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Reviews2021.5 Mazda CX-9 Review: For Drivers and Families

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 Review: For Drivers and Families

The Mazda CX-9 essentially paved to way for several other automakers to launch premium 4-cylinder 3-row SUVs

  • The 2022 Mazda CX-9 is priced from $40,950 in Canada, $35,280 in the US.

  • At the time of reviewing the CX-9 in mid-January, only the 2021.5 was available. Its starting price was $400 lower.

  • The Mazda CX-9 is an under-recognized trend-setting midsize three-row SUV.

Nowadays, most mainstream automakers have abandoned family sedans in favour of SUVs. These sedans also served as the brands’ flagship vehicles typically loaded with power, features, and whatever technology was available at the time. Today, the flagship role falls on midsize three-row SUVs like the Mazda CX-9 and competition is fierce.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Of late, I’ve reviewed a number of these midsize 7- or 8-seater SUVs including the Subaru Ascent, Volkswagen Atlas, Kia Sorento, Dodge Durango (yes, again), Toyota Highlander, Jeep Grand Cherokee L, and a few others. The takeaway from all these vehicles is that they’re usually among the first a given automaker’s product line to be updated. That is, with the exception of the Durango of course…

The premium approach

Launched back in 2016, the 2nd generation Mazda CX-9 had quite the wow factor going for it. It was a very rare offering in a growing segment that shunned the tough-truck look for more refined body lines, that included an impressively upscale three-row interior, and a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine as standard. It didn’t take long for other manufacturers to take notice.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The CX-9 was the first Mazda to embody the automaker’s aspirations to go premium. A quick look around in the cabin is sure-fire that the CX-9 is not just an SUV. More attention is given to fit, finish, materials, and design than overall utility. While there’s little storage room for stuff upfront, praise must be given to the sparse dashboard for its simple ergonomics and straightforward operation.

Seating in the first two rows is comfortable, generously proportioned, and, with the tester’s 2nd-row Captain’s Chairs, quite luxurious. The optional Captain’s Chairs Package can be fitted on CX-9 GS-L and GT models and is included in the others. The third row remains a place for kids to get away from annoying parents.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

As standard, the CX-9 is delivered with a 10.25-inch display that isn’t touch-sensitive. Thankfully, the menus are simple to access and include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other included features with the base GS are 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lights all around, and far more.

Visually, the front grille’s brightwork and other accents beautifully highlight the CX-9’s strong yet flowing lines. Even six years after its initial introduction, CX-9 looks contemporary. If it no longer really standout however, it’s because it’s a fairly popular.

The base GS is only available in four colours but stepping up to the GS-L adds three shades including Mazda’s superb and signature Soul Red. The latter version is the most value-packed with a power liftgate, heated steering wheel, keyless entry, rear heated seats, leather upholstery, and loads more.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

The tested Kuro edition is an appearance package that limits the exterior shades to Polymetal Grey or Jet Black but throws in a beautiful Garnet Red leather interior. Much of the exterior is blacked out including the 20-inch wheels.

Still a really good driving SUV

These same wheels and tires put the CX-9’s turbocharged 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine’s power to the pavement. It produces 227 horsepower (250 with premium) and 310 lb.-ft. (320 on premium) of torque which is sent to Mazda’s standard i-Activ AWD system via a 6-speed automatic transmission.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

There’s nothing new to report here other than the powertrain is still very much in tune with current market demands. The 310 torques arrive as of 2,000 rpm meaning that acceleration is stronger than decent. The transmission is tuned to extract the most out of the 2.5T for both performance and efficiency but the recently-evaluated Subaru Ascent, with less torque, was a rocket in comparison

The “lack” of a pair of extra gears slightly hampers acceleration and negatively impacts fuel consumption numbers. Although Mazda figures the combined average should be closer to 10L/100km, the reality is that the 4,500-lb SUV will return about 12L/100km, like for the Ascent, which is acceptable.

On the road, the CX-9 demonstrates typical Mazda driving dynamics albeit in a three-row SUV. The vehicle’s chassis is tuned for people who still enjoy the task of driving. Steering is responsive with well-calibrated assistance, quite the opposite for the Ascent. The ride quality is excellent, perhaps not as smooth as the Subaru, but certainly more involving without sacrificing comfort.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre

Mazda’s i-Activ AWD system always surprises with how quickly it gets down to the job of delivering forward motion. The CX-9 also includes an Off-Road Traction Assist function which endows the SUV with unexpected “off-road” chops. You won’t get very far if you like your bumpers but that’ll be the initial limiting factor.

A veteran in the segment but still ultra-competent

I was happy to get reacquainted with the CX-9 if mostly to compared with the new 2022 Nissan Pathfinder, as well as the Atlas and Ascent.

2022 Subaru Ascent vs 2021 Volkswagen Atlas Comparison

Despite the Mazda’s relative age, it remains a competitive option in the segment. Realistically, its only shortcoming is that it’s a little smaller inside than most others.

2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre
2021.5 Mazda CX-9 | Photo: Matt St-Pierre


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Matt St-Pierre
Matt St-Pierre
Trained as an Automotive Technician, Matt has two decades of automotive journalism under his belt. He’s done TV, radio, print and this thing called the internet. He’s an avid collector of many 4-wheeled things, all of them under 1,500 kg, holds a recently expired racing license and is a father of two. Life is beautiful. Send Matt an emai


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The 2022 Mazda CX-9 is priced from $40,950 in Canada, $35,280 in the US. At the time of reviewing the CX-9 in mid-January, only the 2021.5 was available. Its starting price was $400 lower. The Mazda CX-9 is an under-recognized trend-setting midsize three-row...2021.5 Mazda CX-9 Review: For Drivers and Families