2019 Mazda CX-9 — An engaging driving experience

By Russ Heaps
Clanging Bell

(July 8, 2020) It's possible to sum up the 2020 Mazda CX-9 in a single paragraph. Here goes: There is nearly nothing about the CX-9 that will disappoint the typical SUV buyer beyond the stingy third-row seat and less-than-generous cargo area. There is plenty to like, though, including outstanding driving dynamics, smaller-SUV-like mileage, luxury-sedan-worthy interior and loads of standard safety/driver-assist technology. Plus, impressive connectivity and infotainment features reflected in either a 7- or 9-inch touchscreen. Basically, it checks almost every box any owner of a larger SUV would want. That's it. That pretty much covers it.

Editors, however, are a demanding bunch, wanting some pesky details, as well as more than a few lines of copy. Thankfully, after driving my test 2020 Mazda CX-9 from Greenville, SC to Delray Beach, Fla. and back (roughly 1,400 miles), I am able to supply an abundance of details – probably more details than I have room to share here or you really care to know.

One thing is for sure, the CX-9 is a beauty. Whether admiring it from the curb or enjoying the comfort of its high-end cabin, Mazda spared nothing on its design. From the fluid lines of its exterior to the wonderfully balanced interior, this is one handsome SUV. Mine was what Mazda calls Machine Gray Metallic on the outside with Deep Chestnut Nappa Leather covering much of the inside. The first- and second-row seats are roomy. Better left to small children, the third row is a bit tight.

As often happens, my test CX-9 represented the top-grade Signature trim. Ranging below it are the Sport, Touring and Grand Touring grades. Factoring in the $1,045 factory destination charge, the Signature stickers out at $47,160. My test version sported a $300 paint upgrade, as well as, a $100 cargo mat, bringing the total to $47,560. Granted that puts the CX-9 well into the pricing sphere of the wildly popular Lexus RX, but CX-9 buyers shouldn't be disappointed. No matter the trim level, the CX-9 feels like a lot of car for the money. The entry-level Sport can go out the door for $34,835.

Greenville to Delray Beach is nearly a 10-hour slog, which includes a couple of fuel stops. No one will accuse me of being a young guy. Yet, I arrived at my destinations at the end of both the outbound and inbound legs rested and relaxed. This is a testament to not only the comfy, supportive seats, but to the CX-9's terrific engineering. Its ride is smooth and its steering responsive. Moreover, its standard i-Activesense bundle of safety/driver-assist technologies held to a minimum the stress involved in driving a multistate trip. Employing both cameras and radar, i-Activesense includes collision warning, forward emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control with full stop/go, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist and automatic high beams.

Providing the go is a 227-horsepower (250 hp with high-octane gasoline) 2.5-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine with Mazda's Skyactiv technology. It produces either 310 lb-ft or 320 lb-ft of torque, depending on the fuel octane. A 6-speed automatic transmission ushers engine output to the wheels. All-wheel drive can be added to the three lower trims by ponying up an additional $1,900. AWD is standard on Signature. Front-wheel-drive versions deliver a government-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. Opting for AWD mildly affects mileage. It's still a respectable (for the segment) 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined.

Acceleration is aggressive. The CX-9 gets up and gets going with alacrity when demanded. Engine and transmission are well suited to one another. Even at freeway speeds, there is plenty left in the boiler to effortlessly get around slower traffic. Of the 684 miles of road going and coming, 680 of those miles are Interstate. Mostly straight and flat. Other than exit and entry ramps, curves are nearly nonexistent. But, having piloted the 2019 CX-9 over more challenging roads, I can attest it is surefooted, providing a down-right sporty experience.

Standard in the Sport are auto hold, hill-launch assist, 18-in aluminum wheels, auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, power-adjustable heated outboard mirrors with integrated LED turn signals, rain-sensing wipers, tri-zone automatic climate control, two 12-volt power points, 6-way power-adjustable driver's seat with power lumbar support, heated front seats, reclining 60/40 split-folding second-row seat, power locks with remote keyless entry, power windows, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with redundant audio controls, trip computer, i-Activesense, Bluetooth connectivity, two USB ports, and Mazda Connect infotainment system with 7-in touchscreen, voice recognition, 6-speaker audio system with Aha, Pandora, Stitcher, text-message audio delivery/reply and auxiliary audio input jack.

Moving up to Touring adds goodies like Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, leather-trimmed seats, 6-way power passenger seat, 9-in touchscreen, push-button start and power slide/tilt second-row seat. Popping for the Grand Touring sweetens the pot with features like 20-in aluminum wheels, traffic-sign recognition, 12-speaker Bose audio system, navigation system, satellite-radio capability, surround-view cameras and ventilated front seats. Stepping up to the Signature grade enhances features with second-row captains chairs, Nappa leather, Rosewood interior accents and AWD.

Mazda makes its mark with vehicles providing an engaging driving experience. The 2020 Mazda CX-9 fills that bill. It takes the SUV and infuses it with loads of style and pizazz. It's an SUV that you won't get tired of driving and driving it won't tire you out. Oh, and it looks great at the beach.