Midsize three-row crossovers are great family haulers but they usually have bland handling. The 2020 Mazda CX-9 stands out for its zippy performance as well as its stylish good looks, upscale interior, good fuel efficiency and long list of standard and available features. The only drawbacks are that it’s not as roomy nor does it have as much cargo space as many rivals.
The CX-9 got a makeover for the 2016 model year. For 2018, blind spot monitoring and low-speed forward collision warning became standard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were added as options for 2019. For 2020, the CX-9 comes standard with heated front seats and the Mazda i-Activsense suite which includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert.
The 2020 CX-9 is available in Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature trims. Starting prices range from $33,790, which is low for a midsize SUV, and $46,215. There’s room for six or seven passengers, depending on whether you choose captain’s chairs in the second row. Front-wheel-drive is standard in the three lower trims and all-wheel-drive can be added for $1,900. AWD is standard on the Signature trim as are captain’s chairs.
Fun is probably not the first word that usually comes to mind when driving a midsize, three-row crossover. But the CX-9 is indeed fun to drive. It’s powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 227 horsepower and ?? pound-feet of torque, paired with a six-speed automatic transmission (many competitors now have eight-speed transmissions, but the six-speed still works well here). The CX-9 is quick off the line with very little turbo lag, steering and brakes are responsive, and it stays planted when cornering. Accelerating and passing at freeway speeds are a breeze. Bumps and rough roads are barely noticeable. Yep, there’s plenty of zoom-zoom, and I’d often forget that I was driving a three-row crossover.
When properly equipped, the CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds. This is low for the class as many rivals can tow 5,000 pounds or more.
Fuel efficiency is good for a midsize SUV. EPA ratings for my tester are 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway with a combined rating of 23. I got ?? during my week with a mix of city and highway driving. Front-wheel-drive models get slightly better mileage.
The interior rivals what you’d find in a luxury brand. Materials look and feel good, and the upper trims offer leather seating and wood trim. The cabin is quiet with engine and road noise kept at bay. Adults are comfortable in the first two rows, although seats are not as big as what you’ll find in some competitors. The third row is tight and really only appropriate for small kids. At least it’s easy to get back there as the second-row seats easily slide forward and backward.
Standard features include: proximity keyless entry, push-button start, rearview camera, tri-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable driver’s seat with power lumbar support, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, Mazda Connect infotainment system with a seven-inch touch screen, six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, two USB ports, voice recognition, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated outside mirrors, and the Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher apps.
Mazda’s i-Activsense safety suite is standard and includes lane departure warning, lane keep assist. blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, stop-and-go adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection. A traffic sign recognition system is also standard.
Available features include remote start, seven-inch LCD driver’s display, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, power-adjustable passenger seat, nine-inch touch screen, 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint surround-sound audio system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, heated second row seats, second- and third-row dual USB ports, navigation, and moonroof.
Available driver assistance technologies include a surround-view parking camera system and adaptive headlights.
It can take some time to become familiar with the infotainment system. Some everyday functions are buried in sub-menus. At least there are redundant knobs and buttons for several common functions. Graphics are sharp and the system responds quickly to commands.
The CX-9 has 14.4 cubic feet of storage with all three rows in place; this is skimpy compared to what you’ll find in competitors. There are 38.2 cubes with the second row folded and 71.2 cubes with the second and third rows folded. This is also less space than most in the class. The second row splits 60/40 and both the third and second rows fold flat, making it easy to accommodate bulky items. A power liftgate is available.
Zoom-zoom driving dynamics
Good gas mileage for the class
Many standard and available features and driver assistance technologies
Available Android Auto and Apple CarPlay
Not as much passenger and cargo room as many rivals
Towing capacity is below average for the class
Infotainment system takes getting used to
My tester starts at $46,115. Cargo mat is $100. Soul Red Crystal metallic paint is $595. Delivery fee is $1,045 bringing the grand total to $47,855.
Fun to drive, attractive and upscale interior, good gas mileage, and loaded with standard and available features—the 2020 Mazda CX-9 is at or near the top of the list when it comes to midsize three-row crossovers. However, if you need a lot of cargo space, you may need to look elsewhere.