors mentioned, except for the Santa Fe and Sorento again, while it is the longest in class at 199.4 inches and width at 77.2. Because of these dimensions, interior space isn’t a leader in any particular category, but is still generous enough for plenty of headroom for myself in any row, and at 5’10” I doubt many rear passengers will find cause to complain.

Seating Arrangements

However, I do have some complaints regarding the seating. The driver’s seat itself is supremely comfortable, but the driver’s door armrest padding has collapsed – it feels like it is a memory foam type material under the creamy auburn leather, but it doesn’t return to shape anymore. Granted, my elbow is misshapen and bony from old sports injuries, so it is clearly caused by my natural driving position, in which my elbow rests on that exact spot, causing the divot. And because of those injuries, my elbow is a bit sensitive, and it feels like it’s resting on a hard surface rather than the padded one intended. While I am sure there are worse pains and problems in the world, it is a disappointing failure in quality, so we’ll take it by a dealer to see what they can do about it.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Interior

Regarding installation of child seats, the second row is excellent, with easily accessed anchors and easily moved seats to reach third tether anchor. There’s even room for an adolescent or small adult between a pair of car seats in the outboard positions, or an armrest with covered storage that reveals a pair of USB chargers rated at a tablet-friendly 2.1 amps. Without the armrest down, the door pocket bottle holders are the only places for drinks, and they’re a little low for any children in car seats

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The third row is, naturally, less comfortable for adults, but my kids love going back there. Strangely, while there are anchors for a full child seat, they are oddly situated so that a child seat must be positioned in the middle, blocking you from collapsing just half of the 50/50 split-folding seat, and preventing a second passenger from sharing the space. This is hugely disappointing for my son, who just wants to sit back there with his big sister in her booster seat, so neither of them gets to sit back there in order to be fair.

Driving Matters

Before we sign off on this update, we just wanted to share a few comments about the drive. Obviously, it’s no sports car, but with all that low-end torque from Mazda’s clever turbocharged 2.5L, it gets moving easily, even with a full load of passengers, and lives up to that Mazda mantra of “Driving Matters,” although it sounds a bit gruff and buzzy when you really lean on it.

Still, The CX-9 is easy to drive and even fun to sling into a corner or onramp, but it does so without compromising the necessity of a family vehicle being comfortable enough to let sleeping toddlers lie when they nod off on the mid-afternoon drive across town on the weekend. Anthony also appreciated the accommodating ride in city driving: “It is one really smooth ride. I live downtown and driving through annoying speed bumps I’m usually pretty cautious and slow, but the CX-9 eats up all of the downtown living road imperfections.” Plus, while it’s a seven-seater with room for the family and friends, it’s not so big as to be unmanageable and the steering is light enough at low speeds to make navigating tight underground parking lots or parallel parking on busy city streets easy, especially with the help of the back-up camera.

2016 Mazda CX-9 Engine

As to the vaunted Skyactiv efficiency, we’re seeing 20 mpg overall since first taking possession of it, but seems to be getting better, showing 21.4 mpg on the trip computer since resetting it after the first two tanks, which were the engine’s first 1,000 miles, so perhaps not best representative of the CX-9’s expected efficiency once broken in. And for the most part, this is short hops, commuting in fairly heavy traffic and even some towing, so we’re expecting this number to keep climbing as we pile on the miles and get a good dose of highway driving on Anthony’s upcoming road trip.

We’ll be back in a couple weeks with our report on the trailer-hitch installation and the towing test, but let us know if you have any more questions or missions for the CX-9.

  • Padre Dave Poedel

    I am relieved that your mileage is in the low 20’s. See, I couldn’t wait for the new 2016-17 model; and bought a 2015 GT. I like having the V-6, and my mileage is pretty close to what you’re getting in the turbo 4. While the interior looks just like the 2016 Mazda CX-5 GT that I bought for my wife. I sat in a Signature model at the dealership and love the leather on the dash, Etc; but not enough to lost my shirt on a trade in for a 2016. Keep up the great work!

  • car

    Wow, best value and awesome new design , while this nagging “review” picks up on questionable shortcomings and magnifies them out of proportion …. while all best areas of design are just quickly mentioned in the last order…. no credibility to such sponsored journalism 🙁