The second-generation Mazda CX-9 midsize crossover benefits from a host of improvements led by the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Additional updates to the three-row SUV include ventilated front seats, 360 View Monitor and a retuned suspension. Metro News Service photo

Top contender: Mazda CX-9 enters midsize SUV arena ready to do battle

As I’m writing this, I have that booming movie preview announcer’s voice in my head: “In a world full of many different SUVS …” It’s hard to distinguish yourself in the industry’s most competitive segment. A midsize SUV needs a checklist of features to distinguish itself from the competition – things like updates; modern looks; an established name; and reputation and drivability. My tester this week checks off many of these things.

The 2019 Mazda CX-9 may not have the name recognition of some of the others in this ultra-competitive segment, but it has all those other features that make it viable and a contender. Even though its looks carry over from the previous model year, there are still some refreshed features.

This midsize SUV hovers near the top of many critics “best of” lists thanks in part to current, distinctive looks; a high-quality interior; and fun-to-drive performance.

Mazdas have always been fun to drive. It’s refreshing to find a brand that’s still devoted to making even a family vehicle fun.

The CX-9 has a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. There are no other engine options with any other trim. Kudos to Mazda for keeping it simple like that. And honestly, the engine outperforms its output numbers anyway. The 227- horsepower output may seem pedestrian, but the turbo makes the CX-9 quick off the line. At highway speeds, this SUV is fast and spry. The six-speed automatic transmission feels a little dated as there are a few noticeable weird shift habits, especially on the downshift, that detract a bit from the CX-9’s overall performance.

Otherwise this SUV is agile, athletic and fun. The big knock on the CX-9 is its low towing capacity. It can only tow 3,500 pounds which is far below the segment average. However, I don’t think most consumers even consider this SUV for towing purposes. Rather, it functions well as a daily driver and family hauler. And in that capacity, it’s superb.

I really like how all vehicles in the Mazda family have a “look.” This shows consistency amongst their styling team. The CX-9 is attractive. It’s a right blend of bold looks with mainstream appeal. What’s even more impressive is that the CX-9 has a consistent handsome appearance from all sides. The front end flows to the side panels well; the back end finishes off the aesthetics. Far too often, a vehicle loses styling somewhere along those lines. This is not the case with the CX-9.

The interior, with the exception of the infotainment system, is the best in the non-luxury midsize SUV segment. Soft, high-quality materials are found throughout the cabin. This three-row, seven-passenger SUV has incredible space in the second row. As is the case with most SUVs in this segment, the third row is best suited for children.

Mazda adds Apple CarPlay integration to the CX-9 this year and that will help overcome the clunky infotainment system. Some critics have praised this system for its mix of buttons, which I also like, but I find this infotainment system to not be intuitive and often times aggravating. Throwing up CarPlay helped overcome some of those aggravations.

Cargo area for SUVs is oh-so-important. The CX-9 has an average amount of cargo area, including 14.4 cubic feet of space behind the third row. Fold down the third row, and there’s 38.2 cubic feet of space. Fold all seats down and the cargo room expands to 71.2 cubic feet. Accessing the cargo is easy through a wide rear opening and a power lift gate.

There are four trims, all with both all-wheel drive and front-wheel drive. My tester was the top-of-the-line Signature trim which features luxury-like options such as Nappa leather and real wood inlays. In this trim, the CX-9 can rival some luxury brands. Starting price for the CX-9 Signature is $45,365. My tester came with a rear-seat entertainment system and illuminated door sills and had a final MSRP of $49,330.

The 2019 Mazda CX-9 has an EPA rating of 20 mpg/city and 26 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of suburban driving, mixed with some highway trips, I averaged 23.5 mpg.

The midsize SUV is like a battle royal of competitors. The Mazda CX-9 enters the fray as one of the top competitors.

2019 MAZDA CX-9 SIGNATURE

  • Price/As-tested price………………………………………… $45,365/$49,330
  • Mileage…………………………………… 20 mpg/city; 26 mpg/hwy
  • Engine……………………………………… 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
  • Horsepower…………………………… 227 hp/310 lbs.-ft.
  • Transmission…………………………… 6-speed automatic
  • Drive wheels……………. All-wheel drive
  • Final assembly point……………. Hiroshima, Japan

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