As far as mid-life updates go, the 2019 Mazda CX-9 gets a fairly tame but genuinely important revision, which adds to its already impressive list of large SUV credentials.
Believe it or not, this is already the second update for the ‘new’ CX-9, and the tech-heavy focus of the changes here aims at improving and enhancing the standard offering, in what I would call crucial areas. Mazda’s stated aim is to deliver an even stronger value proposition in what continues to be an incredibly competitive segment. And as such, the Japanese manufacturer has added more value in terms of equipment than the shift upward in price would indicate.
You can read the pricing and specification guide for the full list of changes, but it’s worth revisiting some of them here.
First up, there’s a new model grade, taking the total to five, with the addition of the Azami LE. This more luxury-focused CX-9 will bring Nappa leather trim, real wood inlays, and a sense of quality at what Mazda reckons will be an affordable price – starting at $66,490 before on-road costs.
From a tech perspective, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available across all model grades, and while infotainment is undoubtedly important, it’s the safety additions that are most noteworthy. On that note, Mazda has added a full suite of safety technologies as standard equipment across the full CX-9 range.
Suffice to say, a large SUV aimed at families will only appeal more with this equipment added as standard.
Part of the safety tech additions include a quality head-up display that we found to be visible even with polarised sunglasses on, and it projects a broad array of information onto the screen. There’s also a tyre pressure monitoring system – handy if you’re on a longer, country drive.
Inside the cabin, the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto doesn’t change the appearance of the system itself, but it does bring the MZD Connect infotainment system more in line with the segment leaders. The way the smartphone interface works within MZD is easy enough, and I found CarPlay worked seamlessly during my time with the CX-9 at launch. MZD is definitely due for an update now, though, and while it’s still an easy system to use, it is feeling its age in terms of appearance.
The cabin retains the same spacious, airy, quality of the pre-update model, with useful third-row space as well, although that will eat into available luggage space if you need to use both regularly. As we often say with three-row SUVs, if you use the third row a lot, you really need to be looking at people movers. In occasional terms, though, the CX-9’s third row is as good as any in the segment.
The 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine remains unchanged from the previous model, and it certainly feels peppy enough in a large SUV, delivering 170kW and 420Nm. Peak power is delivered at 5000rpm, so the engine enjoys revving, as we’ve historically expected of any Mazda product. On our spirited launch drive with long sections of 100km/h country road, we saw an average fuel figure of 9.5L/100km. Stop/start is relatively snappy, and we’ll report back on that when we get some time behind the wheel in persistent traffic.
The six-speed automatic transmission is smooth too. Regardless of whether you’re leaning on the throttle pedal or cruising at a more relaxed pace, the shifts are smooth and precise. Mazda reckons it combines the smoothness of a traditional automatic with the precision of a DSG. I’d argue that it once again makes a rock-solid case for the retention of the conventional automatic, especially in platforms that don’t need razor sharp, sports-focused shifting.
The combination of the easy, torquey engine and smooth gearbox is solid, even taking into account the 1800kg or thereabouts weight of the CX-9. It’s no lightweight, but without any of the silliness we’ve often discovered with DSGs and none of the slurring of a CVT, it’s a proficient pairing that works well in the real world.
Out on the open road, you’d expect to discern the differences in suspension tune that Mazda has made to the CX-9. If you haven’t driven the outgoing model, what you may not pick up are the improvements to the competence of the noise insulation. The CX-9 definitely feels quieter and more insulated, with the extra sound deadening helping the cabin on coarse-chip country roads at 100km/h.
Mazdas haven’t always been the most silent conveyances, and there are probably still a few in the segment that are quieter than the CX-9, but it’s definitely better. If you take in regular, longer country drives, you’ll notice it, and you’ll appreciate it.
Revisions to the suspension and steering system have been aimed at giving the CX-9 ‘a more linear driving feel and greater ride comfort’, according to Mazda. Aside from a tendency to fidget over high frequency, repetitive bumps on country roads, I’d agree with that assessment. Sections of corrugated bitumen brought that tendency out a little, but the CX-9 is otherwise planted and comfortable.
Mechanically speaking, Mazda has fitted new low-friction dampers and recalibrated coil springs. The rear dampers get new urethane top mounts, and the engine mounts have been optimised too – all aimed at reducing vibration and harshness that might otherwise transmit into the cabin.
Mazda has made changes to the steering too, with outer ball joints and steering knuckles both redesigned to take some of the sharpness out of the steering system. Increasing the rigidity of both the front hub bearings and the steering mounts should also subtly tune the way the steering system delivers its feedback to the driver. It does still exhibit that tendency to feel notchy or weighty when you’re adding light inputs, but that is more to do with the lane-keep system. Once you pick your line and turn into a corner, it’s as precise as we’d like – direct too.
I think Mazda has traded on a premium feel without the premium pricepoint for some time now, and while you can argue about the definition of premium till the cows come home, you can’t doubt the success Mazda has had with that angle. Are there better large SUVs available? The Mazda is certainly up near the top of the tree, and that’s what CarAdvice comparisons are for.
Until then, at face value, the revised CX-9 is an even stronger value proposition for family buyers than the model it replaces. The added safety tech especially, is the big-ticket item. It makes a compelling case for the CX-9 to be in your consideration set.