By on July 29, 2020

2020 Mazda CX-9 front quarter

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 profile

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 interior

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 front seat

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 second row 2020 Mazda CX-9 third row

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 center stack

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.

[Get Mazda CX-9 pricing here!]

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 front

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.

2020 Mazda CX-9 rear quarter

[Images: © 2020 Chris Tonn/TTAC]

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41 Comments on “2020 Mazda CX-9 Review – Tasty, but Too Easily Filled...”

  • avatar

    Can the third row of seats be removed for capacity, or does keeping them folded down provide sufficient capacity? I am considering it instead of the CX-5 and will never carry anyone in the third row.

  • avatar

    Genuine rosewood.

  • avatar

    Hope the wait wasn’t too long to get into Keystone Safari…

  • avatar

    Been up to the African Safari up in Port Clinton many times…and a rental Infiniti G37 I had once took the wrath of the bison horns when they met black paint. Not good and not easy to buff out. The monkeys did a number on the paint by the sunroof as well!

    Back to the CX-9 – even though this is getting a bit aged, it still has aged well and has one of the nicest interiors this side of an Audi. And if a six speed automatic provides the economy and smoothness you need without the constant hunting of the 8+ speed ones, by all means, continue to use it.

    • 0 avatar

      This sounds like a terrible place to go in any car you care for.

      • 0 avatar

        You aren’t supposed to enter in a convertible, so that speaks volumes about what might happen to your car!

        But having a giraffe grab some food from you through an open sunroof is kind of neat. The drool, however, well, you’ll be scrubbing your car out for a little while.

        It’s not too far from Sandusky (you can see the Cedar Point coasters along the way) in Port Clinton, OH and I do recommend it if you’re going to head up there for a weekend.

        • 0 avatar

          There was a fire there over last Thanksgiving Day. Three of the giraffes and a handful of smaller animals were killed when one of the barns caught fire.

          Hopefully they continue to do well — the park has been there since 1973, according to the Pedia of Wiki.

          And to Corey’s point, I think I would have someone else drive! Yikes! In this day and age, I’m surprised they don’t make you sign a waiver!

        • 0 avatar

          If you want the best fried perch evar, check out the Jolly Roger Seafood House in Port Clinton! Only downside is that it doesn’t have a liquor license.

  • avatar

    I recognize that start button from my GS.

    And the center screen is too small, and looks a bit afterthought, and old where image quality is concerned. Should be larger and better integrated.

    I’d also like to see better integration between center stack, shift area, and dial/controls down below. There are too many button styles happening that don’t really get along.

    Plus points on that brown leather and wood.

    • 0 avatar

      Outside of the screen it is a well-done interior with material quality and feedback that actually feels like it belongs in a nearly $50K vehicle.
      Mazda offers a “Signature” trim on the 6 and CX-5 but it isn’t nearly as nice as what you get here.

      • 0 avatar

        I generally like it – but I think at this money it comes close to MDX time which is more spacious, albeit just slightly smaller. But it has a V6.

        • 0 avatar

          I’ve never driven an MDX and I do like the style and flair on the Mazda more. It would have to weighed against the Acura’s V6, fancier AWD, and nicer dealers(?).

          If it was my own money I’d probably lean more toward an Odyssey or V8 Durango, but for what Mazda is trying to do here they did a decent job.

        • 0 avatar

          In 3 years time your MDX will be worn out like sneakers you wear daily for a year or 16 month

          • 0 avatar

            The decade+ old ones I see regularly around here are shiny and clean, and disagree with you.

          • 0 avatar


            Quite the contrary up here in Minnesota. Usually its a Mazda discarded after 3-5 years, and older models are sitting at the “Buy here Pay here lots”

            Plenty of V6 Honda Motors with well over 200,000 miles, even with VCM. I do see a lot of Mazda owners like to trade in below 120,000 miles. I wonder why?

          • 0 avatar

            Can’t comment on the V6 Honda engine but every used Oddesey over 100,000 miles I see online say new transmission

  • avatar

    This seems like a really nice vehicle. Probably perfect for those who may need to carry some grandkids in a pinch or something but otherwise just need 5 seats most of the time. I will note my sister shopped this and really liked it but the lack of storage when 3rd row was in use was a deal breaker. Still hard to beat those full-size GM crossovers in this department.

    6 speed auto in Mazdas I think is excellent. I MIGHT wish for an 8 speed if it could feel and perform similarly. But we’ve gotta be getting to the point of diminishing returns here. 10 speeds I’ve driven are a bit absurd and have seemed to struggle. Has to be complicated, expensive, with minuscule MPG and performance gains at this point.

    Mazda is probably a few inches, an infotainment upgrade, and perhaps a gearbox update away from truly top of the class here.

    EDIT: Will also note Mazda seems to consistently perform at or above EPA numbers and get comparatively better MPG than other cars in the class using those more-ratio transmissions.

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    Just out of curiosity, Chris was 87 octane or premium used on your trip?

  • avatar

    Beautiful vehicle inside and out. Much nicer than anything Toyota and Honda has to offer. Almost Audi-like interior materials.

    • 0 avatar

      Almost Audi-like interior materials? Mine’s just an A5, but the materials don’t seem any nicer than most others out there. Maybe one has to step up before the materials are exemplary.

    • 0 avatar

      I keep my vehicles upwards of 15 years. Yes, I am that poor. I really like dependability and utility a lot and so far I haven’t had a Honda that has let me down. I have a newer Odyssey with deactivated VCM and it runs like a champ. I see no reason why it won’t last me 15 years, 250,000 miles.

      My experience has been Audi’s are money pits and I don’t need any car to mimic their class or luxury. Their owners don’t even keep them that long either.

    • 0 avatar

      Audi has that VW-ish interior charm with chip painted plastics. Things might have changed for newer models 2020+

  • avatar

    Nice car. I considered one and tested. Surprisingly satisfying engine, great interior. Just not quite big enough for more than 4 on a regular basis. One ding I will give it, the nose is crazy long in person. Huge overhang from direct side profile.

  • avatar

    The CX-9 never seemed like a 3 row to me. It’s such a nice interior and it handled well for what it is that it’s always seemed more MDX/Grand Cherokee Summit/”X5 on the cheap” competition than anything else.

    It’s a really nice 2 row with a couple of jump seats in an emergency and an interior that’s above even newer competitors, except for the H/K twins.

  • avatar

    I guess this is what Mazda offers as the replacement for my Mazda5 – less room, less fuel economy at triple the cost. But yes, it does look pretty.

  • avatar

    I’m pretty sure I don’t understand modern automobiles.

    – This vehicle is within a couple inches of the length of my 2005 Avalon. But to match the curb weight of the CX-9, I’d have to put *four* 200-pound guys in the Avalon – besides me.

    – Avalon has more HP; CX-9 has more torque. Avalon (new) wins 0-60 (without the four extra dudes). Now check the fuel economy figures (updated apples-to-apples from
    CX-9 20 city / 26 highway / 23 combined
    Avalon 19 city / 28 highway / 22 combined

    [A third-row seat weighs more than no third-row seat, but a smaller engine weighs less than a larger engine.]

    This is 15 years of progress? I don’t get it.

    • 0 avatar

      To me, there is obvious progress since cx9 avg is better even though, it is bigger and heavier, and probably has awd too

    • 0 avatar

      No real rosewood or knurled switchgear in the Avalon.

      • 0 avatar

        Rosewood/knurled allowance = 20 lbs (*more* than generous lol).

        AWD components ~166 lbs (estimate based on 2019MY – more? less?)


        • 0 avatar

          “Rosewood/knurled allowance = 20 lbs”

          lol, I’m not saying that’s why it’s heavier. I’m saying that is why I like the CX-9 more than a ’05 Avalon.

          • 0 avatar

            Right – let’s say the new one is vastly *preferable* – but why does it show such small incremental improvement on the objective figures? (I really really really wonder about the missing “3 guys” worth of weight.)

          • 0 avatar

            I’d say it makes more sense to compare this to the original CX-9.



            Compared to the ’08 the new one is 250lbs lighter, more fuel efficient, faster, stops shorter, and trim-to-trim about the same price in inflation-adjusted money. That’s all without making any allowance for most people finding the current model to be an attractive vehicle. The older one did have 2.8 more cubes of passenger volume though.

  • avatar

    I recently spent 5 days in a 2016ish Traverse, last year pre-redesign (refresh?). Visually it’s roughly the same size and I believe it’s a direct competitor. Cargo space in that wasn’t much better and woe betide anybody back there over the age of 8. I regularly rode back there when my nephew was working everybody’s last nerve because I guess I have more patience. The Traverse average about 20ish through South Dakota to Rapid City and the surrounding area (I’m counting Devil’s Tower here because we’d gone there). I’d be legitimately curious how this would do in a similar situation. The Traverse was heavy and loose in all the wrong places.

    With regard to Mazda’s 6 speed, my only complaint is that it tends to hold onto 5th a little too long after getting up to freeway speed, at least in the NA 2.5 CX-5 (I assume they’re somewhat related even if the CX-9’s had to be beefed up to accommodate greater torque and weight). In my car I usually shunt it into the manual mode to kick it into 6th. Manual mode is also helpful for turns when you don’t want the car to dither.

    • 0 avatar

      In my Mazda6 turbo, it only selects sixth at over 60 km/hour (40 mph roughly) and never hunts. You can tell what gear it’s in when you toggle the down paddle, because instead of D, the dash display then shows the actual gear, which is how I know the speed it’s traveling before selecting sixth on light throttle, following some minor experiments on my part. Toggle down and it says 4 until you’re over 40 mph when it says 5. Of course merging is about three or four seconds in third to get to 110 km/hour after which it drops into sixth and stays there. Takes a very long steep hill on ACC to drop it to fifth, and I only know one such hill on the main highways around here. Best automatic I’ve experienced on light throttle, it cracks off what seem like the smoothest manual shift I was able to do after 33 years practise – no slurring. But those characteristics of the auto in the sedan are what saving 1,000 lbs weight gets you, 3500 vs 4500 and a smaller frontal area as well. Also explains why the weight anomaly to the Avalon from the CX-9, which car someone else was rabbiting on about above being so wonderful, boils down to: Better performance all around with less weight. Even the CX-5 turbo weighs 400 lbs more than my sedan.

      We have had a constant legislated premium of the equivalent of 27 cents equivalent per US gallon to get premium since 2005 in my jurisdiction. So the beast gets the best. Second gear from trotting pace to 80 km/hr (50 mph) is what puts a grin on my face in suburban driving. It departs the scene rapidly.

      Since the CX-9 seems heavy and has two useless rearmost seats, might as well treat it as a Pilot Sport equivalent and ditch the rear seats — then it’ll have some rear cargo space. I recall a C/D comparison road test a few years ago where the CX-9 was the only one whose doors didn’t rattle in their frames on a rutted dirt road, so it’s strong. The GM was the flimsiest. Other than that, I cannot comment on overall utility since SUV/CUVs, whatever, interest me not in the slightest.

  • avatar

    I’ve always felt that this current CX-9 was a great TWO row CUV and not a 3 row. I’d order one in the highest trim I could get and still keep the 2nd row bench. The 3rd row would only go up in emergency situations.

    I like the strong turbo (that I would only feed premium) and in this world of silly number of speeds per transmission the 6-speed is kind of refreshing. Good to hear that it general picks a gear and stays there. But buckets of torque low in the rev range will allow you to do that.

  • avatar

    I’ve been considering trading in my 2013 CX-5, selling my 2006 Toyota Sienna limited and buying one of these.I only need the 3rd seat for my 90 lbs dog and a 2nd row bench seat for the carrier for my Corgi ( he hates riding in cars and freaks out if he’s loose in the car,go figure)
    Works perfectly for me except at Christmas when I take the wife, dogs and a year load of crap my wife bought the family.Could always buy a roof crap carrier OR wait for the new AWD Toyota Sienna to hit the showroom

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