2019 Mazda CX-9 Review

Liz Kim | Jan 22, 2019

Introduction

For years, Mazda has been the underdog of the Japanese carmakers, steadily churning out great—sometimes even phenomenal—cars that, undeservedly, rest just slightly beneath the radar for most car buyers.

This isn’t necessarily intentional on Mazda’s part, as every manufacturer wants to sell more vehicles and make more money. But being a smaller (and perhaps nimbler) company does have its benefits.

2019 Mazda CX-9
2019 Mazda CX-9

Because Mazda isn’t burdened by requirements to meet huge sales quotas, it is able to experiment more with its vehicles. The automaker can design and build cars that may not possess instant mass appeal, but can easily lure customers seeking something a little more special than just basic transportation.

The 2019 Mazda CX-9 is one of those models, a 3-row midsize crossover SUV competing in a hotly contested segment. Some people might be drawn to the CX-9 solely for its looks, but this SUV’s beauty is more than just skin deep. And it has the power to appeal to a wider range of consumers than Mazda’s core set of loyal owners.

For this review, we evaluated a 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature equipped with extra-cost paint, rear-seat entertainment system, illuminated doorsill trim plates, and a carpeted cargo mat. The price came to $49,030, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2019 Mazda CX-9, it’s helpful to understand who buys this midsize SUV and what they like most and least about it.

Compared with the Midsize SUV segment, Mazda CX-9 buyers are more often men (62% vs. 57%), they’re younger (median age of 49 vs. 55), and they earn more money (median household income of $138,298 vs. $116,411).

Generally, Mazda CX-9 buyer sentiments align with those of midsize SUV buyers as a whole. The main differences in how they feel about their vehicle pertains to styling, performance, and reliability.

For example, 32% of Mazda CX-9 buyers identify themselves as performance buyers (compared with 17% of buyers across the segment). Similarly, 97% of Mazda CX-9 buyers agree that they like a vehicle that offers responsive handling and powerful acceleration (compared to 91%).

Mazda CX-9 buyers are also more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (82% vs. 71%), and they are less likely to strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is reliability (50% vs. 64%). Of course, CX-9 buyers are also much less likely to agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (29% vs. 58%).

Buyers say their favorite things about the CX-9 are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving dynamics, engine/transmission, interior design, and visibility and safety. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the CX-9 are (in descending order) the seats, storage and space, infotainment system, climate control system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own assessment of how the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Miata performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

Exterior

The Mazda CX-9 is terrifically handsome. The swoops, curves, and creases don’t quite make sense to everyone, but for some, they meld into an artful, sculptural piece that stands out from the usual array of blobby ‘utes that neither offend nor excite.

As a result, the CX-9 captures your attention and is instantly memorable. From its sharply attenuated hood that tapers to a razor-thin edge, to its slippery silhouette made possible by a steeply raked windshield and hatch, it’s no wonder that this SUV’s exterior is cited as the factor that most delights CX-9 buyers.

I’m not as crazy about its grey side cladding, though, which in my opinion detracts from its unified profile. I know that carmakers add this styling feature in order to distinguish their crossovers as rugged SUVs, but really, body-colored trim looks so much better to my eye.

At least the 20-in. wheels that are standard on Grand Touring and Signature trims fill out the wheel wells and help to make the cladding less noticeable.

Interior

In terms of design, the tested CX-9 Signature’s cabin impresses with its beautiful materials and upscale furnishings.

The upholstery is a supple Nappa leather in a rich Auburn hue, and Signature versions of the CX-9 get dressed up with Santos Rosewood trim that is pleasurable to touch and behold. The transmission shifter and the infotainment controls are raised as if on a platform, elegantly flowing down from the dashboard.

While the CX-9’s appearance is refined, a little bit of tactile exploration reveals some cheaper plastics in the lower portion of the cabin, and as you move toward the rear, it gets worse. By the time you get to the third-row seats, you’ll find yourself surrounded by brittle, inexpensive-looking and -feeling materials. That’s not necessarily unusual for 3-row crossovers, but it’s worthy of mention.

Seats

I was able to find a satisfying driving position in the CX-9, but my husband kept complaining that he couldn’t find the correct level of comfort. The 2019 model-year update includes the availability of ventilated front seats, and Mazda has added a seat-height adjustment for the front passenger seat since this SUV was redesigned for 2016. Both of these additions are welcome.

The second-row bench seat is fairly flat and featureless, but my family used the outboard seat heaters often during a chilly spell of weather. The rear USB ports, separate climate controls, and rear sunshades also came in handy.

In terms of the last row of seats, those who need to use it will be glad to know that access is fairly easy, thanks to second-row seats that slide fore and aft, and large rear door openings.

Don’t try to drive around with the second-row seats in their tilted-forward position, though, like when your kids hop out of the vehicle at school drop-off and forget to return it back into its place. They awkwardly slide and clunk around until they’re affixed.

Climate Control System

The CX-9’s climate controls are clearly marked and easy to use, and the new ventilated front seats provide relief on warmer days. Every CX-9 comes with triple-zone climate control, too, which is always a hit with my kids.

For whatever reason, I’ve found Mazda crossovers to be deficient when it comes to cooling down the cabin quickly, and this CX-9 was no exception. This vehicle was tested in January in Southern California, during a stretch of time when temperatures did not exceed 70 degrees, and this was still an issue.

As such, I am not surprised that CX-9 buyers rate the climate control system as their second least favorite thing about their vehicle.

Infotainment System

New for 2019, Mazda finally incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection into its infotainment system. It’s a good thing, because MazdaConnect is kind of a pain in the butt to use, with a multi-function control knob located on the center console, and which requires a steep learning curve to master.

Why not use the touch-screen display? When you’re driving, Mazda disables it so that you can focus on the task at hand. The only other options are using voice controls (which are pretty good, actually) and steering wheel controls. Notably, the 8-in. display, located on top of the dashboard, features crisp, modern graphics.

Hopefully, rear-seat passengers will be too busy with their devices to notice that the CX-9 has a rear-seat entertainment system—an $1,800 option, I might add—because despite the many miles put on the test vehicle, our fairly tech-savvy children gave up on using it, sticking instead with their trusty hand-held devices.

I’m always a fan of head-up displays, as they help to keep your eyes on the road instead of going back and forth from the instrument panel to the windshield. My CX-9 test vehicle projected my speed, traffic sign information, and other useful details for easy reference. My husband, however, complained that it was hard to see when wearing polarized sunglasses.

Storage and Space

Compared with its midsize competitors, the Mazda CX-9 is a bit stingy as far as cargo space goes. This is the price to be paid for its more svelte exterior design.

Behind the rear seats, the CX-9 supplies a mere 14.4 cu. ft. of space. Fold the third-row seat down and 38.2 cu. ft. becomes available. Folding the second row reveals 71.2 cu. ft. What’s important to note, though, is that usable floor space is actually quite good, so there is more to the CX-9’s utility than the numbers might suggest.

Storage space around the cabin is less than generous, too, with unimpressive center console storage bin and glove box capacity. The second row has a bin in the fold-down armrest, while the third row has a nice bin next to the cupholders.

Visibility and Safety

With thicker roof pillars located all around the vehicle, the CX-9 requires a bit of peering around, especially around the windshield pillars, in order to gauge traffic when you’re turning onto a busy street. But, new for 2019, Mazda gives you a surround-view camera system that lets you negotiate tight blind corners and parking spaces, while the available adaptive LED headlights enhance your vision in the dark.

My test vehicle included a comprehensive collection of active safety features, including a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, and an automatic emergency braking system with pedestrian detection.

Through Mazda Connect, owners can calibrate the sensitivity levels and how they issue warnings. For example, the lane-departure warning system can beep or rumble when you drift out of your lane. With systems that beep, I tend to shut them off. The rumble mimics the sound of the Botts Dots used in California, and this more natural warning encourages me to leave the system engaged.

In terms of crash protection, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the 2019 CX-9 a “Top Safety Pick” rating, while the federal government assigned it a 5-star (out of 5) overall rating. Note, however, that in government testing the CX-9 received lower 4-star ratings for driver and front passenger protection in a frontal-impact collision.

Engine/Transmission

Pop the hood of the CX-9 to find a turbocharged, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, which utilizes innovations in engine cooling and pressure to wring out every last bit of power throughout the rev range, Mazda says.

The result is 250 horsepower, but only when fed with premium 93-octane gas. But who has a station that sells 93 octane? The closest one to my home is about 20 miles away.

It’s nice that you can run the engine on 87-octane regular gas, and it is unusual for turbocharged engines that typically require 91-octane premium fuel at a minimum. However, doing so knocks down the engine’s power rating to 227 horsepower.

Either way, the engine makes 310 lb.-ft. of torque starting at just 2,000 rpm. This makes the CX-9 feel strong when accelerating, but once you’re moving right along and want to pass, the engine sometimes feels overwhelmed by the SUV’s 4,383-lb. curb weight. Too often, I had to fully depress the accelerator—put the pedal to the metal, as the kids say—to get the momentum I wanted while passing at highway speeds.

A quick-thinking 6-speed automatic transmission delivers power to the drive wheels. Most CX-9s have front-wheel drive as standard with an i-Activ all-wheel-drive (AWD) system optional. Signature trim includes AWD.

Mazda says the AWD system analyzes road conditions and transfers torque between the front and rear axles for enhanced traction over slippery surfaces. I encountered nothing more treacherous than torrential rain during a week of driving, and the CX-9 felt stable right up to the point where hydroplaning became a problem.

Fuel Economy

Like most owners of most vehicles, CX-9 buyers give the SUV’s fuel economy poor marks. I can understand why. In a week of mixed driving, admittedly with four adults and two kids on board during many excursions, the CX-9 returned only 19.9 mpg. That’s disappointingly far below the EPA-stated average of 23 mpg in combined driving (20 city, 26 highway).

Driving Dynamics

Like other Mazdas, the CX-9 is nimble on its feet and feels light and effortless from the driver’s seat. Steering is precise and direct, and the brakes are easy to modulate. Around town, the CX-9 drives smaller than it is, but its big 20-in. wheels do convey plenty of harshness over road bumps.

On curvy canyon roads, this Mazda is more enjoyable to drive than many of its midsize crossover competitors, but it falls a little short of the athleticism we’ve come to expect from the automaker. Because of its considerable weight and SUV-style center of gravity, the body tends to rock and wallow a bit when pitched into a corner with a bit of speed.

Notably, the CX-9 gives you 8.8 ins. of ground clearance, which should allow you to drive over snowy drifts that might impede vehicles with lower underbellies.

Final Impressions

No one can deny the visual appeal of the 2019 Mazda CX-9, both inside and out. It should prove alluring to those who highly value design and aesthetics.

The CX-9 is full of modern infotainment and active safety technologies, too, some of which is easier to use than others. This SUV is also safe, and supplies good cargo floor space if not outright volume.

If it falls a bit short in terms of driving enjoyment, it’s more because of the high bar set by previous Mazda vehicles than a lack of capability in comparison to other vehicles in its class. The CX-9 feels athletic and engaging, which is something infrequently said about midsize crossovers in general.

Mazda North American Operations supplied the vehicle used for this 2019 Mazda CX-9 review.

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