2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2.5-liter turbocharged four (227hp @ 5000 rpm, 310 lb/ft @ 2000 rpm)
Six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
20 city / 26 highway / 23 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
24.3 (observed mileage, MPG)
11.6 city / 9.1 highway / 10.5 combined. (NRCan Rating, L/100km)
Base Price: $47,160 US / $53,581 CAN
As Tested: $47,560 US / $54,095 CAN
If you read nothing else about the 2020 Mazda CX-9, let me be clear: this is the first car in which I’ve experienced a llama gnawing on the exterior trim, and yet I didn’t need to make a dreaded phone call to the automaker to explain any unusual damage.
Day 124 since lockdown yielded, for once, a new experience. Rather than our usual day of driving somewhere remote to get away from humanity, we drove somewhere remote to get closer to nature. Well, caged nature, at least, as we trekked to a drive-through safari/zoo in northern Ohio just to break the kids away from YouTube and Netflix for a few hours.
This biggest Mazda not only shed the licks and nibbles of captive animals – the mark from a bison’s horns wiped off with a towel – but it proved a comfortable long-distance hauler with better than expected fuel economy.
Fuel economy that is, surprisingly, still provided by a six-speed automatic transmission. Most three-row crossovers have transitioned to eight, nine, or even ten cogs, with several overdrive ratios to maximize fuel sippage. While dropping a cog or two to initiate a pass on a two-lane takes a bit of planning to account for both a shift delay and to spool the turbocharger, I never feel as if the Mazda is hunting for ratios while cruising on the interstate.
Indeed, Mazda shows its earned reputation for drivers’ cars throughout its lineup here with the CX-9. I’ll avoid the cliché comparison to the Miata – this is a tall, all-wheel drive wagon pushing two metric tonnes even when not hauling four Tonns, after all. But Mazda imbues this crossover with a driving experience that feels much more car-like. Body roll is minimal. The steering is light, but direct. The ride is firm, but well controlled.
The big change for the 2020 model year comes in the second row of this Signature trim (also available in the Touring and Grand Touring packages) with a pair of captain’s chairs and a tall center armrest. While reducing the passenger capacity to six, these chairs give nearly the same level of comfort as one finds up front, with plenty of legroom for a pair of tall kids to stretch and doze. The plush Deep Chestnut leather looks stunning, too.
The third row is shortchanged, I’m afraid. Leg room is minimized – adults will not be happy for more than a brief drive in that third row. Behind that third row, the cargo space is simply too small at 14.4 cubic feet (with the third row upright). This in a vehicle that one might use for an extended road trip? Even the subcompact CX-30 has much more cargo room at 20.2 cubic feet. This will not replace a minivan, I’m afraid.
While I’m complaining, let’s mention the infotainment system. While others in the Mazda lineup have been fitted with an upgraded system, the CX-9 soldiers on with a seemingly-older version of software. While the CX-9 now has a larger 9.0-inch screen, the old software holds everything back. It occasionally balks at responding to inputs from the center touch-and-toggle control wheel. Especially at startup – I found that I typically would need to wait 60 to 90 seconds before I could change stations on the SiriusXM tuner, and then the system would register ALL of my button presses at once, toggling well beyond my preferred selection of stations.
The CX-9 is certainly a looker. Gentle creases atop the front and rear wheels give an illusion of depth, visually lowering the look of the big wagon. The corporate grille is handsome here with five horizontal bars surrounding the Mazda logo (and sensors) in the center. The use of chrome on the front and sides is sparing, yet attractive.
While third row and cargo room are compromised in the 2020 Mazda CX-9, the driving experience, fuel economy, and marvelous styling make it a good choice for those who will only rarely use that third row for passengers.
Or those who often find themselves in low-speed encounters with wildlife.
[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn/TTAC]