There may be no category of vehicle as capable as the 3-row SUV. Carrying a lot of passengers? There’s minivan-like space back there. Road trip? Every creature comfort you can buy is available in a 3-row SUV. Going off-road? All-wheel drive and SUV ground clearance will get you where you’re going.

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is among the most pleasant 3-row SUVs to drive. It looks great, too. The 2023 Kia Telluride is an all-around champion known for doing most things well.

Let’s see how they compare.

2023 Mazda CX-9

Lots of automakers build well-rounded cars. Mazda makes its bones on fun-to-drive cars. That’s true even in the big classes, as the 2023 Mazda CX-9 brings tight handling and premium design to the affordable 3-row SUV segment. It starts at $38,750, plus $1,275 in destination charges.

Mazda CX-9 Highlights

Curvaceous good looks: For the 2023 model year, almost every automaker seems to have gotten the same memo. They’re all making their SUVs boxier and more rugged-looking. While they’re zigging, Mazda has zagged. The CX-9 wears a sporty, curvy look and comes in an array of jewel colors that show it off.

Best on-road handling in its class: The CX-9 feels so much more fun to drive than it has any right to at this size. Mazda engineers are chassis wizards. Our test driver said the CX-9 “doesn’t drive like a 3-row SUV. Rather, it has the nimbleness and finesse of something smaller, and maybe even something that isn’t even an SUV.”

Near-luxury cabin: Mazda steals a few tricks from luxury automakers with the CX-9’s cabin. Quality, soft-touch surfaces abound, especially when you step up to higher trim levels with leather upholstery.

Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the Mazda CX-9 models for sale near you.

2023 Kia Telluride

2023 Kia Telluride X-Line

The 2023 Kia Telluride has been such a sales hit that dealers have trouble keeping it in stock. It’s roomy, with a long list of standard equipment and the longest warranty in the business. For 2023, Kia has added a pair of off-road trims to the lineup. The Telluride starts at $35,690, plus a $1,335 destination fee.

Kia Telluride Highlights

So much SUV for the money: The Telluride carries a lower sticker price than the CX-9 but doesn’t skimp on equipment to get there. Even the base LX has amenities like a huge 12.3-inch instrument display (Mazda’s entry-level trim gets 4.6 inches) and a 12.3-inch infotainment screen (10.25 inches for Mazda).

New off-road models: For 2023, Kia has honed the Telluride’s trail skills. The X-Line model gets added ground clearance and off-road traction control. The pricier X-Pro gets 500 pounds of additional towing capacity and grippy all-terrain tires. Mazda plans to introduce a more off-road capable CX-90 in 2024, but for now, it doesn’t have an answer for the Telluride’s wilderness skills.

More cargo space: With the rear seats down, a CX-9 gives you 71.2 cubic feet of space. A Telluride gives you 87. If you’re looking at big vehicles with an emphasis on the big, the Telluride will carry more. Additionally, the Telluride will seat up to eight, while the CX-9 maxes out at seven.

Check this week’s Fair Purchase Price or see the Kia Telluride models for sale near you.


Either choice will serve you well with three rows of seats, prices under $40,000, and options that inch them close to luxury car territory.


The 2023 Mazda CX-9 is gorgeous and fun to drive. It will carry up to seven passengers for under $40,000. The 2023 Kia Telluride is rugged, well-rounded, and will carry up to eight for under $40,000. You’d probably like either one. But their characters differ — one the corner-carver of big SUVs, the other a more burly and spacious choice.

Your shopping priorities will tell you which one is right for you.


2023 Mazda CX-9 2023 Kia Telluride
Starting Price $38,750 $35,690
Popular Powertrains
Engine 2.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder 3.8-liter V6
Horsepower 227 hp @ 5,000 rpm 291 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Torque 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm 262 lb-ft @ 5,200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic 8-speed automatic
Fuel Economy 20 city/26 hwy/23 combined mpg 20 city/26 hwy/23 combined mpg
Also Available 3,500 pounds AWD
Basic warranty 3 years/36,000 miles 5 years/60,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 years/60,000 miles 10 years/100,000 miles
NHTSA Overall Safety Rating 5 stars 5 stars
Max Seating Capacity 7 8
Wheelbase 115.3 inches 114.2 inches
Overall Length 199.4 inches 196.9 inches
Width 77.5 inches 78.3 inches
Height 69.0 inches 68.9 inches
Turning Diameter 38.8 feet 38.8 feet
Headroom, Front 40.1 inches 40.9 inches
Headroom, Rear 38.5 inches 40.2 inches
Headroom, 3rd Row 35.4 inches 38.1 inches
Legroom, Front 41.0 inches 41.4 inches
Legroom, Rear 39.4 inches 42.4 inches
Legroom 3rd Row 29.7 inches 31.4 inches
Shoulder Room, Front 57.9 inches 61.6 inches
Shoulder Room, Rear 58.1 inches 61.2 inches
Shoulder Room, 3rd Row 53.1 inches 55.3 inches
Cargo Volume 38.2/71.2 cubic 21.0/87.0 cubic feet


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