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

There’s a complicated question to face. Is the Ford Explorer better than the Mazda CX-9? After recently testing the 2021 Ford Explorer and the 2022 Mazda CX-9 for a week, both SUVs present excellent qualities, making it difficult to determine a winner. 

Ford Explorer vs. Mazda CX-9 

2022 Mazda CX-9 review
2022 Mazda CX-9 | Allison Barfield, MotorBiscuit

The 2021 Ford Explorer and 2022 Mazda CX-9 are both excellent mid-size SUVs to consider. They are pretty similar options, including a sporty experience and a third row for kids. Plus, they offer unique features that meet a variety of different needs. 

You can get started in a new Ford Explorer for about $33,745, and the Mazda CX-9 begins at around $35,280. The CX-9 may cost more due to including more value. For example, it has standard AWD. Adding AWD to the Explorer costs about $2,000.

I tested the Ford Explorer King Ranch and the Mazda CX-9 Signature trim. So, both options had leather-wrapped everything and plenty of bells and whistles. 

How do the Explorer and CX-9 drive? 

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 comes with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with up to 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds and tow up to 3,500 lbs. 

The 2021 Ford Explorer has a standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 300 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. You can upgrade to the turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine with 365 hp and 380 lb-ft of torque. In the ST trim, it cranks out 400 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque. 

Also, with the 3.3-liter V6 hybrid engine, you get 318 hp and 322 lb-ft of torque. The Explorer can accelerate from 0 to 60 in about 6.8 seconds. It can tow up to 5,600 lbs. 

While the Explorer has a faster acceleration, the Mazda CX-9 provides smoother transmission shifts. The Explorer feels connected to the road, but bumps can be felt in the cabin, while the CX-9 is buttery smooth. 

Also, the Mazda CX-9 has a peacefully quiet interior, while you can hear wind and road noise at highway speeds in the Explorer. But the Explorer has a tighter turning radius, and the CX-9 has less body roll. 

The Explorer has Eco, Normal, Sport, Off-Road, and Towing driving modes, while the CX-9 only offers Normal and Sport driving modes. 

Does the Explorer or CX-9 have better features? 

2021 Ford Explorer review
2021 Ford Explorer | Allison Barfield, MotorBiscuit

The 2022 Mazda CX-9 has a more upscale interior with higher quality materials. While the 2021 Ford explorer also used premium leather upholstery and wood appliques, it involves more plastic. 

With the Explorer, you get a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen that can be upgraded to a 10.1-inch unit. The Mazda CX-9 has a 10.3-inch display that’s not a touchscreen. Both SUVs have standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. 

The CX-9 has more padding and comfort in the third row but a little less legroom. You can stretch out more in the third row of the Explorer, but the back support is a little lacking. Both have adequate space for someone 5’1” and under. 

It seems like the Mazda CX-9 is the better option as a daily driver with a premium and comfortable experience. The Ford Explorer is comfortable too, but a little less refined. However, the Explorer is better for towing and more rugged adventures.

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