SUVs are more popular than ever. In 2019, about half of the 1.9 million new light-duty vehicles purchased by Canadians were SUVs. A quarter of those were affordable midsize models such as the Mazda CX-9, a Japanese contender that may not show up high on sales charts but still ranks among the best of the bunch.
The CX-9 is Mazda’s largest vehicle and can accommodate up to eight people. The first generation hit the market in January 2007 after premiering several months earlier at the New York Auto Show. Offering a spacious, versatile interior in a sleek, ultra-modern package, it served as a wonderful replacement for the aging and fading MPV minivan.
The current, second-generation CX-9 debuted in Los Angeles in November 2015 as a 2016 model. It faces plenty of competition in the three-row midsize SUV segment, most notably the Kia Sorento, Toyota Highlander and Ford Explorer.
In order to stand out from the lot and wow potential customers, Mazda designers gave the CX-9 a stylish exterior and agile proportions. Inside, you’ll find a sophisticated layout, impeccable fit and finish, high-quality materials and pleasant comfort. On top of that, the CX-9 offers the type of smooth ride you’d expect from more expensive vehicles.
The Right Powertrain
Motivating the 2020 Mazda CX-9 is a turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder SKYACTIV engine that delivers 227 horsepower with regular gas and 250 when using premium fuel. The choice you make at the pump also influences torque: the standard rating is 310 pound-feet, but you can get 10 more with higher octane.
That being said, you will hardly notice a difference in normal driving. Whatever the fuel in the tank, the CX-9 accelerates in convincing fashion, reaching 100 km/h from a standstill in less than eight seconds.
The engine is mated to a particularly smooth six-speed automatic transmission and—new for 2020—standard all-wheel drive system (no more FWD option). The former is proof that you don’t need eight, nine or ten gears to achieve good fuel economy. According to Natural Resources Canada, the CX-9 burns 10.5 L/100 km on average, which is similar to many rivals. We recorded 12.3 L/100 km in winter conditions, mind you.
By the way, towing capacity is rated at 1,588 kilograms (3,500 pounds).
Also new this year, the off-road traction assist feature helps the CX-9 maintain control on loose or slippery surfaces. When the diagonal wheels lose traction, the system will stop reducing the engine torque and increase the brake force on the wheels without traction. This transfers power to the wheels still on the ground to help allow the vehicle to regain traction and continue the drive.
On paved roads, drivers will appreciate Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus system, which comes standard and further improves steering response in corners. It also makes the CX-9 more predictable and safer.
More Content Than Ever
The sophistication of the technical components is matched by the generous list of standard features. All 2020 Mazda CX-9 models receive the brand’s full suite of i-Activsense safety technologies including blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, various levels of braking assistance as well as radar-based adaptive cruise control.
The base GS offers 18-inch wheels, heated front seats, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and powerful, self-leveling LED headlights. The more upscale GS-L, GT and Signature models get 20-inch alloys, leather seats, an eight-way power adjustable driver’s seat (four-way passenger seat), a heated steering wheel and second-row bench, plus a power rear liftgate.
As a true flagship, the CX-9 Signature is quite dapper both inside and out. Highlights include Deep Chestnut or Pure White Nappa leather seating surfaces and Santos Rosewood interior trim on the centre console and front door panels.
For an extra $300, those who pick a GS-L or GT can benefit from heated second-row captain's chairs, increasing passenger comfort to the same regal level as the Signature.
And when it comes to utility and convenience, the CX-9 doesn’t disappoint with a versatile cabin that can haul as much as 2,017 litres of cargo when all the rear seats are folded. On the flip side, you’ll only be able to fit 407 litres when those seats are up. That’s 30 percent less than in a Mazda3 Sport!
But such is life with a three-row midsize SUV. Will you choose to carry four or five adults and two small children or leave a few people at home and pack more luggage?