2020 Mazda CX-9 review

By David Bonnici and WhichCar Staff

2020 Mazda CX-9 Azami

Priced From $45,990Information

Overall Rating


4.5 out of 5 stars

Rating breakdown
Expand Section

Safety, value & features

5 out of 5 stars

Comfort & space

5 out of 5 stars

Engine & gearbox

4 out of 5 stars

Ride & handling

5 out of 5 stars


4 out of 5 stars

Pros & Cons

  1. ProSpace; finish; handling; ride; great engine.

  2. ConBrakes need a stomp for strong stopping power.

  3. The Pick: 2021 Mazda CX-9 GT 5D SUV

What stands out?

The Mazda CX-9 is a great-looking, comfortable, and well-built seven-seater that feels better to drive than any other big SUV near its price. Its turbo-petrol engine is economical and feels surprisingly sporty. The third row of seats will accept adults. All-wheel drive is available, and auto emergency braking is standard.

Wheels magazine named the CX-9 its 2017 Car of the Year.

What might bug me?

Squeezing in luggage, with seven people on board. If you’re moving from the previous CX-9, you might miss its more generous boot space behind the third row. The current model is down 37 litres of cargo-swallowing space, to 230 litres.

Banging your arm on the centre console. Depending on your size and posture, you may find its lid snags your elbow when you’re working the wheel.

Driving under 80km/h on the space-saver spare until you can fix your full-sized flat tyre.

The lack of a diesel option. Mazda has partly addressed this with the introduction of the seven-seat CX-8.

What body styles are there?

Five-door SUV-style wagon only.

The Mazda CX-9 drives either its front wheels or (optionally) all four wheels.

All-wheel-drive CX-9s use an on-demand AWD system. Most of the time it sends most of the engine’s power to the front wheels, to improve fuel economy. When the sensor-based, predictive, system thinks the front wheels are about to slip, it sends a greater proportion of power to the rear wheels.

The CX-9 is classed as a large SUV, lower priced.

What features do all Mazda CX-9s have?

Adaptive cruise control, which can maintain a safe distance to the car in front – both at highway speeds and in city traffic. In traffic, it can keep pace with a vehicle ahead automatically, even through stops and starts.

An infotainment system that you can operate from either a rotary controller or a colour touchscreen, with auxiliary and USB inputs, and AM, FM and Digital (DAB+) radio. The system syncs to your smartphone via Bluetooth or Apple Carplay/Android Auto.

Satellite navigation, and three-zone air-conditioning (which lets you set different temperatures for each side of the front compartment and the second row).

A reversing camera and rear parking sensors, which help you judge how far the bumper is from obstacles. Exterior mirrors that fold automatically after you lock the car.

Leather wrap on the steering wheel and gear selector handle. Buttons on the steering wheel for operating the cruise control, the sound system and your phone.

Daytime running lights, and long-lasting LED headlights and taillights. (The headlights are brighter than conventional halogen lights, and use less energy than xenon lights.)

Automatic transmission.

Aluminium alloy wheels (which unlike steel wheels don’t need plastic trim), and a space-saver steel spare wheel.

Advanced driver assistance systems aimed at helping you avoid a crash. These comprise adaptive headlights, driver attention alert, forward obstruction warning, lane keep-assist, lane-departure warning, and autonomous emergency braking that works at highway speeds and can detect pedestrians at night.

Six airbags. Anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control – which helps you control a skidding car. (For the placement of airbags, and more on CX-9 safety systems, please open the “Safety” section below.)

Every Mazda CX-9 carries a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?

Only one engine is available in a CX-9, a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol. On the official test it consumes as little as 8.4 litres/100km (city and country combined).

In a real-world comparison of 10 popular seven-seaters conducted by Wheels magazine, a CX-9 Sport was at least 10 per cent more careful with fuel than any other petrol car, recording a test average of 11.6 litres/100km. (But it was not as frugal as the turbo-diesels.)

All CX-9s use Mazda’s efficiency enhancing i-Stop and i-Eloop systems. The former saves fuel by shutting off the engine when you stop, and restarting it when you take your foot off the brake to drive away. The latter recovers energy during braking and stores it as electricity, which helps power the heating, lights and other functions.

About September 2017, all CX-9s gained Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control, which automatically adjusts engine output, subtly, to improve steering.

Every CX-9 drives through a six-speed conventional automatic gearbox.

(Power outputs and all other Mazda CX-9 specifications are available from the Cars Covered menu, under the main image on this page.)

What key features do I get if I spend more?

The least costly CX-9, the Sport FWD, has cloth seat trim, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, 18-inch wheels, and drives the front wheels only.

All-wheel drive is an extra-cost option, available on any CX-9.

Spending more for a CX-9 Touring gets you a cabin trimmed in black leather and an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Both front seats are power-adjustable and heated. Headlights turn on automatically when it’s getting dark, and windscreen wipers operate automatically when it rains.

Paying more again for a CX-9 GT brings front parking sensors, a hands-free tailgate with foot detection, the choice of black or beige leather trim, and keyless entry, which allows you to unlock the doors while the key remains safe in a pocket or bag. The driver’s seat can remember your position, which makes it easy to restore after a companion has driven the car, and you can heat the front and middle-row seats. There is a better sound system (with digital radio), a power-operated tailgate, a powered glass sunroof, and roll-up sunshades for the rear door windows. Traffic sign recognition helps you keep track of speed limits.

In addition, a CX-9 GT’s wheels are two inches bigger, at 20 inches, and wrapped in lower-profile tyres that sharpen the steering.

The CX-9 Azami brings Nappa leather upholstery and hand-crafted wooden trim, a 360-degree monitor that helps you avoid obstacles around your CX-9 while reversing, LED daytime running lights, windscreen de-icer, ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and a 7-inch LCD multi-information display between the gauges.

Does any upgrade have a down side?

The 20-inch wheels and tyres on the CX-9 GT and Azami reduce low-speed ride comfort slightly, compared with the 18-inch wheels and tyres fitted to the CX-9 Sport and Touring.

Beige leather interior trim will show dirt and stains that wouldn’t be visible on the alternative black leather.

The blind-spot monitoring system, while very useful, is not infallible and can be caught out in some circumstances. An example is when you’re indicating to turn a corner on a dual-lane road – the system can perceive this as an attempt to change lanes, and emit a warning beep.

Choosing metallic paint will cost you about $250 extra. Of seven colours available, only the five mica shades come standard.

How comfortable is the CX-9?

The Mazda CX-9 is a superbly comfortable SUV, especially on the 18-inch wheels and tyres of Sport and Touring versions.

Unlike many previous Mazdas, the CX-9 does a great job of shutting out tyre, suspension and wind noise. “It’s almost like driving with earmuffs on,” reviewer Byron Mathioudakis wrote after piloting a CX-9 Sport in company with nine other seven-seaters. (And Mazda has since added more and better insulation, in September 2017 and again in September 2018.)

The cabin feels wide and welcoming, with abundant storage and a lovely steering wheel that’s adjustable for height and reach. Slim roof pillars promote good vision out.

Seats in the front and second rows remain very comfortable over long drives. The powered front seats in all but the CX-9 Sport aid comfort by making it easy to micro-adjust your position until it is just right.

The third-row seats are roomier than most of the CX-9’s rivals and will accommodate two average-sized adults comfortably over moderate distances. Legroom is helped by the slightly sliding the second row forward. The wide rear door opening means you don’t need to be a contortionist to climb in or out of the third-row seats.

The quality of plastics, textiles and carpets is high in all variants, and the presentation of the instruments and controls is both classy and logical.

What about safety in a Mazda CX-9?

A strong body structure with side-impact door beams, six airbags, seat belt warnings front and rear, a reversing camera, and rear parking sensors, form a fine safety basis in the CX-9.

Every version builds on this with autonomous emergency braking, a blind-spot monitor, and a reverse cross-traffic alert. And there is roll stability control, and trailer stability assist.

The airbags are directly in front of the driver and front passenger (two); alongside the driver and front passenger, to protect at chest level from side crashes (two); and a curtain airbag extending down each side of the car, protecting at head level from side crashes (two).

The head-level curtain airbags stretch past all three rows of seats.

Mazda calls the CX-9’s standard auto-braking Smart City Brake Support [Forward/Reverse]. The camera-based system works at speeds under 80km/h to warn you of an obstacle in front of the car – typically a slower vehicle, but pedestrians are recognised also. If you ignore the warning, it brakes the car automatically.

High-speed autonomous emergency braking that operates at speeds up to 160km/h, relying on radar and camera sensors. These sensors also provide input for two lane-keeping aids (Lane departure warning, and Lane-keep assist), which warn you, and can provide corrective steering input, if you have begun to drift out of your lane on the highway (perhaps from fatigue or distraction).

A driver attention alert monitors your steering for signs you are falling asleep. Finally, active multi-element LED headlights dim automatically only a part of the high beam for oncoming drivers – the part that might dazzle them – leaving you with better illumination to either side.

The standard blind-spot monitor uses radar sensors to check behind you for vehicles in adjacent lanes on the highway. Mazda says it looks not only near your rear corners but also for cars overhauling you swiftly from up to 50 metres behind, warning you to avoid changing lanes if it concludes there is danger.

The reverse cross-traffic alert helps you back safely out of a driveway or parking space, telling you if a jogger, cyclist or other vehicle is about to cross your path.

Roll stability control lessens the chance of a rollover, and trailer stability assistance acts to minimise trailer sway. Both work by adjusting engine power and braking.

The Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) awarded the Mazda CX-9 its maximum five stars for safety, in July 2016.

I like driving - will I enjoy this car?

The Mazda CX-9 is the best handling large SUV available near its price, and a genuinely good drive in spite of its high weight and centre of mass.

Its greatest strengths are a suspension that blends comfort brilliantly with handling, and slick and accurate steering.

All-wheel-drive versions feel noticeably more planted than the front-drive versions, and the steering and handling of a CX-9 feels subtly crisper on the 20-inch tyres worn by the GT and Azami.

The petrol turbo engine responds strongly from low speeds and pulls with plenty of guts and a throaty note into the upper reaches. It’s a sporty engine that teams well with the six-speed automatic to give the CX-9 a surprising turn of speed. The big Mazda overtakes very well.

If you exploit the acceleration and handling, you might find the brake pedal a bit squishy – it takes a good shove to deliver full stopping power.

While AWD CX-9s will be more effective than front-drive versions on loose-surfaced, muddy or snowy roads, no CX-9 has the low-gearing, tall ground clearance or underbody protection required for tackling very rough tracks or other off-road challenges.

How is life in the rear seats?

The CX-9’s ability to accommodate five people in the back in spacious comfort is as impressive as its handling and speed.

The firmly cushioned second row delivers a good view over the front seats and out of the side windows, and there’s plenty of headroom. In Touring, GT and Azami versions, the central fold-down armrest has a handy storage bin and a USB port built in.

The second seat row slides fore and aft to adjust how legroom is apportioned between it and the third row, and its backrest angle is adjustable.

The third row provides usable accommodation for adults, rather than being a kids-only proposition. However, there are no air-vents or reading lights, and headroom is not especially generous.

There are mounting points for two Isofix child seats in the second row, or for up to three non-Isofix seats secured using the seatbelts and three top-tether points in the roof. In the third row, there are two top tethers, allowing installation of two non-Isofix child seats.

How is it for carrying stuff?

As in every seven-seater, the third row of seats displaces cargo when upright. With seven people on board, you have less room in the cargo bay than you would have in, say, a medium SUV that seated five.

In the CX-9, there’s 230 litres of luggage space behind the third row (37 litres less than the superseded CX-9), which is slightly less than you get in Mazda’s light hatchback, the Mazda2. Likely not enough to swallow big kids’ bikes, a big pram, or a week’s worth of holiday luggage.

In five-seater mode, however, with the 50/50 third-row backrests folded flat, there’s a substantial 810 litres, which really is a family-sized cargo hold.

And in van mode, with both the third and (60/40) second rows folded away, there’s a capacious 1641 litres of space – enough to accommodate big pieces of furniture.

Where does Mazda make the CX-9?

The Mazda CX-9 is manufactured in Japan.

What might I miss that similar cars have?

Mainly lower fuel consumption from a turbo-diesel engine, and consequently a longer highway range between fills. The Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Skoda Kodiaq and Ford Endura are among large SUVs offering this, and Kia also offers the Carnival people mover as a diesel.

Mazda is also introduced its own diesel seven-seater in July 2018, the CX-8, which is a little smaller than the CX-9 but bigger than the CX-5.

Among other popular seven seaters that you might consider are the Toyota Kluger and Nissan Pathfinder, Peugeot 5008, and the Holden Acadia.

I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?

The all-wheel-drive Mazda CX-9 Touring is our pick of the line-up. The Touring represents a happy middle ground of equipment versus cost (and ride comfort, thanks to its 18-inch wheels and tyres), and the AWD noticeably aids handling and slippery-surface traction.

Are there plans to update the CX-9 soon?

The current, second-generation Mazda CX-9 was launched in Australia in July 2016.

About September 2017 the CX-9 received a subtle upgrade for the 2018 model year, adding sound insulation and introducing Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control – designed to improve steering feel. The third-row seat gained a second child-seat anchor. More broadly effective, camera-based, auto braking replaced the original laser-based system, extending its operating ceiling from 30km/h to 80km/h.

Another update in September 2018 added the advanced active safety, that was only available in the Azami, across the range and introduced Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to the Mazda SUV range. The Azami LE was also added to the top of the range, bringing premium Nappa leather and handcrafted wooden trim to the Azami spec.

Mazda deleted the Azami LE from the range for the 2020 model year and added its Nappa leather seats and wood grain to the Azami. Both the Azami and GT gained a power-operated tailgate.