CX-9’s on-road behaviour will have you believing you’re piloting a sport-tuned machine instead of a 2,000-kilogram family bus with three rows of seats.

CX-9’s on-road behaviour will have you believing you’re piloting a sport-tuned machine instead of a 2,000-kilogram family bus with three rows of seats.

2021 Mazda CX-9: The closest thing to a 7-person sports car for the masses?

Style, space and performance, and for 2021, more luxury

The Mazda CX-9 is a solid choice for a utility vehicle that behaves somewhat differently from its competitors.

Yes, it ranks high on the style scale, but the CX-9’s on-road behaviour will have you believing you’re piloting a sport-tuned machine instead of a 2,000-kilogram family bus with three rows of seats.

For many years, Mazda’s focus for its entire fleet has been to deliver MX-5-Miata-sports-car-like driving enjoyment. The SkyActiv moniker that the company advertises extends past the powertrains and into vehicle dynamics. The marketing spin is that no matter what Mazda you buy, you’re getting a sharp-handling machine that will put a smile on your face.

And here we are.

The current-generation CX-9 that arrived for 2017 has changed very little over the intervening years, other than a mild restyling at both ends that remains true to Mazda’s Kodo (Soul of Motion) philosophy.

For 2021, there are numerous small tweaks and three new trims tilted toward the luxury spectrum.

The heart of the CX-9 is turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder rated at 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque.

The heart of the CX-9 is turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder rated at 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque.

The heart of the CX-9 is turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder rated at 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. That’s when burning 93-octane premium gasoline. On regular fuel, output is limited to 227 horses and 310 pound-feet. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard.

The CX-9 is rated at 11.6 l/100 km in the city, 9.1 on the highway and 10.5 combined. Those numbers might be a challenge to attain because of the CX-9’s willingness to hustle up to speed without undue delay. Velocity is deceiving since the whisper-quiet cabin and silent-running engine might trick you into thinking you’re moving more slowly than you actually are.

The suspension absorbs road imperfections with relative ease, but the ride is also sure-footed and the steering is sharp. The main takeaway is that the CX-9 drives smaller than it really is.

It’s also quite capable with a tow rating of 1,590 kilograms, although this is less than most competing models with maximums of 2,270 kilograms.

Both the front- and second-row seating – either bench or available high-back bucket seats — are comfortable and supportive, while the standard third row (with two chairs) is best suited for smaller passengers.

The wide front-window pillars block some forward visibility, which means drivers should be extra watchful for pedestrians and cars at intersections.

The CX-9 GS, the least expensive of the six trim levels in Canada, starts at $41,900, including destination fees. It includes heated front seats, tri-zone climate control and a power-operated driver’s seat with lumbar adjust. You also get a number of dynamic-safety technologies such active cruise control, automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist.

The GS-L gets leather seat coverings, power front-passenger seat, heated second-row seat and power liftgate and moonroof.

The GT comes with a head-up information display, navigation system, 360-degree surround-view camera and a premium 12-speaker Bose audio package.

Standard with the new-for-2021 Signature and Kuro trims are quilted leather upholstery, power-sliding moonroof and 20-inch wheels (18s are standard). Second-row high-back bucket seats are also standard for both. The Kuro gets a black grille, wheels and trim plus red leather coverings.

For 2021, the entire Mazda fleet, including the CX-9, is available in 100th Anniversary Edition trim (the company actually began in 1920 as a cork manufacturer). Along with special badging, there’s premium red leather upholstery, special aluminum interior trim and a commemorative photo book and scale model of the 1960 Mazda R360, which was the automaker’s first passenger car.

Whichever model suits your needs or budget, The CX-9 delivers ample amounts of style, space and performance. And for 2021, more luxury.

The CX-9’s interior is luxurious, but not in a pillowy kind of way. Instead, think finely crafted designer luggage or home furnishings. PHOTO: WHEELBASE MEDIA

The CX-9’s interior is luxurious, but not in a pillowy kind of way. Instead, think finely crafted designer luggage or home furnishings. PHOTO: WHEELBASE MEDIA

What you should know: 2021 Mazda CX-9

Type: All-wheel-drive utility vehicle

Engine (h.p.): 2.5-litre I-4, turbocharged (227/250)

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Market position: There are many tall wagons on the market with three rows of seats that mostly focus on utility. The CX-9 definitely trades some of the usual boxy height and size for sporty looks and driving dynamics.

Points: Current five-year-old design still looks fresh. • Standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine performs as well as a V-6. • Interior styling and fittings smacks of luxury. • Modest towing capacity might not be enough for some utility buyers. • Don’t look for a hybrid option anytime soon although Mazda plans to introduce a new electrified vehicle in the near future.

Driver assist: Blind-spot warning with cross-traffic backup alert (std.); active cruise control (std.); front emergency braking (std.); inattentive-driver alert (opt.); lane-departure warning (std.); pedestrian detection (std.)

L/100 km (city/hwy): 11.6/9.1

Base price (incl. destination): $41,900


Honda Pilot

  • Base price: $44,500
  • Eight-seat utility vehicle has a 280-h.p. V-6. Plenty of std. safety tech included.

Chevrolet Traverse AWD

  • Base price: $41,700
  • Roomy model can fit up to eight passengers. 310-h.p. V-6 is standard.

Subaru Ascent

  • Base price: $39,450
  • Seven-passenger wagon runs with a 260-h.p turbo I-4, engine. AWD standard.

– written by Malcom Gunn, Managing Partner at Wheelbase Media

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