Mazda CX-9 — A solid three-row crossover

Mazda CX-9 in Soul Red Crystal Metallic

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

If you've decided that the 2021 Mazda CX-9 will be your next vehicle we have four words for you — Soul Red Crystal Metallic. That color may not be your first choice, but we can say from our time behind the wheel of a Red Crystal Signature trim CX-9 that the striking red used across the Mazda spectrum will garner many thumbs up. One admiring senior citizen said it reminded him of the Candy Apple Red of past decades.

There is a $595 charge for this head-turning paint, but whatever color you decide upon, you will be driving one of the best three-row crossovers in the mainstream ranks. The current iteration of the CX-9 came on line in 2016 and it received positive reviews from the onset. There have been incremental changes and upgrades through the years keeping the stylish crossover up to date.

Trim levels for 2021 include Sport, Touring, an all-new Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and the luxurious Signature.

New for 2021 the CX-9's infotainment system receives an overhaul and now comes with a 10.3-inch display and the updated interface that debuted on the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback.  A wireless smartphone charging pad is now standard on Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature models. The new Carbon Edition package is available on the Grand Touring, which adds black exterior trim, a blacked-out grille, black 20-inch wheels, and red leather seats.

Also, Grand Touring and Signature models receive new paddle shifters and an improved exterior camera system; the top-level Signature benefits from a host of new standard equipment, including rear automated emergency braking, a driver-attention monitoring system, updated grille and wheel designs, and new quilted leather upholstery.

The biggest problem for the CX-9 over the past couple of years is the addition of several excellent three-row crossovers to the segment including the Kia Telluride, VW Atlas and Hyundai Palisade, which are all larger than the CX-9 and come with V-6 engines. We still consider the CX-9 one of our favorites despite Mazda's decision to keep the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder making 227 horsepower (250 hp with 93-octane premium gas) and 310 pound-feet of torque as its only engine option. Mileage is rated at 22-mpg city and 28 highway in front-drive and 20/26/23 with AWD.

The CX-9 has 71.2 cubic inches of cargo capacity with 14.4 cubic inches behind the third-row seats. In comparison, the Kia Telluride has a luggage capacity of 21 cubic feet with a cargo capacity of 87 cubic feet. But the size discrepancy only comes into play if you regularly use the third-row seats for people. None of the competitors offer the athletic handling and overall driver engagement displayed by the CX-9.

The CX-9's fun to drive personality is a big bonus in this segment. The electrically assisted power steering is light and accurate and the Mazda is devoid of the ponderous feel offered by many competitors. The suspension is turned toward the firm side for satisfying back-road driving, yet its supple enough to provide the kind of luxury ride sensitive backsides expect.

The CX-9's interior is filled with upscale materials with detailed styling. It welcomes passengers with an upscale cabin that would fit quite well in most entry-level luxury vehicles. Mazda has tastefully used soft-touch plastic with handsome graining, brushed aluminum, and, in our Signature-trim test car, genuine rosewood.

All CX-9s come with Mazda's user-friendly infotainment system and a 10.3-inch display. The software is easy to navigate and the graphics are crisp, plus the Mazda Connected Services suite provides remote access to vehicle status, telematics, and key operations such as remote start and remote locking. A wireless smartphone charging pad is new for the 2021 model year but isn't offered on the base Sport model.

Our Signature test vehicle included virtually everything offered on the CX-9 as standard equipment with a bottom line of $48,300. For those people who like the CX-9, but don't want to shell out nearly 50 grand, we think the Touring trim level with a few desirable options hits the sweet spot. Note that every CX-9 comes standard with adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, lane keep assist, triple-zone climate control, heated front seats, 18-inch alloy wheels, the 10.25-inch infotainment display and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The base Sport carries a bottom line of $35,000.

Touring brings keyless ignition and entry, leather seats, rear USB ports and a power rear liftgate for $36,850 including destination charge. All-wheel drive is a $1,900 upgrade on all trim levels.

2021 Mazda CX-9


Base price: $35,000; as driven, $48,300
Engine: 2.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 227 @ 5,500 rpm (250 with premium gas)
Torque: 310 foot-pounds @ 2,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 115.3 inches
Length: 199.4 inches
Curb weight: 4,383 pounds
Turning circle: 38.8 feet
Towing capacity: 3,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 14.4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 71.2 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (regular)
EPA rating:20 city, 26 highway, 23 combined
Also consider: Kia Telluride, VW Atlas, Toyota Highlander

The Good
• Premium interior
• Sport handling
• Attractive styling
• Appealing Red Crystal Metallic paint

The Bad
• No larger engine option

The Ugly
• Tight third-row seating