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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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Alfa Romeo and the Italian police have a 70-year history, which includes this model, the Giulietta.

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

In the fifth episode of "Storie Alda Romeo", the company reveals how, for over 70 years, police officers in Italy have used the company's cars to perform essential job functions. Starting in the 1950s, Alfas were used as call-out vehicles, patrol models in U.S. terms, and became known as the "volanti".

Cars used by the State Police were nicknamed "Panthers" and those of the Carabinieri (military police) earned the nickname "Gazelles". Both terms were flattering and served as metaphors for the vehicles' power and agility.

The first Panther

1900, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Built in 1952, the first Panther was an Alfa Romeo 1900. The Gazelles began production a few years later.

The Alfa Romeo 1900 marked a lot of firsts for its maker. It was the first Alfa to have a self-supporting body and the first left-hand drive model. The car came with a four-cylinder engine, abandoning the six- and eight-cylinder power plants that had proved popular with buyers. The engine was powered by a single carburetor and delivered 80 horsepower (that was a good amount back then).

The 1900 was the first Alfa to be produced on an assembly line, which dropped the production time of one vehicle from 240 hours to 100. Many modern factories have been able to cut this time down to 48 to 72 hours.

It was agile and fast. The car was launched to the public with the slogan "The family car that wins races". It proved popular with buyers. Alfa sold more 1900s alone than the total number of Alfa Romeos it had sold up until the 1900 was produced.

Success in variety

Portello factory, 1900 production

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Alfa Romeo attributes much of the 1900's success to product cycle management that is replicated time and time again in the modern market by companies worldwide. Alfa introduced several high-performance variants of the 1900 including the 1900 TI, 1900 C Sprint and Super Sprint, and the 1900 Super, winning important international competitions within their category.

Continued coachbuilder collaboration

BAT  Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

Even as the 1900 grew in popularity with the average buyer, the Alfa Romeo continued working with coach builders to launch concept cars, like the Berlinetta Aerodinamica Tecnica (BAT) on 1900 mechanics. The BAT was created by Bertone and designed by Franco Scaglione.

The Matta

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The same engine as the one used in the 1900 was also adopted by the Alfa Romeo 1900 M, which is better known as the "Matta". Alfa made two different versions of the Matta from 1951 to 1954, one for civilians and one for military personnel.

It was a 4x4 that achieved 64 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine, which was paired with a four-speed manual gearbox.

In a similar vein as the Willys-Overland MB cum CJ-2A, several variants were produced for the agriculture, firefighting, and road maintenance industries.

The first Gazelle

Giulietta ti, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulietta was the first Gazelle, which was designed as a patrol vehicle. It came equipped with a radio system so officers could stay in touch with headquarters. Even in most modern police vehicles, radios are a aftermarket accessory.

The Giulietta was shorter, narrower, and lighter than the 1900 and offered buyers a modern exterior that gave owners high levels of comfortability in the cabin. Its aluminum engine delivered 65 horsepower and the car had a maximum speed of 102.5 mph.

The car was a near instant success. It became known as "Italy's sweetheart" and sold over 177,000 units.

At the 1954 Turin Motorshow, a coupe version of the Giulietta debuted. Called the Giulietta Sprint, the model was designed by Bertone to be a low-lying, compact, agile car.

Enter: Giulia

Giulia, Police

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

As popular as Giulietta was, the Giulia was even more so.

The reasons for its popularity started at the front and rear, where, instead of beg but for style, they were designed to be shock-absorbent. This combined with a rigid passenger compartment to give drivers the comfort of knowing that they were in a safe (for its time) car. Many of these innovations were not yet compulsory.

Under the car's hood was a 1.6-litre twin cam engine. It had one one of the lowest coefficients of drag of its time, only 0.34. Alfa Romeo's marketing department capitalized on this, promoting the car as being "designed by the wind".

Sales of the vehicle were beyond expetation. The company sold over 570,000 sales, more than triple those of Giulietta.

Famous police cars

Giulia, "Carabinieri"

Photo courtesy of Alfa Romeo

The Alfa Romeo Giulia Super was one of the most popular Alfas ever produced and one of the most famous Italian police cars ever produced. Other police cars from the Alfa lineup include the Alfasud, Alfa 75, and Alfetta Alfasud, Alfa 75156. Today, first responders drive the modern Giulia.

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The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport fits into the middle of a sea of SUVs and isn't terrible memorable.

Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

I'm a car journalist and a single guy. This might seem like a weird way to start my review of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, but hear me out.

Our swipe-right Tinder-Bumble-Hinge-Whatever dating culture has transformed how folks meet. See, there's always something else around the corner, so if you don't like the first date you're on, there's an endless supply of other potential partners. That also means that no matter how much you might like someone on the first date, there might be someone else you like better just a swipe away.

And while some of those first dates are truly memorable, others are forgettable. You end up with random people in your contacts with cryptic clues in their last name fields: Jessica Tinder or Erica Doctor or Samantha Doesn't Like Dogs DO NOT ANSWER.

My weekly car loans are the same way. Some are really special, like the time I had a Ferrari 488 GTB in Los Angeles and cruised down the Pacific Coast Highway at sunset before parking on the Santa Monica Pier and having dinner.

Or the 600+ horsepower Cadillac CTS-V that I road-tripped across Europe. One night I was forced to sleep in the back seat at a French rest area because the Chunnel train had been shut down because migrants snuck into the tunnel.

And then there are cars that are totally forgettable. There's nothing wrong with them — those cars I remember. They just don't make an impact. Kind of like how I remember all my really bad and really good first dates, but all the ones in the middle just don't register. Cars like the Buick Envision, the Chrysler 300, and the Fiat 124 Spider. They were all fine cars I guess, but nothing about them stands out.

The only thing I can remember about the Chrysler 300 is that Snoop Dogg called Chrysler when it came out in 2004 and left a voice mail that said, in part, "What I gotta do to get that brand new 300 up outta you?"

That is a true story.

So, cars are like first dates. But what about the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport? Well, it falls in that forgettable middle category because it's not horrible and it wasn't great. It's also going up against some serious competition including the Mazda CX-30, the new Kia Seltos, the Hyundai Kona, the Nissan Kicks. Those are some A-grade, Super Like-level cars.

2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport The interior of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is not a stunner, but it is sufficient.Photo courtesy of Mitsubishi Motors

But, just like there's a partner for everyone, there's also a car for everyone, and there are definitely folks that will love the Outlander Sport. I actually really like the exterior design. There's lots of LED lights front and rear, and it's been nipped and tucked and looks kind of aggressive and fun, especially in the Sunshine Orange Metallic color that my test car was in.

This was the especially loaded version, with my test car weighing in at a whopping $28,920. That's a lot of cheese and you can (and likely would, if you're looking at this car) get out for a lot less money. It starts just shy of $24,000. It wasn't luxurious by any stretch, but it had all the features that a young 20-something Mitsubishi-buyer might want.

In the top trim I had, there was automatic high beams and automatic emergency braking and lane departure warning and a radio. It also had the hottest seat warmers I've felt in a car. If you or your significant other likes having toasted buns, they will absolutely love the Outlander Sport.

But it also had middling fuel economy (25-27 mpg combined depending on the trim level you get), an uninspiring 168-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and a continuously variable transmission that… transmits.

The warranty is terrific, which is good for folks who are especially budget-conscious. The model come with a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty on the powertrain plus a five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, with five years of roadside assistance added in.

The Outlander Sport isn't huge, but it's roomy enough for the occasional Costco or beer run (though it's worth noting that the competition has a bit more room). The tester came with all-wheel drive and a spare tire. There are knobs to adjust the single-zone climate control. It's a car, and it turns on when you press the start button and you can drive it places.

The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets the job done. And sometimes, like with a first date, that's all you really need.

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