Last year, I called the Mazda CX-9 the “Miata of three-row crossovers,” in that it didn’t really have drive modes or fancy shocks or anything for the driver to fuss with. It was just a solid, well-tuned big crossover for people who care about things like steering feel. My parents recently moved, and I took the updated 2022 Mazda CX-9 up to Delaware to help them move some delicate items before the pros showed up. And while I do still think “Miata of three-rows” is an accurate claim, it felt almost too accurate when the time came to drop the seats and put bulky stuff in the back.
Mazda hasn’t changed much with the 2022 Mazda CX-9 compared to last year. All-wheel drive is now standard across all trim levels, and a new Touring Plus trim line provides commonly-purchased equipment at a better value than before. Otherwise, the 2022 CX-9 is basically the same as the 2021 CX-9, and that’s largely a fine thing. You’ll still get Mazda’s ubiquitous 2.5-liter turbo four, pushing 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque (on premium fuel) through a six-speed torque-converter automatic and that now-standard all-wheel drive. There are no adjustable shocks and there is no air suspension, dampers are fixed-rate and ride height is what it is.
Performance-wise, the 2022 Mazda CX-9 is quite competent. There are some good back roads between Washington, D.C. and the Delaware beach towns, and the CX-9 was happy to play a bit when things got twisty. It’s not “fast,” though, merely quick. The turbo four is, as I’ve said before, diesel-like in its motivation. You can give it half throttle getting on the highway and unwittingly end up doing 90 miles per hour – but go full-throttle to pass and it feels far less spry. The little turbocharger runs out of breath around 4,000 rpm, a fair compromise given people truly “drive torque” and benefit from low-effort low-RPM acceleration in a three-row crossover.
So it’s good to drive, but if you wanted a “good-driving Mazda” you’d go buy a Miata or a Mazda3. The purpose of the 2022 Mazda CX-9 is to haul lots of people and things. How’s it do at that?
The second row of the CX-9 is fantastic for kids and adults alike, with sliding and reclining bucket seats on my top-tier Signature. They’re heated, of course, and the second row enjoys its own climate control zone and manually-operated sunshades on the doors. I could sit behind myself at six-foot-one and be comfortable for a very long road trip. The third row is a tight squeeze for six-footers, but smaller humans will have a fine time back there.
Unfortunately, the mandatory captains’ chairs of the Signature (and several other high-trim CX-9s) include a center console that cannot be removed. The second and third rows both fold to make a flat floor, but the console sticks up by about an inch. We wrapped it judiciously in moving blankets to avoid marring the leather top, and packed items carefully to deal with the not-quite-flat floor.
Further challenges were presented with the overall shape of the CX-9’s cargo area. This is the “Miata of three-rows” moment. My parents’ daily is a 2011 Subaru Outback, perhaps one of the best examples of interior space utilization that carries through to the current model.
Interestingly, the 2011 Outback and the 2022 Mazda CX-9 have the same amount of cargo space with seats folded – 71.3 cubic feet for the Subaru and 71.2 cubic feet for the Mazda. But when it came time to move a custom-made coffee table and end tables, we eyeballed the shape of each cargo area and opted for the Outback. The CX-9’s hatch opening and floor-to-roof height both worked against it, as did the general shape of the rear-most cargo area. As with a Miata, you can haul plenty, but soft-sided bags are the way to go.
That’s not to say the CX-9 was useless; quite the opposite. It was still large enough to be crammed full of (most) things, then nice enough to pop the second row back up and go out to dinner after a hard day’s work. But some of the details indicate Mazda was focused on luxury and people-moving more than outright hauling when designing this generation of CX-9.
As I start to wonder about the next generation of CX-9, or CX-90, or whatever it is, my hope is that it mimics the more squared-off design of the Mazda CX-50, providing a bit more utility on top of all the Mazda-y bits that make their crossovers stand out in very crowded segments.