2019 Mazda CX-9 Off-Road Review: The Odd Duck, in a Good Way

Mazda's largest and most expensive crossover hits the dirt.

Photo: TFLcar

We love the Mazda CX-9 on the road.

It is one of the best handling vehicles in its class. Having the opportunity to take one off-road at the Rocky Mountain Redline Climb – an event that takes journalists, off-road trails and various vehicles into the scenic mountains around Breckenridge, Colorado – we had a great opportunity to push it hard in a foreign environment. Not only did it keep up with the competition, it managed to survive a collision with a deer after the event.

Clip: The Far Side

No kidding.

A different journalist was driving at the time of the incident. The Mazda CX-9 suffered minor front end damage and, other than the unfortunate deer, no one was injured. During the Redline Climb, which was staged at the Golden Horseshoe Tours (a rustic 1860s coalmine camp we used as base camp), we tested tires, suspensions and all-wheel drive (AWD) systems.

Photo: Nathan Leach-Proffer

According to Mazda, “In normal operation, vehicles route approximately 98 percent of their power to the front wheels. Torque transfer can reach as much as 50:50 front-to-rear if the vehicle determines more power is needed at the rear wheels.”

The system (called i-ACTIV) uses predictive traction control that primes the AWD system to activate when called upon as opposed as reacting to slippage. It uses 27 sensors that measure everything from outside temperature to ABS to yaw control (and a variety of other measurements) to set up the AWD system accordingly.

Photo: Nathan Leach-Proffer

We tested this AWD system extensively on ice and snow and it was impressive. Not only that, but at 8.8-inches of ground clearance, it leads the class in ground clearance. It’s even higher than the Subaru Ascent.  Its turbocharged 2.5-liter engine makes 250 horsepower (on premium fuel) and 310 lbs-feet of torque. It comes connected to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The approximately 4,300 lbs Mazda CX-9 can get 20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined.

Good stuff. Unfortunately, its front overhang is not off-road friendly and it did scrape a bit. It was not the happiest going up rocks either, but some of the issue was the tires which were street-biased. Still, it managed.

Off-road driving

It doesn’t quite handle the off-road like competing vehicles. The Kia Sorento felt more planted and the Honda Pilot was more athletic. Our impressions on those cars are coming soon. Despite that, the Mazda CX-9 figured things out just fine. The four-wheel articulation was not very good, but much of that has to do with its sportier suspension setup. It forced quite a few moments of three-wheel driving, where one wheel is off the ground because of the lack of articulation. It’s a bit of an odd duck off the beaten path, but the articulation issue is a small trade-off for its outstanding on-road performance.

Photo: Nathan Leach-Proffer

It doesn’t come cheap

With a MSRP of $45,310, the 2019 Mazda CX-9 is not a bargain basement vehicle. In fact, price is the one place where this car is just a hair over what I would consider reasonable. Still, this is a great all around vehicle that can handle poor weather conditions and the odd, nasty dirt road.

… And deer, it can handle deer too.