The Mazda CX-9 debuted in 2007 to mixed reviews. Mazda listened to the critics, however, and continually improved the three-row crossover until it became one of the highest-rated options on the market. The current-generation CX-9 is a real looker, has a wonderfully ergonomic interior, and an engaging road presence.
Mazda clearly aimed to be the best at everything and, as a result, the CX-9 has become a well-rounded competitor. For the 2021 model year, the CX-9 gets a few upgrades, including a new infotainment system.
Swerve Autos Score: 84/100
When the current-generation CX-9 debuted in 2016, its exterior design was both beautiful and a big jump ahead of what competitors were offering at the time. Now, several years later, most of the competition has had a chance to catch up, but it’s still arguable as to how many are really as good looking as the Mazda.
The front grille is a large, diamond-shaped opening with crisp edges and simple lines. The headlamps flow from the grille’s corners and the simplified hood design above accentuates the fascia. This powerful design language holds throughout the Mazda lineup and is a signature of the brand.
From there, unassuming body lines quietly move the eye rearward, creating a forward motion for the vehicle. But those simple lines aren’t as simple as they seem at first glance, curving slightly so that the beltline ends and begins again in a hint of cokebottle without requiring an actual coke bottle curvature. The rounded roofline continues this motif.
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 has a very well-done interior with a handsome design and well-considered materials choices. It’s premium level if not luxury, in fact, with a smart layout and easy controls access.
The 2021 CX-9 is powered by a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that outputs 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on regular (87 octane) fuel and 250 horsepower on premium (93 octane). This goes to a six-speed automatic transmission in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Those outputs are equivalent to most V6 powerplants in the segment and fuel economy (20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway) is commensurate with that assessment.
The Mazda’s greatest downside for performance is that six-speed auto. The transmission could use an extra couple of gears, which would boost highway fuel economy and avoid higher RPM running in otherwise normal driving situations. The engine doesn’t intrude into the cabin often, but it is noticeable when pushing speeds that are in between gears, which happens in the lower 30 mph range and upper 55 mph range.
On a practical front, while the Mazda CX-9 doesn’t have the roominess on paper that other models in this segment may have, it does have smart ergonomics. Cargo space starts at 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row and expands to 38.2 cubic feet when that row is folded. That’s not bad and the full 71.2 cubic feet after both rear rows are folded flat is more than enough for most needs. We note that with the captain’s chairs, that loading area becomes a little more complex up front, but it’s still a lot of usable cargo space.
As an added bonus, an available roof rack for more storage can be had nd the CX-9 is capable of towing up to 3,500 pounds.
Seating in the 2021 Mazda CX-9 is comfortable and roomy. There is seating for up to seven, depending on second row choice. The captain’s chairs are a good option, though they reduce seating to six, as they greatly improve the second row’s comfort levels and aid access to the third row. The third row in the CX-9 is largely for kids, being small and short on legroom. It will do in a pinch for adults on short trips, but they’ll need to be limber to gain access back there.
Newly standard in 2021 is the CX-9’s 10.3-inch infotainment touchscreen, which includes Bluetooth, two USB ports, a WiFi hotspot, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, and a few simple apps. Upgrades include navigation, more USB ports, improved radio and audio, and expanded surround view cameras. The infotainment interface is easy to use and intuitive, responding quickly to inputs from either touch or the command knob near the center arm rest.
Also available on the 2021 Mazda CX-9 is a beautiful 7-inch digital instrument display cluster for the driver. This crisp display offers configurable outputs and a nearly glare-free experience.
Other amenities like a wireless device charger, adaptive headlamps, etc. can be added. The CX-9 comes standard with adaptive cruise control.
Connected Services 8/10
Mazda Connected Services are available for the 2021 CX-9 and include several options when integrated with the app. These include door locking/unlocking remotely plus climate settings and other items. The service is useful, provided the CX-9 is parked where its wifi can get connected. We found it a little annoying at times that the connection was often blocked by seemingly unobtrusive objects like trees.
Active Safety 9/10
The 2021 CX-9 comes standard with iActivesense, Mazda’s advanced safety systems. This includes forward collision warning and automatic braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assistance, and a rear backup camera. This can be augmented with more parking sensors, rear automatic braking, driver attention warning, and more.
Most of the Mazda CX-9’s value is in its great looks and good ergonomics. It sells slowly when compared to its high-selling peers in the three-row segment, but those sales are improving. Low sales mean more incentives to buy, though, and though the CX-9 has a higher base price than many, it’s also far more luxurious and comfortable at its base level when compared evenly.
Editors Influence 9/10
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is one of our favorite three-row crossovers on the market today. It’s very competitive with the top-selling go-to options in this segment and we think it should be ahead of most of those thanks to its design and ergonomics. It’s especially competitive in drive engagement and feel and its look, while a few years old now, is still better than most of the others it’s compared against.