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 newest Bentley Continental GT has broken cover.

Photo courtesy of Bentley Motors

The recipe for the 2022 Bentley Continental ST Speed Convertible is pretty simple on its face. Take a Continental GT, make is a Speed, cut the roof off. Thanks to technological innovations, it's actually not that simple.

The third-generation Continental GT Speed Convertible features Bentley's 6.0-liter W12 engine that delivers 650 brake horsepower and 664 pound-feet of torque that work to haul the car from zero to 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Bentley has installed an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission in the car. The luxury car is capable of reaching a top speed of 208 mph.

Bentley has given the model standard all-wheel steering, carbon ceramic brakes, Speed sport sills, dark tint grilles, Dark Tint radiator matrix, a Jewel fuel and oil filler cap, and Speed badging. There are three 22-inch wheel options (Dark Tint, Black Gloss, or Bright Silver) and seven roof colors available, including tweed. Eight interior roof finishers are available.

Photo courtesy of Bentley Motors

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The Z-fold convertible roof system has been improved so that less noise permeates it in this generation than in the last. The new drophead car is as quiet as the previous generation Continental GT Coupe. The roof can be deployed in 19 seconds and with the car traveling at speeds of up to 30 mph.

The cabin of the car also gets Speed badging, as well as an Alcantara steering wheel and a color split trim in Hide and Alcantara. Customers can further choose from 15 main and 11 secondary hide choices.

Piano Black veneer is standard in the Speed, with Crown Cut, Dark Stain Burr Walnut, and Dark Fiddleback Eucalyptus offered as no-cost options. Open-pore Dark Stain Burr Walnut veneer, Crown Cut Walnut and Koa are also available. A new technical finish for the center console is available: Dark Tint Engine Turned Aluminum.

A neck warmer (which is both warmer and quieter than in the previous generation model), is integrated into the heated and vented Comfort Seats.

"The new Speed is the most driver-focused Continental GT Convertible available and unique in its ability to offer extremely refined, all-season open-top Grand Touring with the added edge of astonishing performance and dynamism," said Chris Craft, Member of the Board for Sales and Marketing at Bentley Motors. "Combined with exquisite, handcrafted interior details, the Continental GT Speed Convertible exemplifies all Bentley knows about creating the world's most stylish and elegant cars for roof-down motoring."

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The Lamborghini Huracan EVO RWD is a fresh addition to the supercar company's lineup.

Photo by Jordan Golson

There's something about a supercar that is deeply enthralling. This is particularly true when that supercar is a Lamborghini Huracán painted in an outrageous matte purple called Viola Mel.

There's much more to a supercar than the price, but let's get that out of the way up front: My test car stickers for an honestly-quite-reasonable $278,516 after it was fitted with $66,250 worth of optional extras and an eye-watering $3,695 destination charge.

Much like the Rolls-Royce Ghost previously reviewed last week, the question of whether its "worth it" is entirely up to the potential buyer. Specifically whether or not they a: want a Lamborghini Huracán EVO RWD; and b: have $278,516 to spend on a wildly impractical 610-horsepower sports car. If the answers to both are true, then yes, it's worth it.

The car's Viola Mel color attracts a lot of attention.Photo by Jordan Golson

But first, the basics: Getting in the Huracán isn't easy. And I don't just mean coming up with a house worth of cash to buy one — I mean literally climbing in. I had to teach a few people how to do it and it goes something like this: Open door; put one foot inside the footwell; set butt on the door sill; slide butt into seat; bring other foot into footwell; close door. To leave, reverse it.

It's not an elegant process and doing it in anything remotely approaching a dignified manner is tricky. But, if you do it right, your car will be painted in that Viola Mel color and folks won't be paying any attention to your haphazard attempts to not fall over when exiting the car because they'll be too busy falling in love with the paint. That's a $16,500 paint job by the way, courtesy of Lamborghini's Ad Personam customization program and words fail when trying to describe how good it looks in person.

It looks so magnificent that people think it's fake. I brought it to the weekly South OC Cars and Coffee event — ostensibly it's an impromptu car show for all manner of car enthusiasts, but an awful lot of Lambo drivers show up to show off. There were at least ten Huracáns in attendance, including a spyder in what a Porsche enthusiast would call Miami Blue — but none garnered as much attention as the Viola Mel.

Storage space is at a premium.Photo by Jordan Golson

This is what owning a supercar (or borrowing one for the weekend, in my case) is all about. Except the paint job was so outrageously unique that nearly everyone thought it was a really good wrap, or temporary vinyl covering. It costs a lot of money to have Lamborghini paint their car in such a way that it convinces people that you put a wrap on your car. And then you get to explain that no, it's not a wrap, it's paint and here let me show you this sticker under the hood that proves it's an original factory paint job. There aren't many cars that could get me going about the paint for hundreds of words, but here we are.

This was my second Huracán, and the first was wildly uncomfortable. A friend that I gave a ride to still talks about how awful it was, and that was five years ago. I wasn't sure if it was because of the car or because of the seats — but it was a little bit of both. That one had the most hardcore racing seats Lambo offers fitted to it, while this one has the mid-tier Sport Seat ($7,500). They're fairly comfortable, as sports car seats go, and are manually adjustable which is good for racing but I might skip them and get the "base" comfort seats instead unless you're going racing, in which case go for the uncomfortable race chairs.

Enough about the look; now on to that 610-horsepower V10. I'm not usually one to get emotional about the good old days, but there is something really special about a giant naturally aspirated engine that's going to be lost from the world soon due to new engine and fuel economy regulations, not to mention the advancement of technology.

The engine fires up with a ferocious bark that rattles the soul like a bolt of lightning and happily revs to terrifying heights with the slightest twitch of the throttle. The start button, hidden beneath an absurdly wonderful red missile-launcher-esque protective cover, might as well inject dopamine directly into your brain in such prodigious amounts as to make you forget about the pandemic, the fact that Trump isn't President or that he ever was (your choice), and that Tom Brady has seven Super Bowl rings and you don't.

And that's before you aim that Viola Mel nose at the nearest interstate on-ramp and punch it, Chewie.

Troubles forgotten. Smile affixed. Life ain't so bad.

At least until you have to slow down because you're well into triple digits and you haven't even merged onto the highway yet. Still. It's a good day.

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