DETROIT — Mazda is incrementally improving the CX-9, its midsize three-row crossover vehicle. But don’t get it twisted — this was a good crossover to begin with, but now it can compete with top-notch premium crossovers.
Style is not a shortcoming with Mazda. The smooth lines of the company’s KODO soul of motion design have been transferred to the larger CX-9 nicely. The signature look; a long nose, short rump and arching curves over the wheel wells have been proportioned so that the CX-9 does not look like an oversized station wagon.
When you start out with a good solid vehicle, incremental changes can seem like leaps forward. Externally, I thought the LED-enhanced lighting that edged the bottom of the grille made the 2019 CX-9 look like a much more expensive vehicle.
I had the top of the line Signature all-wheel-drive trim and it featured LED headlights as well as LED fog lights and automatic high beams. The all-wheel-drive system can send up to 50 percent of the CX-9’s torque to the rear wheels. It can also route power to limit understeer during robust driving.
Under the hood was a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that made 227 horsepower using regular gasoline. Put in premium gas and its horsepower output jumps to 250. It made 310 pound-feet of torque at a relatively low 2,000 RPMs and it was mated to a six-speed transmission with a sport-drive mode.
The 2019 Mazda CX-9 had an EPA fuel rating of 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined.
This engine had just enough oomph to make the 4,300 lb. 2019 CX-9 perky. It was smooth, there was acceleration when I needed it and it cruised at expressway speeds effortlessly.
Although the 2019 CX-9 had three rows of seats, it didn’t drive big. The uni-body construction gave it the feel of a midsize sedan. And that is the way it handled.
I don’t think Mazda gives itself enough credit for its interior design which was smooth and flowing. While checking out the second row of the CX-9, I saw how the interior was one flowing unit; it seemed to slant rearward as if it was in motion.
A designer told me years ago that the interior is where luxury is conveyed and the Mazda CX-9 struck me a premium vehicle. There was LED ambient lighting throughout. Although Mazda called the control center a center-stack in the press material it’s not. It was more horizontal and contemporary.
There was a floating infotainment screen atop the dash. The climate control vents were beneath it and then there was let’s call it the control island. The climate controls were just beneath the vents, the gear shift was beneath and set back in the shift console and behind that was the control dial for the infotainment system and audio volume dial. This was all in the control console which was slightly angled back matching the rest of the interior.
Those small additions that comprised a big leap forward were power folding side view mirrors, cooled front seats to match the heated front seats and heated second-row seats. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 is now equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
New too was a Sirius® 3 Year traffic and travel link subscription, a new reconfigurable 7.0-inch TFT gauge display and a new 360° view monitor were also part of the equipment upgrade. The retuned suspension added to the premium on-road feel too. And the tactile character of the 2019 CX-9 had been improved. The car was awash in Nappa leather, Santos Rosewood and aluminum trim; it made for a very swanky look.
I got in the second row and checked out the entertainment system. I thought the screens looked a little clumsy the way they were mounted to the back of the front seats. But the set up allowed for some screen titling for a better view. Besides, I don’t think anybody would really care as long as they worked.
The third-row seats were a bit of chore to get into. The second-row headrests should come off to have the widest access. I thought the quality of the third-row seats was really good. However, there wasn’t much head space for me, an almost six-footer. Shorter and probably younger people would be most comfortable back there.
There was a bunch of creature comforts including satellite radio, Bluetooth, a navigation system, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel, adaptive cruise control and adaptive headlights, a moonroof, a power liftgate, aluminum roof rails, rain-sensing windshield wipers, keyless entry, push-button start and a 12-speaker premium audio system.
The 2019 Mazda CX-9 was chock full of equipment and the quality of workmanship was first-rate. It was certainly worth the $49,330 price as tested.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.