The 2019 Mazda CX-9 is dynamic and peppy and like its smaller CX-3 and CX-5 siblings, the CX-9’s attractive cues – both inside and out – stand above most of its classmates. The CX-9 debuted as a 2007 model. The second-generation vehicle followed as a 2016 model, and is the flagship of the Mazda lineup. Mazda vehicles share a common “Kodo” design language, that seeks to capture the sense of motion. SKYACTIV is another common thread through the Mazda vehicles. It is an approach that debuted in 2010, encompassing engine, transmission, body, chassis and driving dynamics technologies that balance performance with efficiency, safety and weight savings. It competes In a segment with a lot of choices that include tried-and-true heavy hitters like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and Chevrolet Traverse along with popular newcomers like the Subaru Ascent, VW Atlas, Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade.
Mazda vehicles generally provide drivers with a positive experience. A Mazda entry into a vehicle class has been one of my top choices when it comes to pure driving experience. However while a CX-9 is not a Miata it shares some of the driving character that makes a Miata one of the best driver’s cars on the road. CX-9 weighs in at 4,383 lbs in AWD trim. That weight is supported by four-wheel independent suspension (MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear with stabilizer bars at both ends) and 20-inch by 8.5-inch wheels on Grand Touring and Signature trim models/18-inch by 8-inch on Sport and Touring. SKYACTIV G-Vectoring Control introduces torque vectoring into the equation to improve cornering feel and performance. The system subtly reduces power upon corner entry, shifting the vehicle’s weight to the front wheels, which makes turn-in smoother and easier. Perfectly weighted electric power assist steering helps point the CX-9 in the desired direction. You never forget that you’re driving an almost 200-inch SUV, but driving through the curves is free from body roll and is delightfully precise.
The CX-9 uses a six-speed automatic transmission behind its transversely mounted 2.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline engine -227 hp/310 lb-ft of torque (fill the gas tank with 93-octane fuel and it moves the horsepower to 250). Three rows don’t hamper the CX-9’s dynamics as much as you might think. There’s still plenty of “pep” from the engine, with all-wheel drive, the CX-9 is grippy in the corners, and Mazda estimates a 0-60 miles-per-hour time of about 7.2 seconds. Shifts are smooth and power comes on in a linear, predictable fashion with no discernable turbo lag. There’s a genuine sense of momentum and urgency on tap, especially when you select Sport mode with the center console-mounted toggle switch. It’s likewise effortless to bring the CX-9 down from speed, thanks to a well-modulated brake pedal that contributes to the crossover’s overall confident stop-and-go performance. The EPA estimates that CX-9 AWD can achieve 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway/23 mpg combined.
Mazda has nailed the styling it is the best-looking vehicle in its class. The signature design cues are plentiful on the CX-9, and extend from the triangular grille and slim headlights up front to the narrow taillights and sloping roofline in the back.
The inside of the CX-9 is as pleasant as the outside. All the finishes feel very upscale. There’s an elegant simplicity to the dash, and quality material selections have been made throughout the cabin. The driver’s cockpit is perfectly aligned, with attention lavished on the driver’s line of sight. The eight-inch color touchscreen display is mounted high on the center of the dash, and a head-up display with traffic sign recognition is projected above the instrument panel’s cowl. Sight lines in all directions are clear, augmented by a blind-spot monitoring system with cross-traffic alert and rear-view camera. Mazda does not call itself a “luxury manufacturer,” but on its on its Signature trim vehicles, it shouldn’t be so modest.
Amenities in the cabin include Heated and ventilated power front seats with perforated leather provide comfort and support. A heated steering wheel, two-position driver’s seat memory, second-row window sunshades, rain-sensing windshield wipers, automatic on/off LED headlights, radar cruise control, auto-fold side mirrors, proximity key with push-button start, and other premium features are also included. A Bose 12-speaker surround sound audio system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is standard on Signature, as is navigation. A power liftgate is part of the Signature trim level as well. Access to the two-position third row is a one-handed affair, with seating while tight is adequate for full-size adults.
A Top Safety Pick honor from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is difficult to earn, but the Mazda scored well and was given a five-star result. Safety and driver assist technologies on the CX-9 Signature include trailer sway control (3,500-lb towing limit – compared with most three-row crossover SUVs that can tow 5,000 pounds or more), rear parking sensors, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support.
The CX-9 does have a weakness though, on the downside the styling of the rear three-quarter do hinder the Mazda CX-9 in one vital area: space. Sure, it felt roomy to me and it looks good, but the CX-9 doesn’t have as much room as some of its competitors. The 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row and 71.2 cubic feet with the third row folded flat are not ideal for a larger SUV. Total passenger volume is 135.1 cubic feet, and third-row legroom is 29.7 inches. Those are some of the lowest numbers in the segment.
In the end, the 2019 Mazda CX-9’s positive attributes far outweigh its space issues. It’s definitely worth considering against any other midsize three-row SUV’s. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD tested arrived in my driveway looking immaculate in snowflake white pearl paint ($200) for a starting price of $45,365 ($47,285 as tested).