In the land of midsize sport utility vehicles, none is king. Each entry in this popular niche of the SUV market has a unique feature. Ford's V6 Explorer can tow a 5,000-pound trailer, Jeep's Grand Cherokee with the optional V8 engine can pull a 7,200-pound trailer.
Kia's Telluride, Volkswagen's Atlas and the Subaru Ascent are noteworthy for their interior space. And so it goes.
Not to be overlooked is Mazda's CX9. It has close to the best, if not the best, economical and sporty turbocharged four-cylinder on the market. The 2.5-liter engine averages between 20 and 28 miles per gallon of fuel usage. Fuel usage depends on whether the CX9 is a front- or all-wheel-drive model and what octane of gasoline is used. If the manufacturer recommended 87- or 89-octane regular fuel is in the 19.5- gallon gas tank, the engine develops 227 horsepower. If 93-octane is in the tank, expect 250-horsepower.
An AWD CX9 using 93-octane gasoline was tested recently. During the test week in combined city, suburban and highway driving with two and three adults aboard, the CX9 averaged 24.6 miles per gallon in fuel usage. The three-row, seven-passenger SUV is fast off the mark. It will not match a sport coupe but it will match or do better than the midsize SUV competition as the CX9 can race from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 7.2 seconds.
The four (Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, Signature) CX9 models share the same turbo engine, which is mated to a six-speed shiftable transmission. Prices range from $32,000 to roughly $45,000. AWD is optional ($1,800) for most of the models but the top-of-the-line $45,365 Signature gets AWD as standard equipment.
From a styling change in 2016, Mazda continues to make improvements on the CX9. This year, for example, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have been added to all models as standard fare.
Instrumentation and information panels are easy to see and operate. Front and middle-row seats are wide and comfortable. The third row is tight. Children will do well in this rear seat and adults should be able to endure it for short trips. The second row moves forward and backward. Seatbacks tip forward for easier access to the third row. These middle row seats also can recline.
Amenities are plentiful and include power (heated exterior mirrors, front seats, windows, rear liftgate, locks), Bose sound system with knobs for tuning and volume), cruise control, intermittent wipers and air conditioning.
Safety features are extensive and include the basics of antilock brakes, airbags, traction and stability controls. Standard across the lineup are emergency braking at low speeds (pedestrian detection basically), monitoring of blind spots as well as rearview camera, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive headlights and automatic high beams. In addition, the CX9s have lane departure and keep assist, rain-sensing windshield wipers, adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning system with automatic braking. Second row seats have child-seat latch connectors and the third row seats have tethers only.
The Signature model adds a heads-up display (actual and legal speeds reflected in black and white for driver on windshield) as part of the safety package as well as a 360-degree camera. The Signature also has front and rear parking sensors.
With higher-end CX9 models expect leather trim, heated and ventilated power front seats, heated steering wheel and manual but heated second-row seats plus manual sunshades.
A word or two about cargo possibilities ... interior CX9 storage space will not compare to competitors but there is a caveat. Besides a load area that is carpeted and lighted, beneath the load floor is a 38-inch long, 14-inch wide compartment that is five inches deep. It is somewhat useful. On either side of the wide and flat load floor are two recessed cavities. One measures nine inches deep and the other is five inches deep. Both are 10 inches long and seven inches wide. They are handy.
With both rear rows of seats folded flat, storage space measures 71.2 cubic feet. When the second row is upright and the third row flattened, storage space is reduced to 38.2 cubic feet. Behind an upright third row the storage measurement is 14.4 cubic feet or as big as a good-sized car trunk.
During test week the ride was smooth and quiet. Insulating factors are good and the suspension does its job well.
If power and economy are desired, the CX9 will fit the bill.
Vehicle: 2020 Mazda CX9
Type: three-row, seven passenger midsize sport utility vehicle
Engine: 2.5-liter, 250-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual shift and sport mode
Towing: 3,500 pounds
Fuel tank: 19.5 gallons
Fuel: regular or premium
Weight: 4,383 pounds
Wheels (aluminum-alloy), 255 tires: 20-inch, temporary spare
Brakes: discs, 12.6-inch vented front, 12.8-inch solid rear
Leg room, three-row in inches: 41 front, 39.4 middle, 29.7 rear
Wheelbase, length, width, height, ground clearance in inches: 115.3, 199.4, 77.5, 69, 8.6
Turning circle, curb-to-curb: 38.8 feet
Suspension: struts front, multilinks rear, stabilizer bars
Warranty: three years or 36,000 miles with roadside assistance, five years or 60,000 miles powertrain