- Likes: Beautiful inside and out, power is strong at low speeds, comfortable driving position.
- Dislikes: Smaller than others in its class, third row is fit for children only, low tow rating.
- DM’s Take: This is the driver’s three-row. If you only occasionally need three rows, you should consider it.
When Mazda released the dramatically redesigned CX-9 in 2016, reviewers were thoroughly impressed by its striking appearance, upscale interior design, and remarkably agile driving demeanor. Fast forward four years, and this mid-size crossover still delivers in these areas. With a solid foundation, Mazda added a few changes to the 2020 model to keep the CX-9 from feeling stale.
In fact, the changes start before you even open the door. First debuting with the redesigned 2019 Mazda 3, Mazda has a new key fob, and it’s used as well here on the 2020 CX-9. Despite feeling a bit more premium than the previous fob, we miss the uniqueness and simplicity of Mazda’s previous design. The next change greets the driver upon startup. An entirely new gauge cluster, also reminiscent of the Mazda 3, blends modern technology with a sleek and symmetrical design. While the new gauge display makes a digital evolution, for some reason it has two indicators for fuel level, one digital and one analogue. It seems strange that the digital gauge is not configurable.
Despite having seven seatbelts (or in the case of the Signature trim, six, thanks to new captain’s chairs), a driver can hustle the CX-9 through mountain roads and focus on enjoyment rather than survival. Mazda manages to engineer an extra level of driving satisfaction into all of their models. One of our editors noted that every Mazda he drives has a similarity in how they act. While the mid-size CX-9 is nowhere near the engagement of a Miata, the combination of a capable chassis and grunty engine make for a three-row that you can actually enjoy driving.
Where the CX-9 is really starting to show its age is not in its design but rather in its lack of features. If Mazda wants to play in the near-luxury market, then it has to provide luxury amenities. Instead, it lacks wireless charging, dimming outside mirrors, fully extendable sun visors, cooled rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, a power adjustable steering column, and four-way adjustable lumbar support. Sure, all of us can get by without these niceties, but luxury vehicles aren’t about simply getting by. The CX-9 impresses with its design and driving, but it drops the ball on features.
Still the most elegant in its class, Mazda’s largest offering is no longer the best three-row crossover. That title was snatched away last year by the excellent Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. However, the CX-9 still provides a wow factor that most vehicles in its class fail to deliver. It’s decently fun to drive, stylish, practical, and fairly priced. If your car needs to be more than just an appliance and you occasionally stick kids or cargo in the third row, the CX-9 is absolutely worth a look.