Above a family of small crossovers including the CX-3, CX-30, and CX-5, Mazda's flagship offering is the three-row CX-9. The current, second-generation car debuted for the 2016 model year, and Mazda added standard driver-assist active safety features for 2020 and a new infotainment system for 2021. It competes in a competitive segment of midsize three-row offerings including the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, and the 2020 SUV of the Year-winning Kia Telluride.
Shopping for a three-row SUV shouldn't mean giving up on owning a fun-to-drive vehicle, at least not if you ask Mazda. Similar to how the compact CX-5 is the enthusiast's pick of its segment, the CX-9 is the obvious three-row choice if you care about driving. The steering rack provides a nicely weighted, responsive feel, and the ride is firm enough to keep the big-body SUV composed but still compliant. It's a fun thing to toss around a corner.
The standard turbo-four offers strong acceleration and impressive low-end torque. Mazda's choice of a six-speed automatic is a little outdated, though, and the gearbox can feel hesitant to downshift. Standard driver-assist features are much appreciated, but we noted overeager emergency braking in earlier CX-9s.
The CX-9's cabin is nicely appointed, even more so with the newly standard 10.3-inch infotainment display. Passenger space is generous enough in the first two rows to be comfortable for most adults, especially with the available second-row captain's chairs. That said, because of the Mazda's relatively compact dimensions, third row and cargo space don't compare well with the competition.
There are more spacious, more capable three-row SUVs out there, but if you don't mind sacrificing traditional strengths of vehicles in this segment for an engaging drive and sharp design, the CX-9 should be on your list. Having said that, in a 2020 comparison test of non-luxury three-row SUVs, a 2020 CX-9 placed seventh of nine competitors.
Every CX-9 is powered by a 2.5-liter turbo-four mated to a six-speed automatic. AWD is available, but standard cars are equipped with FWD. The forced-induction lump under the hood develops 250 hp with 93-octane fuel (or 227 hp on 87) and 320 lb-ft of torque, that, in our recent three-row comparison test, helped the CX-9 hustle to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds. Fuel economy is rated at 20-22/26-28 mpg city/highway.
The CX-9 is an exceptionally safe three-row SUV. With an excellent performance in all aspects of IIHS safety testing, Mazda's largest offering earns a 2020 Top Safety Pick+. It also receives a five-star overall safety rating from the NHTSA, despite four-star frontal crash and rollover scores.
For the 2020 model year, Mazda made its suite of driver-assist active safety technology standard on all CX-9s. As a result, automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, automatic high beams, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert are all included.
Mazda's flagship SUV provides seating for six or seven across three rows of seating. Legroom measures 41.0 inches up front, 39.4 inches in the second row, and just 29.7 inches in the way back. The amount of space for your knees is about on par for the segment, but the 14.4 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the CX-9's rear seat pales in comparison to some larger three-row SUVs.
New for 2021, the CX-9's 7.0- and 9.0-inch infotainment display options have been replaced with a new 10.3-inch screen as standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility are finally standard, as is a Wi-Fi hotspot and some app functionality.
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