The quest for family vehicle sales dominance has rapidly become the number one priority for many automakers with the SUV and CUV segments bearing the brunt of sales demand from consumers. However, consumer expectations of what they want from a large three-row utility and what it should have has grown from over 20 years ago with tech and fuel economy becoming key requirements. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder and the 2022 Mazda CX-9 are two entries trying to lure in more families, but while they each have a different way of doing it, we wanted to find out which one is the best fit for families.
Mazda CX-9 Gets The Nod For Overall Style
When it comes to the art of looking good, we had to give the nod to the CX-9. Signature models like our example maximize the amount of chrome trim that’s on hand with the shiny stuff enhancing the look of the front grille and other select areas of the SUV. the Mazda also benefits from a design that’s based on some of the brand’s recent concept cars. The front fascia features plenty of curves, creases and bulges and the side profile is all about flaunting its size. The rear of the CX-9 is where things stumble a bit, but the Mazda’s personality still shines through in the taillights and the core shape of the rear bumper.
The Pathfinder in contrast focuses more on practicality and function, and it shows in some of the styling decisions that Nissan made when crafting the exterior. The whole SUV was modernized and Nissan wanted to try and make the Pathfinder have a more visible connection the bigger Armada. That included a revamped front fascia with a more chiseled look and futuristic headlights. The Pathfinder has a boxier shape than the Mazda and the rear features new taillights and large PATHFINDER script running across the entire length of the tailgate. The look is decidedly more modern than the outgoing Pathfinder, but it also lacks some of the personality that the Mazda has and in some situations, the Nissan can blend right into the background. The look also feels cluttered with the chiseled jawline in the front of the Pathfinder clashing with the more elegant lines that define the back. Like the Mazda, Platinum models are the range-topping member of the Pathfinder family and they get more chrome accents and bigger wheels but even these extras aren’t enough to cover the proverbial difference.
But Pathfinder Has Superior Interior
Slip inside both of these models and the differences between the two become more apparent. Both of these luxury-lined interiors bring plenty of high-end materials to the fray with supple leather, high-end technology, and in the case of the Mazda, real wood trim. But looking good and providing comfort to occupants is only one part of the story, with functionality and versatility also being key parameters. It was in the latter two where the Nissan picked up the win. The second-row seating benefits from a flat floor, and this flat floor allows occupants to use the space for long items when it’s not being used to haul people. To find out how well it did in this particular category, we used a medium-sized flat-screen television to simulate what would happen if a buyer picked up something at a store or even on Facebook Marketplace and didn;t fold the seats down. The Nissan was able to seamlessly fit our television in place with only some pillows being needed to help keep it from moving around.
As for the Mazda, the second row has a bulky center console that’s stationary, and a large hump (that accommodates the transmission) is placed in the center of the floor. This hump (as well as the center console) prevented our TV from fitting flush on the floor and as a result, we had to fold down the third row to make it fit in the CX-9.
#comparison time as the @nissanusa #pathfinder takes on the #mazda #mazdacx9 #signature today’s #test involved versatility, a #television and not folding down the seats #whowon? #fyp #suvreview #review #suvsoftiktok #suv #familyvehicle♬ original sound – Carl Malek
But look past the art of hauling televisions and the Nissan manages to shine in other areas. The 9.0-inch infotainment system is standard on all Platinum models and while it does not have alot in regards to features, it’s an improvement over older Pathfinder models and it also boasts new software that allows it to be faster and crisper than before. It’s also a full-touch unit and that allows the Nissan to be on par with many of its rivals.
For its part, the CX-9 tries its best to please with the warm Rosewood trim being accented by buttery soft Nappa leather seating. The cabin also has a more dynamic design than the Nissan. That said, the CX-9 is let down by two key factors, the second row and the infotainment system. The large center console in the second-row houses controls for the heated seats and storage space, but it can’t be moved out of the way, and it helps make the space feel more claustrophobic than it should be. The 10.25-inch infotainment screen is bigger than the Pathfinder’s but it’s only a partial touch system with owners still having to use the frustrating Command knob to navigate their way around the system. With more SUVs abandoning analog control knobs for pure touch-based systems here’s hoping that Mazda eventually follows the script and embraces a full touch interface.
A Closely Fought Battle In The Realm Of Performance
When it comes to the performance category, neither the Pathfinder nor the CX-9 will be the first choice for weekend track work and as a result, performance is not going to raise too many eyebrows. The Pathfinder is powered by a carryover 3.5 liter V6 that makes 284 hp but swaps out the CVT for an all-new nine-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard on all models but buyers can upgrade to all-wheel drive too. Our four-paw-equipped Platinum made the sprint to 60 mph in 6.6 seconds. The nine-speed is a big improvement over the CVT and while it’s still tailored for fuel mileage, it thankfully lacks some of the clueless hunting behavior that defined the old CVT.
As for the Mazda, the company chose to take a gamble by equipping the CX-9 Signature with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The Mazda’s boosted unit is good for 250 hp on premium swill and allows the CX-9 to make the sprint to 60 mph in a slightly slower 7.1 seconds. That said, the engine feels alot quicker than it is, and the acceleration is more direct and linear than the Nissan’s despite the six-speed automatic losing two cogs to the Nissan’s nine-speed.
The Mazda also has slightly better handling, with the Pathfinder having more roll and lean than the Mazda when it’s tasked with making runs through twistier sections of terrain. The firm suspension does require a tradeoff and that comes in the form of potholes and divots making the Mazda lose its composure more readily than the Pathfinder. Fuel economy is where things shift a bit for the Nissan with all-wheel drive Pathfinders getting one mpg more than the CX-9 in city mileage with our tester rated for 21 mpg in that category while freeway mileage mirrors this trend with freeway mileage (27 vs 26 mpg.)
However, the main difference here is that the Mazda’s reliance on premium fuel to achieve its full potential also serves as a prominent weakness with buyers not only having to pay higher prices to fill it up, but also have less power and torque when forced to use regular with these compromises being absent in the Pathfinder which can readily take regular fuel without any adverse change in performance behavior.
Pricing for the two reflects where they sit in the near-luxury SUV segment with a four-wheel-drive Nissan Platinum model starting at $49,040. That’s slightly more expensive than the Signature which offers an all-wheel-drive standard and even includes Nappa Leather versus Nissan’s semi-aniline adorned seats.
Both of our testers came with splashes of optional extras, but the Nissan’s goodies helped it cross over the $50,000 barrier with our tester having a final total of $51,790. In contrast, the Mazda still managed to stay under $50,000 with our tester only crossing the barrier after factoring in various fees and taxes. This pricing advantage allows the Mazda to be in a unique position in terms of value especially when you factor in all of the things that the Signature has to offer.
However, this pricing advantage isn’t enough to make up for some of the ergonomic shortfalls that exist in the CX-9 with the compromised load floor, cramped second-row seats, and the flawed infotainment system all conspiring to make the CX-9 lose this particular comparison. The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder may not have as many luxury trappings as the CX-9, but its superior versatility, nine-speed transmission, and infotainment system are hard to ignore and finally allow the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder to firmly take its place among segment rivals in the three-row SUV segment.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.