Significant snow accumulation in the coastal lowlands of the Pacific Northwest can be somewhat of a rarity, but when the white stuff does come down heavily it can bring all activity to a standstill. During the Puget Sound region’s most recent bout with winter, in about a week the area received more than triple the average yearly snowfall of five inches. During that time we were lucky enough to be driving the 2019 Mazda CX-9, which was more than up to the task of getting us through unplowed streets in complete comfort and confidence. Appropriately — or ironically — the CX-9’s paint color was Snowflake White Pearl.
Our tester was the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature All-Wheel Drive. The top-level Signature contains a significant number of standard features, although this model also had all-weather floormats, illuminated door-sill trim plates and a trailer tow hitch. Total MSRP including destination charge: $48,035. Competitors to the CX-9 include the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander and Infiniti QX60.
Advanced All-Wheel Drive
All-wheel-drive systems are not all created equal, and the Mazda CX-9 has one of the most advanced packages on the road. The i-ACTIV system analyzes 27 channels of data 200 times per second to determine torque distribution to individual wheels. These data bits include outside temperature, wiper position, vehicle incline and steering angle, as well as individual wheel speeds and throttle position. The result is what Mazda calls a predictive all-wheel-drive system, and it certainly proved effective in snow and ice.
Since the CX-9 is able to quickly direct power where needed, we discovered that the traction control system was often unnecessary during Seattle’s Snowmageddon 2019, which made for a smoother drive with no loss of momentum in the white stuff. With standard all-season tires, the CX-9 felt extremely sure-footed driving through as much as eight inches of snow. The CX-9 provides complete confidence while pushing through deep snow drifts or cruising close to highway speeds on hard-packed snow and ice.
The CX-9 is the largest vehicle in the Mazda lineup, but it feels quick and agile — that is, in our case, once the snow had melted. Granted, long ago Mazda discontinued its popular “Zoom-Zoom” slogan, but in the CX-9 the tagline still applies. Power comes from a 2.5-liter turbocharged SKYACTIV engine that generates 227 horsepower and a plentiful 310 lb-ft of torque, which gives the CX-9 a responsiveness that feels so satisfying behind the wheel. The engine is teamed with a smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission.
When the current generation CX-9 premiered for the 2016 model year, it was obvious that designers had taken the exterior styling up a notch. A bold grille and high, long hood give the Mazda a strong but elegant presence; the roofline flows back to the sculpted rear for a sporty silhouette. Quite simply, the CX-9 is one of the most attractive crossovers on the market.
Mazda is not a brand typically associated with luxury, but the interior of the top-level Signature trim feels like that of a high-end SUV. Seats are swathed in soft Nappa leather, which complements the rosewood and aluminum trim. A two-tone treatment throughout the interior is a nice touch. Front seats offer ample support and can be heated or cooled. The heated steering wheel is also a welcome feature in cold weather.
Roomy Second Row
Second-row passengers in the CX-9 enjoy plentiful legroom as well as their own climate controls. The Signature trim also includes heated rear seats — a family-friendly feature much appreciated during the surprising Northwest winter weather.
Livable Third Row
Mazda’s flagship crossover has enough space for two passengers in the third row. Although legroom is a bit tight, the seat is wide so folks relegated to the back row won’t feel too claustrophobic.
While the CX-9 is a large crossover, cargo space can be somewhat limited when the third row is in use. Fitting more than one large suitcase can be a challenge; however, the rear seats fold flat quickly and easily, providing a rather spacious area for luggage or other cargo.
With personal technology becoming so quickly integrated with automobiles, a display screen has become a necessity in today’s vehicles. In the CX-9, the screen seems like an afterthought within an otherwise attractive interior design. The display sticks up out of the dashboard, looking as if it should retract out of sight — but it doesn’t.
Given the complexities around integrating technology into vehicles, many car companies have had issues creating an interface that is both intuitive and easy to use, and unfortunately Mazda’s does not provide a great experience. There is no tuning knob, and the action of changing the radio station requires multiple steps through the interface — a basic function that should be easier to access.
Amid plenty of crossover options on the market, the Mazda CX-9 stands out not only for its attractive exterior design but also for its luxurious, comfortable interior. Most of all, we were thoroughly impressed with the CX-9’s abilities in snowy and icy conditions, as well as its fun driving attributes when roads cleared. Overall the CX-9 is an excellent offering in the very crowded crossover segment.