- Lissome styling
- Elegant interior
- Advanced safety features
- Tight third row
- Cumbersome infotainment system
- Limited cargo space
2020 Mazda CX-9 changes
Mazda marks the fifth year of the second-gen CX-9 with updates that include more engine torque, a new traction control system, additional standard features and safety equipment on the entry-level Sport model, more USB ports, a hands-free liftgate, and new available and standard seating arrangements on upper trims.
Carrying over is a stunning and alluring design that, even after five years, continues to outclass rivals as well as many in the luxury class – all the while exhibiting the versatility and functionality expected of vehicles in this class.
A look that’s both chiseled and svelte begins up front where, tucked under the leading edge of the hood, is a stunning interpretation of the brand’s signature 5-point grille containing five twin-strake horizontal bars and an oversize Mazda badge (backlit on Signature models). The grille is set on a wide chrome trim strip that sweeps upward, forming the upper edge of narrow headlamp enclosures.
Two sets of parallel character lines begin near the leading edge of the hood – the inner two sweeping upward and terminating at the base of the A-pillars, while the outer pair start just above the headlights and terminate at the upper edge of the taillight housings. Both front and rear wheel arches are well-defined, while in back, a wide chrome strip bisects both taillights, bridges the gap between them, and matches the chrome trim of the lower valance.
The perception of luxury continues inside, with brushed aluminum dash trim found on even the entry-level Sport, while the rest of the cabin offers class-above, soft-touch materials that even extend to the sides of the center console. Switchgear is silky-smooth, and the front seats – though on the firm side for American tastes – are nicely-bolstered and, on our Signature tester, covered in soft, supple, Nappa leather. The second-row captain’s chairs are equally comfortable, offering more legroom than the Honda Pilot. Ride height is commendably high, with great views out the front and sides, despite the fact that the A-pillars aren’t all that narrow, while the view out the rear three-quarters benefits from a window between the C- and D-pillars. The unaided view out back (a rear-view camera is standard) is hindered by wide D-pillars that create a pair of large blind spots.
Like the rest of Mazda’s lineup, the gauges are clear, easy to read, and intuitive, with most of the major controls within easy reach of the driver. Most trims feature a 9-inch touchscreen, while Grand Touring and Signature models sport a 7-inch LCD instrument gauge cluster that displays outside temperature, odometer, fuel level, trip computer, compass, and instant fuel economy readouts.
But even with all that goodness, the CX-9 misses in some areas. For one, the infotainment system remains more of a work in progress that it should. With the touchscreen a reach for drivers, the backup is a console panel containing a small radio volume/on/off knob, large dial/push/joystick knob, and buttons for Music, Home, Navigation, Back and Star. So, despite the functionality of Navigation, Music, and radio on/off, tapping the Home button for other tasks requires crawling through a maze of menus and sub-menus to accomplish even the simplest of tasks. For example, station presetting should be intuitive, but we had to grab the owner's manual. Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature owners can simply plug in their Android and iPhones, bypassing much of the morass. Sport owners are not as fortunate.
In addition, the sloping roofline and raked back glass limit vertical storage aft of the third row, making the smallish 14 cubes of storage even less useful. Folding the aft row boosts storage capacity to 38 cu ft – a setting which should be permanent, since it only offers an elementary-age-appropriate 30 inches of leg-, 40 inches of hip-, and 35 inches of head-room.
Under the hood
Although the CX-9 carries over the same engine from previous years, when fed premium fuel, the turbocharged 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine now puts out an additional 10 lb.-ft of maximum torque, for a total of 320 lb.-ft., although horsepower, at 250, remains unchanged. Run with 87-octane regular fuel, and those specs drop to 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is unchanged, but despite its smoothness, remains a pair of cogs shy versus those offered by rivals. It’s hardly surprising, then, that fuel economy is just average for the class. Models with front-wheel-drive achieve an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon in the city, 28 on the highway, and 24 combined, while all-wheel-drive examples score an EPA-estimated 20 mpg city, 26 highway, and 23 combined. Around town, we only managed to average a vehicle-measured 17.7 mpg in our Signature test model.
On the road
If an engaging driving experience is what you’re looking for – especially in a vehicle this size – you’ll find nothing better at this price point. The CX-9 features a lively chassis, an engine with a smooth response to throttle inputs, and great feedback from the steering and brake systems (with a nice initial bite to the brake pads), making the CX-9 the best handling vehicle in its class. Power from the 4-cylinder turbo matches many V-6 competitors, while maximum torque is available at a mere 2,000 rpm with little turbo lag.
On the road, Mazda’s biggest crossover tracks nicely, exhibiting excellent suspension compliance and well-controlled body lean during cornering. The ride is firm, but not skittish, while just a slight amount of wind and road noise enters the cabin, even at highway speeds. Buyers looking for a bit more off-tarmac versatility will appreciate enhancements to the traction control system on all-wheel-drive models with the addition of Off-Road Traction Assist that increases braking forces on wheels without traction while simultaneously increasing torque on wheels with traction for more even power distribution.
At the same time, although Mazda should be congratulated for eking driving enjoyment from a vehicle this size, the laws of physics prevail. If you’re expecting entertainment on the same level as a Mazda3 or even the CX-5, you’ll be disappointed, as acceleration is fettered by the aging 6-speed automatic, as well as vehicle weight that starts at 17 pounds over the 2-ton mark – 676 lbs. more than a CX-5 and 250 lbs. more than a Mazda3.
2020 Mazda CX-9 prices
Mazda CX-9 prices have increased for 2020, starting at $34,990 (an increase of $1,665) for the FWD Sport model, and topping out at $47,615 (an increase of $905) for the AWD Signature trim finished in optional Machine Gray Metallic.
For 2020, the base Sport models come even more well-equipped, carrying over the usual power features along with 18-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, taillights, and mirror-mounted turn signals, rear privacy glass, a new-style key fob that that carries over keyless push-button start, 3-zone automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and a 7-inch touchscreen-based infotainment system with Bluetooth, Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher integration.
For 2020, Mazda eliminated the $1,290 I-Activsense Package, offering the components - heated front seats (power driver’s), rain-sensing wipers, heated outside mirrors, and automatic high beams, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with stop & go, all-speed automatic emergency braking, low-speed automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and rain-sensing wipers – as standard equipment.
Adding those safety features to last year’s list - low-speed automatic emergency braking, and blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert – brings the Sport’s advanced systems in line with the rest of the CX-9 lineup.
Stepping up to the $36,810 Touring model adds leather seating for the front and middle rows (heated up front), a power lift gate, power passenger seat, a second-row center armrest with storage, cup holders, and 2 USB ports, and a new, larger, 9-inch touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. Also new for 2020, you can spec the Touring with second-row captain’s chairs at no charge.
For an additional $2,100, you can also add the Premium Package, which includes a Bose surround sound system, satellite radio, a moonroof, LED fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, second row retractable sunshades, and a third row USB outlet.
Moving up to the $42,650 Grand Touring adds the items in the Premium Package plus 20-inch alloy wheels, power folding side mirrors, a hands-free liftgate, aluminum roof rails, adaptive front lighting, head-up display with traffic sign recognition, power tilt-and-slide for the 2nd row bench (if chosen), heated second-row seats (cooled up front with driver’s seat memory), heated steering wheel, aluminum interior trim, LED interior lighting, rear door courtesy lighting, SiriusXM Traffic and Travel Link (3 years), navigation, overhead view monitor, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Going all-in on the $47,315 Signature model adds standard all-wheel-drive and standard second row captain’s chairs, LED grille lighting, LED interior overhead accent lighting, Nappa leather seating and interior trim, Santos Rosewood inlays, and a unique leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Our AWD Signature tester, an early build, had a base price of $46,115 - $100 less than current models - and options that included a $100 rear cargo mat, and a $300 Machine Gray paint job that brought its MSRP, including a $1,045 delivery, processing and handling fee (it’s now $1,100), to $47,560.
The Bottom Line
In spite of the 2020 CX-9’s disappointing cargo space, inadequate third row, mediocre fuel economy, and clumsy infotainment system aside outmatched by rivals, it continues to impress with a stunning design, sumptuous interior, broad range of safety tech, and the elusive fun to drive element endemic to all Mazdas, making the latest version our top pick in the midsize crossover class.