Time’s marching on except when it comes to the Mazda CX-9.

Launched in 2016, the three-row SUV has withered on the vine. With a TCC Rating of 6.5 out of 10, the 2022 Mazda CX-9 still appeals with terrific steering, easy-to-use analog controls, and premium design details and materials. But the packaging is compromised, the infotainment system is beyond dated, and the lack of an electrified powertrain option limits its fuel economy.

After a week of road-tripping, hauling kids, and running errands in the 2022 Mazda CX-9, here’s where the three-row crossover SUV hits and misses.

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Hit: Fantastic steering

It’s rare for a crossover SUV without a Porsche badge to get praised for its steering system, but Mazda usually seems to be the exception when it comes to dynamics. The CX-9’s no different. The well-weighted system with a reasonably quick steering ratio of 17.6:1 might be the best of any three-row vehicle thanks to its sharp turn-in and responsiveness. There’s enough feel to know what’s going on despite 20-inch wheels being wrapped in Falken Ziex CT50 all-season tires, which are a cheaper Tier 2 tire at best.

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Miss: Compromised packaging

Half the battle of the three-row segment comes down to packaging and versatility. The CX-9 falls flat here. The second row horse-trades legroom with the third row, which itself is too tight to reasonably fit an adult for any real length of time other than a short jaunt across town. With the third-row seat up there’s only 14.4 cubic feet of space for cargo, which is less than the trunk space of many mid-size sedans. The second-row seats are mounted stadium style, which means adults in the second row awkwardly look down over occupants in the first row. The seats in the first two rows are well bolstered and comfortable, but the front seats can be a smidge narrow.

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Hit: Analog controls

The CX-9’s a reminder of simpler times in a timeline when even the Kia Telluride ditches its terrific analog gauge cluster for a wall of screens. The CX-9’s partial digital gauge cluster features a digital tachometer and speedometer, but they are designed to match the analog fuel and coolant temp gauges. The climate control system features simple-to-use and read buttons and knobs with a thin, horizontal LCD screen displaying fan speed and temperature. And while the infotainment system is a hot mess, there is a physical volume knob and hot keys for important functions. If the CX-50’s any indication of what’s to come, the CX-9’s replacement will surely keep some of these hard buttons. It makes things easier, and safer, to use while driving down the road.

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Miss: Clunky infotainment system

The standard 10.3-inch infotainment screen relies on a clunky control-knob interface with some dedicated hard buttons on the center console. Now that Lexus has finally ditched its touchpad and mouse-like interface, Mazda’s system is the worst on the market. Executing key functions for navigation and audio controls requires multiple spins and clicks of the knob. Several of the functions are locked out while driving. Apple CarPay and Android Auto help the situation with a cleaner interface, but do little to help input functionality.

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Hit: Premium design

Inside and out, the CX-9 punches above its mainstream class with a pretty design. The exterior features fine details like a chrome strip applied across the rear hatch. The intricate grille on my Signature model looked nice but was an absolute pain to clean bugs off of after a road trip. Inside, my tester’s seats were wrapped in soft nappa leather and the soft touch dashboard was nicely grained. The matte wood trim looks nicer than anything found in a Honda Pilot and wouldn’t be out of place in an Acura MDX.

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Miss: Underwhelming fuel economy

Mazda equips every CX-9 with a 2.5-liter turbo-4 rated at 227 hp on regular fuel and 250 hp on premium fuel. It’s mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, which is down two to four gears compared to the competition. All-wheel drive is standard. There is no electrification.

The EPA fuel economy ratings of 20 mpg city, 26 highway, 23 combined are reasonable for the segment, but in the real world it falls short. On a highway road trip of 927 miles, half of which consisted of only two adults while the other half added in two young kids putting us far from fully loaded, the CX-9 averaged only 23.1 mpg, according to the onboard trip computer. That’s fine, but the CX-9 delivers similar fuel economy to more potent V-6 competitors including Kia Telluride, Hyundai Palisade, Honda Pilot, and Jeep Grand Cherokee L. It’s a lose-lose situation.

The future of the CX-9 in Mazda’s lineup remains unclear. The 2024 Mazda CX-90 is set to become the automaker’s flagship with a new platform, a new inline-6 powertrain that might feature electrification, and hopefully better packaging. It’s unclear if the CX-9 will be killed off, refreshed, or continue as it is.

At $49,030, the loaded CX-9 Signature’s a tough sell. Mazda’s large people mover has been surpassed by competitors such as the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade, which do a more convincing job of fitting into the premium segment at a mainstream price. Time to make some decisions, Mazda.

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2022 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Base price: $36,505, including a $1,225 destination fee
Price as tested: $49,030
Powertrain: 227-hp 2.5-liter turbo-4, 6-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 20/26/23 mpg
The hits: Terrific steering, analog controls, premium design inside and out
The misses: Compromised packaging, frustrating infotainment system, middling fuel economy

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