Mazda doesn't yet qualify as the largest Pacific Rim automaker nor does it boast a luxury brand side hustle. Instead of casting a wide net, Mazda builds upon and focuses on notable nimble strengths. Bypassing heavier truck-based platforms utilized in work-like pickups and body-on-frame Sport Utility Vehicles within its product lineup ) brings a few kids, their friends and ancillary stuff along, Mazda CX-9 remains the pick to click. Measuring as Mazda's largest vehicle with three seating rows standard, the garage-able CX-9 finds itself wiallows Mazda to escalate the joy of driving within the working man (or woman) budget.
And if this working man (or womanth more friendly competition than ever. Last count, approximately 24 entries qualified for mid-size crossover status.
Just last year, South Korean automakers Hyundai and Kia launched all-new three row crossovers in the form of Palisade and Telluride respectively. Volkswagen brought along Atlas a few years prior while Ford revamped its Chicago-built Explorer. All provide excellent transport, but CX-9 still remains in the top tier of performance variants emanating from a non-luxury nameplate.
By the way, happy anniversary Mazda as it pops the cork to celebrate a centennial milestone in 2020. While most folks today recognize Mazda as a manufacturer of cars, it began modestly, as a manufacturer of corks.
In the 2016 model year, CX-9 underwent a much-needed second-generation redesign since Gen One arrived a loooong ten years earlier. Gen Two added upgraded interior nuances, stylish exterior upgrades and a powertrain contraction spotlighting an exclusive four-cylinder turbo (no more V-6). A total length of 199.4 inches places CX-9 at the larger end of the mid-size range, a must with three rows squeezed inside. The 2020 model year adds enough newness to keep the product fresh.
Calendar year CX-9 sales in 2019 reached 26,861 units, placing it third among the automaker's top three U.S. sellers. The five-passenger CX-5 crossover leads by a country mile at 154,545 units with the compact Mazda 3 placing at 50,714 units.
Four CX-9 trims return circa 2020: Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and top-shelf Signature. Front-wheel drive returns standard with "i-Active" all-wheel drive optional in all trims sans Signature which includes AWD standard.
Twenty-seven sensors help i-Active AWD's execute ultra-quick responses. In normal operation, CX-9 operates with a majority of torque sent to the front wheels, but if conditions change, torque transfers to rear wheels as well. The 2020 CX-9 is the first all-wheel-drive Mazda to debut an all-new feature when venturing upon uneven terrain. If diagonal wheels lose grip, off-road traction assist transfers power to the wheels still grounded, helping regain traction.
Mazda greatly simplifies the dealership experience with one engine choice and a minimum number of option packages as each of the four trims builds upon the entry below. The only option package available is a $2,100 Premium Package on Touring trims.
All trims now include Mazda's impressive suite of high-tech safety nuances standard. In prior years, these were optional in entry Sport trims. Rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and radar-enhanced adaptive cruise control now come standard across the board.
A dynamically-pressured turbocharged inline 2.5-liter four-cylinder cranks out 227 horsepower with 310 lb.-ft. of low-end torque utilizing regular, 87-octane fuel. Opt for higher grade 93-octane unleaded and horsepower revs to 250 and 320 lb.-ft. of instantaneous and ample torque. The sole transmission is a rather pedestrian six-speed conventional automatic transmission.
Expect average fuel economy returns with all-wheel-drive models generating 20 miles per gallon city and 26 mpg highway. Add two miles per category with front-drive.
The CX-9 starts at a segment competitive $33,890 with front-drive Sport trims. Our Signature model with all-new Soul Red Crystal metallic exterior paint started at $46,215. The end $48,010 figure reflected the addition of $100 floor mats, a $595 ding for the exterior premium paint and $1,100 destination charge.
In addition to our tester's new Soul Red Crystal ($595), other premium exterior colors include Machine Gray Metallic ($300), and Snowflake White Pearl Mica ($200).
Popular Smartphone interaction with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, but only in Touring and above trims. This feature allows seamless screen interaction with downloaded Smartphone applications through the center screen.
The functional, informative-at-a-glance instrument panel utilizes primarily animation, with results mimicking three analog orbs anchored by a center speedometer. Both the oval fuel tank door and trunk release pull tabs remain on the far left dashboard.
This year marks the arrival of Captain's Chairs in row two, now standard in top-trim Signature. Between chairs reside dual cup holders and storage bin with a winged, vertical fold-out top mimicking the design of the front row arm rest. Prior years settled for a three-person second-row bench in all trims. Captain's Chairs are also optional in 2020 Grand Touring editions which reduces capacity to six riders from seven.
These new middle chairs manually slide forward on a floor track once backrests tilt forward, opening an isle to the cozy, best-left-to-preteens third row.
The third-row, 50-50 split seatbacks manually fold down onto seat cushions when carting cargo, and pull upward from the opened hatch via backside grab bars. Next-generation go around, power-operated third row seating would keep up with the competition. With second and third rows folded, a usable 71.2 cubic feet await. According to Mazda math, that translates to 48 standard-sized carry-on airline bags. A height-adjustable power lift gate adorns all trims sans base Sport models and this season, a handy hands-free feature standard in Grand Touring and Signature.
The multi-function color screen extends up from the dash a-la a flat screen television. Signature trims now enjoy a nine-inch sized screen standard. Most trims continue with eight-inch dimensions while Sport models suffice with seven. Seven inches at one time represented an average size, but just in the past four years, screen dimensions have almost doubled. It's a non-touch variety, operated via "Mazda Connect," a design popular within the Mazda family. Touring-and-above screens include an in-dash navigation system.
A 'Command Control' circular chrome twist-and-push knob between front buckets allows scrolling through a host of tutorial options, selectable by an easy downward knob push. A smaller, stalk-like volume knob resides to the right. Three quick-select buttons (home, music and navigation) are in front of the twist-push dial for speedier access. It's not the most intuitive design, but secondary volume and station preset buttons on the face of the three-spoke steering wheel helps ease the process. It's still friendlier than what Lexus builds into its products requiring a wiggle pad or flat finger skating surfaces to interface with the screen curser.
In front, Mazda's bold, half-circle grille includes five horizontal slats with its winged 'M' logo in center.
2020 Mazda CX-9
Price as tested: $47,855
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder turbo
Overall Length: 199.4 inches
Overall Width: 77.5 inches
Overall Height: 69 inches
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway
Curb weight: 2,383 pounds