Mazda CX-9 Versus Toyota Highlander

Earlier this fall, my wife and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. After the initial joy, we started to think practically. One of the first things we realized was that we were going to need a new car – a new baby and an 80-pound golden retriever probably weren’t going to make for good company in our Honda Civics.

We’re not quite ready for a minivan, but small SUVs weren’t going to cut it either. We quickly found ourselves in the market for a large SUV, and based upon our preferences and some targeted web research, narrowed our choices down to either the Mazda CX-9 or the Toyota Highlander.

Practical Considerations

We were impressed with the specs on both vehicles, but the Highlander had a slight advantage in a few key areas. The Highlander gets slightly better gas mileage (one or two miles per gallon), has one more inch of room in the back (something one must consider as the third-row seating in both vehicles is less than roomy, to say the least), and typically runs a few thousand dollars less than its counterpart. However, this wasn’t enough to sway us right away.

The Fun Factor

Once we got behind the wheel, it was a whole new ballgame. Both vehicles handled well in the road test, but the CX-9 just had a “sportier” look and feel. The Highlander felt slightly clunky in comparison and felt more like we were driving a large passenger van and not a sport utility vehicle. The dealer wisely knew how to exploit this difference. The sales rep personally escorted us on our drive and pointed out the various features of the vehicle – yet it didn’t feel as if we were getting the high-pressure sales job. The dealer had a well-planned test drive route that included city, highway, and country driving – and when our salesperson had us taking S-curves at 40 miles per hour and throwing it into manual mode over the rolling hills outside of our hometown, it was an incredible driving experience.

Details Matter

One more factor steered us toward the CX-9. We decided to look at models with leather interior. The leather and interior design of Mazda’s flagship was, in my opinion, of a higher quality than that of the Toyota Highlander. We found ourselves making the comment over and over again that the CX-9 felt slightly more luxurious than the competition. For us, neither the gas mileage nor the price was enough to overcome this fact.

In the end, we purchased a 2011 Mazda CX-9 Touring Edition on sale for roughly the same price as a 2012 Toyota Highlander. Thanks to our high credit score, we were also able to secure a 60-month loan with 0% financing. Five years, same as cash on the car in which we will hopefully raise a family. With no regrets (and six months of free Sirius XM satellite radio!), we can’t wait for our next road trip.

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