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May 21, 2021 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Wife and I are thinking of purchasing a new family car. We've narrowed it down to two options: 2018 Toyota Highlander or 2018 Mazda CX-9.

We like the way the CX-9 drives better and prefer that car overall. However, our main concern is safety for our two kids when we're all together using this as a family vehicle. The Toyota drives like a truck and feels a bit higher and heavier, but everything I read about the CX-9 indicates it's equivalent to the Highlander in terms of weight (an important factor) and safety ratings (see here).

Basically, we have this impression that the Highlander "feels" more safe because of the way it feels to drive. We are afraid that we're picking a car—the CX-9—based simply on how fun it is to drive. But on paper, that doesn't seem to be a correct assumption. Anyone have any experiences that can allay our fears? Or confirm them so that we're prompted to prefer the Highlander?
posted by uncannyslacks to Shopping (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
They're both safe vehicles that are very much up to modern crash standards. If they have the same complement of airbags, there's little to differentiate them in that respect. The CX-9 might be slightly less likely to kill a pedestrian. If you prefer the CX-9, get it. The Highlander will probably be more reliable for longer, though.
posted by wierdo at 1:00 PM on May 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

the Highlander "feels" more safe

Driver perceptions do affect they way that people drive, this is why looking at safety stats measured at a fixed speed, will not give you the whole picture.

Driving in a larger taller vehicle will make you feel like you are going slower so you will unconsciously speed up to compensate.

Driving in a smaller low slung vehicle will feel faster, so you will tend to drive slower and be safer. There is one exception to this which is when you get to sports cars, they tend to be chosen by speed demons who will drive flat out in anything.

My vote would be for the CX-9, Mazda are making some fantastic cars in the last few years and I think their reliability/longevity will be up there with Honda/Toyota.
posted by Lanark at 1:17 PM on May 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

I cross shopped both of these exact years a month ago and bought the Mazda. The handling feel is much better in the Mazda than the Toyota. That truck feeling that the Highlander has feels reassuring at first but the more you drive off ramps and curvy roads you can feel it's ponderousness.

The safety features you get on the Mazda are also better than the equivalent priced Toyota. We got a Grand Touring that has all the safety bells and whistles that would have cost $5k more in the Toyota.

On other tip is that the 2018 CX-9 can be retrofitted with CarPlay/Android Auto for about $400 at the dealership. That is much cheaper than stretching for the 2019 where those systems were the major additions.
posted by Crashback at 1:18 PM on May 21, 2021

Car and Driver has consistently rated the CX-9 one of their favorite vehicles in this class. If they have similar safety ratings, I'd go for the one that feels better for you to handle. Mazda reliability is good - both my son and a friend have had Mazdas that they have driven to 6-digit mileage, one to over 200,000
posted by TimHare at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2021

I drive a CX-5, chosen because it drove the least like an SUV/van out of all the comparable SUVs. Sales guy explained that people love it because it’s on a car chassis and that makes it drive more “normal” that people are used to and thus feels responsive / zippy like a typical sedan car.

So don’t worry. Mazda knows their market - parents who want a family car that feels good to drive - and have tuned their product accordingly.

Get the Mazda and enjoy! Zoom zoom!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 4:24 PM on May 21, 2021

Mazda makes great cars. My Mazda5 got totaled in an accident, but all inside were safe.
posted by nickggully at 5:04 PM on May 21, 2021

As someone who chooses to drive a smaller car (for safety, environmental, and economic reasons), it depresses me to think that people pick heavier cars because they hope to outweigh me in a crash. That's where most of the safety benefit of having a heavier car comes from.

Things have improved a bit, in terms of design, but I'd encourage you to think about the implications of deliberately choosing a car that is safer for you precisely because it is more dangerous to others.

(And also the role that plays in the ridiculous car size arms race we seem to be in.)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:53 PM on May 21, 2021 [7 favorites]

I wouldn't buy a Mazda because everybody I know who has owned one has experienced them dying before the Toyotas, like at 100K miles, which is not enough for a modern car IMO.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 4:53 AM on May 22, 2021

For those saying a Toyota will last longer by default, you’re repeating a myth. And lazy thinking. The facts say otherwise.

Consumer Reports’ most recent survey of reliability placed MAZDA at number one, above Toyota and Lexus for the first time ever. Initial quality so it isn’t longevity. But Mazda has done so much right toward reliability over time in recent years that the old rankings are meaningless.

I’m a Mazda stan, so whatever. But that CX-9 is a far more put together vehicle than the Highlander. Much more luxurious and comfortable to begin with. Cutting edge engine tech. Exactly identical safety records and Mazda has been banging it with safety ratings for the last decade. I know few Mazda SUV owners who don’t love their vehicles. They feel perhaps a little underpowered across the range. But drive them both and decide. The Mazda drives much sharper to my perception and I have driven both several times. A highlander feels a lot more like a truck. And I also drive a truck.

The Mazda will get slightly better real world MPG too.

My 2014 Mazda3 is just at 90k and the only non-maintenance repair it has ever needed is a wheel bearing at $250 — and I drive in NYC so that is hardly unusual (potholes kill wheel bearings).

Don’t fall for “there is Toyota and then everything else” thinking, which is super common among Mefites who aren’t super into automotive matters. I would buy the Mazda in that scenario every time unless I planned to unload the vehicle within 5 years, in which case the Toyota tax works in your favor as initial depreciation is always slower on a Toyota and that is only because the total myth that Toyotas are exceptionally reliable compared to anything else. No they aren’t.
posted by spitbull at 4:54 AM on May 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Ms. Vegetable, your anecdotal claim is simply not backed up by any facts. No modern consumer vehicle that is properly maintained will “die before 100k” and Mazda CUVs from the mid-teens are now hitting 200k no problem, for thousands of buyers. I follow Mazda forums and subs. I have seen no particular issues with the CX-series CUVS that throw up any reliability flags. None.

Look up the facts instead of relying on perceptions of your limited sample.
posted by spitbull at 5:02 AM on May 22, 2021

Oh by the way Toyota has been class-action sued for transmission failures on late model Highlanders.

Mazda hasn’t been sued for anything of the sort. The 6-speed auto in a CX-9 is a tried and true and nearly bulletproof design. And it drives sharp for an auto too.

If you have a modern mainstream consumer car die before 100k you didn’t take care of it right. Any car.
posted by spitbull at 5:07 AM on May 22, 2021

The one case where I would recommend the Toyota is if you plan to tow with it or spend a lot of time going off the concrete.
posted by spitbull at 5:13 AM on May 22, 2021

And this is where I mention my other old Mazda (a 21 year old truck) has ca 230k on it and runs like a top.
posted by spitbull at 5:16 AM on May 22, 2021

Here is Road and Track’s summary of the (now two!) Consumer Reports’ surveys that have ranked Mazda as most reliable.

I know I’m causing a glitch in the Metafilter automotive algorithm. “Consumer Reports Says…” vs. “Toyota is a perfect.” The battle of common sense positions. Only one has the facts behind it.

Read it: “Remarkably, Consumer Reports has recommended all seven of the Mazda models it has tested.”
posted by spitbull at 5:20 AM on May 22, 2021

Sorry to pepper the thread but I’m going to give you another reason to go Mazda and disdain Toyota across the board.

In 2019 Toyota strongly backed the Trump administration’s attempt to crush California’s strong fuel economy and emissions standards, which have led to all of us getting better and more efficient and less polluting vehicles because California is such a large market that the automakers just benchmark to their standards when they design for the entire US market. Toyota was aligned with GM on wanting those standards rolled back and was perfectly willing to back Trump to get it. In addition, Toyota has made corporate contributions to several campaigns of congresspersons who voted against impeachment for the 1/6 insurrection, SINCE that date and after promising not to do so. They have donated to 39 representatives who voted not to certify Pres. Biden’s election since 1/6. They are particularly egregious among such hypocritical companies, in fact.

I know, I know, you thought of them as the Prius company.

This is my revenge. And Mazda is a tiny company by comparison, based in Hiroshima, Japan, which is why I initially was drawn to them in my youthful anti-nuclear weapons activist days. Yeah, they survived being hit with an atom bomb.

Alas, from my POV, Yota and Mazda are teaming up for a bunch of hybrid tech and a new US CUV factory in Alabama. Sigh.
posted by spitbull at 5:34 AM on May 22, 2021

Full disclosure: I'm a Mazda stan. Owned a 3 for years and adored it. I also currently drive a 2012 Toyota Sienna, which I respect but do not love. I'm likely to go Mazda again when I'm done with the living room on wheels.

The website provides consolidated reporting on US federal complaints for every car model by year going back 20+ years. To normalize the data across cars, you also need the total sales data for the given year, so I got that from Here's the rundown:

2018 CX-9: 20 complaints filed / 28,257 units sold = 0.07%
2018 Highlander: 147 complaints filed / 244,511 units sold = 0.06%

These are teeny tiny numbers, relatively speaking. As a point of comparison, the 2018 Subaru Outback (which has a known and unpleasant issue with its windshields cracking) has 586 complaints filed against 178,854 units sold, for 0.3% reporting issues. That's an order of magnitude higher than the cars you are considering.

One other note - the CX-9 is assembled in Japan. The Highlander is assembled in the US. My experience has been the edge on durability goes to cars actually manufactured in Japan.
posted by sockshaveholes at 5:42 AM on May 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

I fully concur that when you have a choice, you always want the one assembled in Japan. Many Mazdas are assembled in Mexico, however. Conventional wisdom has it that the process is so automated that it doesn’t matter anymore. I do not believe that and specifically picked out a Mazda3 made in Hiroshima when I bought mine. It’s the little things.

Mazda had a bad stretch (primarily with rust prone body panels) in the early 2000s that has hobbled its reputation ever since. But they tried twice as hard to get ahead of it as they even needed to. I am super f’ing impressed with my 2014 Mazda3. It’s been the most bulletproof vehicle I’ve ever owned and I’ve owned a couple of Toyotas too. At 7 New England winters under her galvanized steel body, my 3 has almost no rust except on the exhaust parts. It surprises me, even. And she is SO fun to hoon, which matters to me a great deal in a small car.

I do my own work on my vehicles for the most part and hang out with mechanics a lot and have for a lot of my life — meaning like for 40 years. I’m definitely an amateur but once you’ve spent time fixing this crap you get a very different feel for “quality” than if you rely on marketing and anecdotes or even surveys and such. It’s a game of inches on modern vehicles. All the low hanging fruit of reliability has been dialed in. We aren’t talking “make a mistake and you’ll be stranded in the desert for sure.” We are talking “your first replacement of major front end components will be at 110k instead of 120k” for the most part. You almost can’t really get a truly bad vehicle anymore, certainly from a major Japanese maker. 90% plus of “reliability” and “longevity” thus comes down to driving conditions and especially proper maintenance. Period.

Personally I just saw my last ever vehicle get released. I’m one of tens of thousands (already 20k preorders) who have already decided the Ford F-150 Lightning BEV truck is what I was waiting for. I can now own just one vehicle, without the guilt over driving a truck, get 300 miles of battery range (covers my very long weekly commute), a huge crew cab and 4x4, a 0-60 time faster than many sports cars, massive instant torque for snow plowing and hauling crap, and a 100k battery warranty for less than the price of a maxed out Honda Accord, counting the tax rebate if you can get on line in the next year or so. Only hassle will be parking something that big when I’m in NYC. But I’m a Boston boy (we can park anything, anywhere) and have driven large trucks my whole life.

Otherwise, I have seen the future. And my next and last vehicle.
posted by spitbull at 6:00 AM on May 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh and the form factor of the Lighting beats any SUV: cabin space is larger, you have a big truck bed, and a huge front trunk (bexause no engine) that matches the cargo area of a 3 row SUV easily. Tow more. Haul more. Go off-road easily. Power your house in a blackout. Union built. What is not to love?

Charge on a solar array and laugh at the Prius scolds.

You can theoretically get in the door for less than $35k with a tax credit.
posted by spitbull at 6:08 AM on May 22, 2021

Sneaking back in to add this. The New York Times just ran a big feature story on how Mazda has been crushing it for a while now and was one of 3 carmakers to do well through the pandemic. They summarize the many accolades and safety rating wins and reliability surveys that have been heaped on Mazda lately. And they remind me that for five years straight US News and World Report has ranked Mazda the best overall brand. And that every single Mazda model currently has an IIHS top safety pick plus rating, something true for no other brand. Link is here.

Please check it out if you still believe the “there’s Toyota and then everything else” hype. Toyota just bought a small stake in Mazda, in part because they want some of Mazda’s engineering chops. (And vice versa — Mazda needs Toyota’s hybrid and electric chops).

But if you believe numbers and ratings and reviews and statistics, it is undeniable that Mazda can claim “most reliable brand” at least recently. On top of that no one questions the beautiful aesthetics of Mazda design, or the commitment to driver engagement and sharp handling that is the hallmark of the brand. I have recommended Mazdas to many friends. Not a single one has ever had a negative experience owning one.

Buying one is a bit more sketch. Mazda has a crappy dealer network, but they are said to be investing heavily on that end at the moment. Bexause they know their cars are better than their dealers.
posted by spitbull at 2:46 AM on May 29, 2021

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