Mazda revamped the mid-sized CX-9 in 2017 and this year it's taken the three-row family crossover and re-tuned the suspension for a better ride. And it definitely shows. The 2019 CX-9 looks good, drives well, and hauls the family with ease. There's a lot to like in the CX-9.

That isn't to say that there aren't some downers in the 2019 Mazda CX-9. Cargo space is limited, for example; especially when the third row is deployed. Yet with a little creativity and some pre-planning, we managed to get a family of five into the CX-9 with enough luggage and snacks for a week-long road trip.

Primary among the Mazda CX-9's appeal points are its exterior looks and its excellent drive dynamics for the class. Few crossovers can claim the almost universally appealing exterior of the CX-9. That athletic appearance translates to the drive quality of the crossover as well, with the 2019 CX-9 driving like a well-done luxury sport model. It's smooth, graceful, and nimble compared to the competition. The old race adage of "smooth is fast, fast is smooth" rings very true with the 2019 CX-9 in its overall feel.

This is especially apparent when driving at speed on the highway through corners or mountain roads. The CX-9 smooths out the body roll by elongating it so it tapers into existence rather than happening suddenly. This control means driving confidence and goes well with the fast shifts and steady steering pressure that the CX-9 delivers. Added to that, the all-wheel drive option brings further stability and multi-terrain, all-weather credibility.

Chief in the 2019 CX-9's appeal on the road is its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that outputs a nicely-done 227 hp (169 kW). This can be boosted to 250 horses (186 kW) by utilizing premium octane fuel. Although the six-speed automatic transmission seems to be short on gears compared to some rivals with their double-digit gearboxes, the CX-9 does very well with the transmission on hand, being unafraid of dropping or gaining a gear when conditions warrant it.

The interior offers a good experience for the family. It isn't as luxurious as some premium brands or as ergonomic as some family-focused rivals might be, but it's got all of the bases covered. Instead of focusing on a particular point, Mazda chose to make sure the foundation was solid for a more universally useful interior design. Quality components and materials make up the bulk of the CX-9's interior and roominess is accomplished by adding a lot of small item storage and smart door and ceiling designs.

Seating in the front for the driver and passenger is very well done, with a lot of comfort thanks to the well-bolstered seats and the intelligent controls layout. Legroom and headroom are ample for even tall folks, while arm rests are positioned just about right.

In the second row, the split-fold bench provides excellent outboard seating comfort. The middle position is not quite as good, of course, but usable when necessary. The third row is small and aimed mostly towards children, but they will find plenty of room there as-is. The overall impression with the CX-9 is that it's larger than it is.

Cargo space is limited to just 14.4 cubic feet (408 L) behind the third row, but expands to 71.2 cubes (2,017 L) when both the second and third rows are folded down flat. Towing is rated at up to 3,500 lb (1,588 kg) when the CX-9 is equipped to do so. Fuel economy is rated at 22 mpg (10.7 L/100km) in the city and 28 mpg (8.4 L/100km) on the highway.

For infotainment controls Mazda has dropped the touchscreen input in favor of a dial-based design that makes us wonder why luxury makes can't seem to get this idea to work for them. Most "command knob"-style interfaces quickly become clunky and tedious to use. Not so with the Mazda interface, which uses a thoughtful and fast-responding menu structure to make the learning curve short and its use intuitive.

There is smartphone integration and plentiful USB ports throughout the cabin, with Mazda also adding Apple CarPlay and Android Auto this year, which improves voice recognition and control for the infotainment. Especially useful is the ability to enter navigation addresses (either via phone or with the available in-vehicle nav) by voice.

Another area of improvement for Mazda is in driver's aids and advanced safety equipment. The CX-9 has available active safety features like forward collision warning, crash mitigation (automatic braking), lane keeping assist, and rear cross-traffic alert. All work very well with few false alarms and good tuning for daily use. The adaptive cruise control is very well-designed for road trips, offering good acceleration when the obstruction clears and smooth slow-down when approaching a slow-mover.

Today's market of three-row crossovers is growing quickly with heavy competition. Mazda has earned some well-deserved kudos for the CX-9 and we think the crossover needs more recognition. While some offerings are a bit larger, with more interior space to match and better ergonomics as a result, none of them have the maneuverability and well-rounded excellence that the 2019 CX-9 sports. To that Mazda added a smooth ride and excellent road dynamics; something not seen elsewhere.

The 2019 Mazda CX-9 has a starting price of US$32,280 and our Grand Touring test model rang in at $45,310 delivered.

Product Page: 2019 Mazda CX-9

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