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The SUV segment of vehicles continues to grow in options for buyers in the U.S. Subcompact, compact, midsize, full-size, and luxury SUVs are all on offer from dozens of manufacturers. Two midsize SUVs – the Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9 – sell thousands of models yearly. So, which one is the best for you? Here’s how the two midsize SUVs compare, with information from Kelley Blue Book (KBB).

2022 Mazda CX-9 

A steel gray Mazda CX-9 midsize SUV model parked outside of an excluded forest home

Price: Starting at $35,630

According to KBB, six trims are available for the Mazda CX-9: the base Sport, Touring, Touring Plus, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature. All models come with the same 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine producing 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers bump up to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque when using premium gas. This powertrain gets a combined 23 mpg. All-wheel drive is standard across the lineup as well.

The Sport trim starts you off with many driver aids, including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go operation, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and forward collision mitigation. Comfort-wise, the front seats are heated, and a triple-zone climate control system is standard. The 10.25-inch infotainment system includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.

The Touring trim adds a few more amenities, like an auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear USB ports, leather seats, and a power liftgate. The Touring Premium package is optional for the Touring trim but standard for the Touring Plus trim. That package includes amenities like front and rear parking sensors, a sunroof, window shades in the second row, wireless smartphone charging, and a 12-speaker sound system.

The Carbon Edition builds on the features by offering heated rear seats and steering wheel, second-row captain’s chairs, and a wireless charging pad. Driver aids include adaptive headlights, driver attention warning, and rear automatic braking systems. It also offers Polymetal Gray paint along with red leather seats, an interior exclusive to this trim.

The Grand Touring trim takes the Carbon Edition and adds more driver aids – specifically traffic sign recognition, surround-view camera, head-up display, and integrated navigation systems. The top trim – the Signature – makes the Mazda CX-9 to another level luxury-wise. Real wood interior trim, premium quilted leather upholstery, and second-row captain’s chairs with a center console welcome all seven passengers for a comfortable ride.

Behind the wheel, the 2022 Mazda CX-9 handles well. KBB reviewers note that it handles like a smaller car than one that’s just over 16 feet long. Thanks to the all-wheel drive system, it can take on various road conditions. It’s a good combination of luxury and excitement to drive for an affordable price.

2022 Ford Explorer

Price: Starting at $35,510

The Ford Explorer has been a mainstay in the segment for 30 years. For the 2022 model year, there are eight trim levels available: the base, XLT, Limited, ST-Line, Timberline, ST, King Ranch, and Platinum. The first five are all powered by a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine producing 300 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. That powertrain averages 24 mpg. 

The top three trims get a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine that brings the horsepower total to 400 hp along with 415 lb-ft of torque. That engine gets a combined 21 mpg. Gas-electric hybrid powertrains are available for the Limited and Platinum trims. The 3.3-liter V6 hybrid engine gets 318 horsepower, 322 lb-ft of torque, and 27 combined mpg.

The base Explorer has features like a six-speaker sound system, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, and tri-zone climate control. Driver aids like lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, frontal collision mitigation, and trailer sway control systems are all standard.

The XLT adds a few extra features, like an upgraded interior trim, heated front seats, roof rails, and USB ports in the second row. The ST-Line brings even more features inside, like a navigation system, simulated leather upholstery, a wireless smartphone charging pad, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen audio system. The driver aids adaptive cruise control, evasive steering assist, and lane-keeping systems are now standard. The exterior gets an upgrade as well, with a black grille and tinted headlights and taillights.

The Timberline trim builds on the ST-Line by adding all-wheel drive, all-terrain tires, specialized suspension, limited-slip rear differential, underbody skid plates, and front tow hooks to make it ideal for off-roading. The Limited builds on the XLT with ventilated front seats, leather upholstery, heated second-row seats, and interior ambient lighting. 

The King Ranch trim builds on the Limited with wood trim, a 10.1-inch touchscreen, a 14-speaker sound system, and leather upholstery in the cabin. The top trim, Platinum, is the most luxurious, with extended leather upholstery, an automated parking system, adaptive headlights, and 21-inch wheels.

Kelley Blue Book reviewers highlight the wider variety of trims with the Ford Explorer compared to the CX-9. The Explorer also has the edge on cargo space – 18.2 cubic feet to the CX-9’s 14.3 with all seats in place. Fold the back seats down and that number jumps to 87.8 for the Explorer compared to 71.2 for the CX-9. 

Which midsize SUV is better for me?

It depends on what you want out of your SUV. The starting prices are close enough that emphasizing affordability won’t make a big difference. The Ford Explorer gets the nod on fuel economy thanks to the hybrid powertrains available. If cargo space is important in your midsize SUV, the Explorer is also the way to go. If you also want to win a drag race, the Explorer has the options thanks to that turbocharged V6 powertrain.

However, if you want a midsize SUV that’s fun to drive, the Mazda CX-9 is the choice. It’s also the choice if you don’t want to pay extra for all-wheel drive. TrueCar ranked the Ford Explorer fourth on its list of best midsize SUVs thanks to trim options and pedigree; the CX-9 was 14th due to its lower cargo capacity and lack of power compared to other midsize SUVs.


Driven: Deciding Between the Ford Explorer and Mazda CX-9 Is Tough