Behind the Wheel

2020 Mazda CX-9 Review: An elegant family hauler that blends in with the competitive crowd

The Mazda CX-9 is an elegant, three-row family hauler.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

For seven years, I lived in a small tourist town in Southwest Colorado. Thanks to nearby Mesa Verde National Park and the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, not to mention mind-bogglingly beautiful scenery, we had a constant flow of Texans and Californians wanting to see "The West."

For a remote town of some 20,000 people, Durango was remarkably well-stocked with amazing restaurants. Thanks to our tourist friends as well as a well-heeled second-home community, Main Street was lined with top-notch eateries that wouldn't be out of place in any major city across the country.

2020 Mazda CX-9 The model features Mazda's signature exterior blunted nose and heavy wheel cladding.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Whether we wanted sushi, steak, Greek, whatever — we were absurdly spoiled for choice. It was heaven. Though I live in Boston now, which saw its own culinary resurgence in the half-decade I was away, I still miss the restaurants of Durango.

My favorite was always East By Southwest. You wouldn't expect a sushi joint in the middle Rockies to blow you away, but the chefs were creative and I was always delighted with whatever they came up with. My favorite was the BLT&T roll, which swaps seaweed for lettuce and adds tuna to the lunchtime staple. It was topped with a garlic pesto aioli and I could eat it every day for lunch.

As I slipped behind the wheel of Mazda's Japan-built CX-9 SUV for a test drive, I found myself thinking about all those restaurants. See, the Mazda CX-9 is a very nice premium three-row SUV. My test unit, a top-of-the-line Signature trim, was $47,385 with all the toys.

It has Mazda's excellent 2.5-liter turbocharged Skyactiv engine, all-wheel-drive, 20-inch wheels, a full safety suite including adaptive cruise control, a lovely Bose sound system, nice leather, and on and on.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Mazda's large grille fronts an imposing figure.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

There's a five-year 60,000-mile powertrain warranty and a three-year 36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper. It has three-zone climate control (the rear seats are the third-zone). It seems well-built, assembled in Mazda's Hiroshima, Japan plant and shipped over to the states.

I particularly like the heads-up display and the easy-to-read dashboard, which is common to all Mazdas. Too many carmakers end up filling every available inch with icons and graphics that you just don't need. The infotainment is not the best (I've complained about Mazda's user interface before so I won't belabor the point), but the screen is solid and CarPlay works well.

Visibility is good and the handling and drive performance are excellent, with the little turbocharged four-cylinder delivering 20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. The inside is luxurious and all the buttons and touch points are lovely.

2020 Mazda CX-9 The interior of the CX-9 Signature trim level is as luxurious as many higher priced models.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

However, like with all those amazing restaurants in Durango, we are spoiled for choice in this segment.

The Hyundai Palisade is tremendous, as is its sister-vehicle the Kia Telluride, and at the top-trim you're at the same price point as this Mazda. There's the Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer, Subaru Ascent and Volkswagen Atlas as worthy competition too. If you don't really need the third-row, you're starting to get into the price range of the smaller luxury SUVs as well.

But it's the Palisade that really gives the Mazda a run for its money. Of course, the Hyundai is brand new and any new vehicle is going to have an advantage in tech features, but it also looks better (Hyundai is killing it in design these days), has quilted leather and heated and ventilated rear seats in the Limited trim, as well as a far better warranty, running 10-years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Second- and third-row passengers are not treated like afterthoughts in the CX-9's design.Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

And, the Hyundai's lane-centering functionality is so far beyond what most other vehicles have that, for commuters especially, it's hard to recommend anything else.

Viewed in a bubble, the Mazda CX-9 is great. As a vehicle, it's comfortable and luxurious and you'd be perfectly happy owning it. But when you look at the competition, it's a much tougher comparison.

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The Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Hyundai

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid is all-new for 2021, and features an impressive list of standard features, great safety scores, and family-friendly space. If you're looking for a new SUV, it's hard to imagine a better fit for an urban family, or any other family, for that matter. Beyond a few small complaints, the Santa Fe Hybrid offers plenty to like.

Here are three things to like about the 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid The Santa Fe Hybrid brings great passenger space and an upscale interior.Hyundai

It offers plenty of passenger and cargo space

The Santa Fe offers roomy seating for up to five adults with more than reasonable head and legroom in both rows. Second-row passengers have room to move, and don't end up jockeying for position with taller front-seat passengers. When the SUV is packed with people and needs to haul gear, it's more than capable of doing that, too, as it offers 36.4 cubic feet of space behind the second row and up to 72.1 cubic feet with the second-row seats folded down. Making the space more accessible, power-folding second-row seats and a hands-free power liftgate are standard.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid All trims come decked out with safety equipment.Hyundai

It delivers excellent fuel economy

The Santa Fe Hybrid returns impressive fuel economy numbers, especially in town, making it an excellent urban family runabout. The EPA estimates that the SUV can deliver 33 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and 32 mpg combined. The Santa Fe Hybrid Blue returns 36 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 34 mpg combined. That's several miles per gallon better than the standard Santa Fe and better than some sedans.

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid Fuel economy is better than many smaller cars.Hyundai

It earned great safety scores

The 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe earned a Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That score is due in part to the Santa Fe's Good marks in crash tests, but the SUV's long list of standard safety kit helps, too. All models come with forward collision-avoidance assist with pedestrian, cyclist, and junction turning detection, lane keeping assist, driver attention warnings, lane following assist, and a rear occupant alert system. Optional features include blind spot collision-avoidance assist, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, a parking distance warning system, and a highway driving assist system.

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The Corolla Cross hits a sweet spot in terms of size and price.

Toyota

Smart move! Every automaker is trying to grow their lineups. Toyota is no exception, and has now filled the white space between the C-HR subcompact utility vehicle and the compact RAV4 with the 2022 Corolla Cross, an entry-level offering that marries the Corolla sedan to an all-new model with crossover styling and utility. The venerable Corolla isn't simply well-known -- it's the best-selling nameplate of all time and is marketed in 150 countries with over 50 million in sales to date. And, even though the segment that Corolla Cross will join is filled with close to two-dozen offerings, it's attracting more buyers than ever as consumers choose crossovers over sedans.

A Sweet Spot in a Crowded Segment

Toyota's goal was to seek a sweet spot in the value-priced small crossover market, marrying engaging driving features with cargo-carrying functionality, and to endow the 2022 Corolla Cross with a long list of technology, infotainment and safety features. On sale in October, starting at $22,195 for the front-drive base model (an all-wheel drive version adds $1300) and up to $27, 625 for a top-of-the-line AWD (delivery and handling adds $1,215). Grades include L, LE and XLE; all can pull up to 1,500 pounds. This weight will accommodate personal watercraft on a trailer. Fuel economy is estimated to be 32mpg on the FWD and up to 30 on the AWD. Wheel options include 17-inch steel on L and 18-inch alloy on XLE. It will be built at the new Mazda Toyota Manufacturing plant, in Huntsville, Alabama on Toyota's high-strength TNGA-C platform.

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross The Corolla Cross brings an impressive list of standard features.Toyota

Look to the compact RAV4 and even the midsize Highlander for some of the Corolla Cross' styling cues. This is especially from the back end, where Toyota has installed an integrated spoiler and LED lighting. This new stretched crossover/hatchback has a high belt line and strong arching shoulders above the wheel wells, and starts with a chiseled front grille with LEDs. It's 5 inches shorter than the RAV4 and 3 inches longer than the C-HR. The idea was to attract young, diverse, multicultural buyers who are smart and tech savvy, so designers penned looks meant to catch their eye in a way that is "refined with an urban edge". Hence, our drive to test the new model took place in the hip environs of Austin, TX. I drove both the FWD base model and the top-level AWD and liked each, with the biggest differences found the in distinguishing trim elements outside and, as expected, a more upscale interior on the XLE.

Strong List of Standard Features

There are a number of impressive features on this 5-passenger runabout with 60/40 folding rear seats include standard heating and air conditioning vents for rear passengers. Up-level models and options include SoftTex-trimmed 10-way power seats, a power moonroof, as well as either single- or dual-zone automatic climate control, a power lift gate with height adjustability, and a host of available accessories such as a roof rack with crossbars, an activity mount for carrying sporting goods such as bicycles, a tow hitch and all-weather floormats. Cargo Capacity with the 2nd Row in place is 26.5 cu.ft. for FWD/ 25.2 for the AWD; with the second row folded, it expands to 66.8/65.5 (slightly less for each for models with the moonroof).

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross The Corolla Cross sits between the C-HR and RAV4 in the Toyota lineup.Toyota

Fuel Economy Over Power

Power comes from Toyota's sophisticated Dynamic Force 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with Dual Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) that makes 169 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque and is shifted through a CVT. During my 100-mile-long drive, I found this powerplant has ample horsepower and torque to motivate it around town and on the highway; I found the AWD XLE a bit quieter overall and especially on hard throttle. A physical first gear provides a more punchy and better fuel economy. Also aiding in fuel economy is Toyota's Dynamic Torque Control system that directs up to 50 percent of power to the rear wheels when it's needed – and disengages completely when not. The suspension for AWDs is a fully independent set-up while, while FWDs feature a brand-new torsion beam system in the rear. Impressive is the 8 inches of ground clearance, close to that of the RAV4, that will allow some backcountry and dirt road travel.

The interior will remind consumers of the Corolla sedan and hatch in looks and layout, with quality materials, good visibility and sensibly-placed controls. A 7-inch multimedia touchscreen comes on the L and LE, while XLE features an 8-inch touchscreen. There is a long list of in-car entertainment and connected functionalities, including standard compatibility for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross Styling is somewhere between a RAV4 and a Highlander.Toyota

Wireless charging is standard on LE and XLE, and all trims have conveniently-located USB media ports. The LE and XLE grades bring two USB charging ports for rear seat passengers. Also onboard are Audio Plus multimedia with Remote Connect and a nine-speaker JBL sound system as well as Amazon Alexa connectivity. Standard is a three-month SiriusXM Platinum subscription. Of note, XLE owners can get key info at a glance, courtesy of an available 7-inch Multi-Information Display with various vehicle and systems info to choose from.

All grades come standard with nine airbags and both the Toyota Safety Sense suite of advanced active safety systems, as well as Toyota's STAR Safety System. Blind Spot Monitor and Rear Cross-Traffic Alert come standard on LE and XLE, while Front and Rear Parking Assist with Automatic Braking is standard on XLE. Other top features in the safety bundle include Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist, Lane Tracing Assist, Road Sign Assist, Full-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Automatic High Beams, Enhanced Vehicle Stability Control, and Traction Control.

2022 Toyota Corolla Cross The Alabama-built Corolla Cross goes on sale in October.Toyota

The 2022 Corolla Cross also comes standard with complimentary ToyotaCare that covers normal factory-scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles, whichever comes first, and two years of Roadside Assistance, regardless of mileage.

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