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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McLaren has chosen an easy-to-pronounce name for its new hybrid supercar - Artura.

Photo courtesy of McLaren Automotive

McLaren is about to mark the beginning of a new era in hybrid powertrain engineering. In the first half of 2021, its high-performance hybrid series production supercar will go on sale and we now know what it will be named.

The McLaren Artura builds on the legacy of the McLaren P1TM hybrid hypercar, which was unveiled in 2012, and the Speedtail Hyper-GT, which entered production this year and the fastest McLaren ever with a top speed of 250 mph.

"Every element of the Artura is all-new – from the platform architecture and every part of the High-Performance Hybrid powertrain, to the exterior body, interior and cutting-edge driver interface – but it draws on decades of McLaren experience in pioneering super-lightweight race and road car technologies to bring all of our expertise in electrification to the supercar class," said Mike Flewitt, Chief Executive Officer, McLaren Automotive.

Mclaren Artura The Artura badging sits on what is likely the rear of the car.Photo courtesy of McLaren Automotive

It will be the first car to be built on the company's new platform architecture, which has been optimized for electrification. Design and engineering of the McLaren Carbon Lightweight Architecture took place in the U.K. at the McLaren Composites Technology Centre.

Two photos released by the company show what is likely the back of the Artura, with a honeycomb design beneath the car's badging between two exhaust outlets.

The Artura will get a twin-turbocharged V6 petrol engine that combines with an electric motor. This will be the engine's debut. McLaren says that the engine retains the performance benefits of the company's larger V8s but has improved torque response at low engine speeds. The Artura can also run on all-electric power.

The weight of the hybrid engine system has been offset by the application of weight-saving technologies throughout the chassis, body, and powertrain. Ahead of a full product reveal, McLaren is touting the car's class-leading weight advantage.

The McLaren Artura is expected to be revealed soon. Pricing will likely be announced at that time.

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The Nissan Rogue has been completely redesigned for the 2021 model year.

Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

It's easy to glance across the compact SUV landscape and characterize them all as being perfect for soccer moms. In the field, however, there are few that actually blend together. All have highs and lows as part of the design process that is their company's plan to stand out.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue is no exception to that rule. It was fully redesigned for the 2021 model year, bringing updated looks, an upgraded interior, and more powerful engine to the table. That's not all. The Rogue has stepped out of the bubble-body bubble. Though it still has typical SUV proportions, its nose is beefier and more muted while its backside stands taller and flatter.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan offers the Rogue with a two-tone paint scheme.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Under the hood is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is paired with a continuously variable transmission and neither the most fuel efficient nor the most energetic power plant available in a compact SUV. What it is, is capable. There are few times in the Rogue's lifespan where the average buyer is likely to take advantage of the full 181 horsepower and 181 pound-feet of torque and think, "You know, I wish this thing was quicker."

Drivers have their choice of Off-Road, Standard, Eco, and Sport drive modes when behind the wheel of an all-wheel drive variant of the SUV. Sport genuinely kicks the experience up a notch and gives the crossover a little more asphalt-eating enthusiasm.

Like the previous-generation Rogue, this one goes right where you want it. The steering is properly weighted and effortless. Parking in a typical store lot is a breeze, as is maneuvering it around traffic.

There's a new-to-Nissan shifter in the Rogue that takes up far less room than the previous generation's did and offers quick and easy maneuverability with accuracy, which is about all you can hope for from a modern shifter yet so many automakers get it so wrong (hello, rotary dial).

2021 Nissan Rogue The shifter in the Rogue is new for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

A crossover is more about functionality than looks and the Rogue has that covered. From the standard multi-level LED headlights to the wide opening doors (easy in-out for little ones, car seats, and groceries), a split one-touch fold-down rear seat with remote capability, easy-to-wash cargo liner, and Divide-n-Hide divided rear cargo storage system.

It's also about keeping people safe. The Rogue works to do that with its standard Nissan Safety Shield 360 suite of safety technology that includes automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, high beam assist, and rear automatic braking.

The company's ProPilot Assist driver assist technology is available and performs just as well as it did on the previous generation Rogue. Though its functionality has become more commonplace on vehicles in years since its debut, the system remains one of the better ones on the market and it truly makes driving long distances a heck of a lot easier on the brain.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has improved the car's digital footprint with a large infotainment screen, all-digital driver information display, and a head-up display.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

For 2021, the system is available with Navi-Link, a navigation-based component that uses real-time data to help predict traffic ahead and route accordingly. Additionally, the system makes adjustments to allow the driver to remain at ease in changing situations including Speed Limit Assist, and extended auto restart timing.

That technology pairs with the creature comforts that abound in the Rogue. Its seats are of the famously comfortable NASA-inspired Zero Gravity variety. Rear seat passengers can enjoy a recline function as well as available tri-zone climate control. Pull-up sunshades are also available for the second-row windows.

Its cabin is far more premium than what you'll find in the Toyota RAV4 or Ford Escape at an trim level, and is most comparable to the Mazda CX-5. Though clearly built to withstand the daily rigors of family life, the Rogue's cabin isn't overpowered by materials built for hardiness rather than aesthetics.

The SUV's new all-digital 12.3-inch driver information screen is easy to read and appealing. The same goes for the full-color 10.8-inch head-up display and 9-inch infotainment touch screen. Nissan has brought back its helpful surround view monitor for this generation.

2021 Nissan Rogue Nissan has reconfigured the SUV's cargo area for 2021.Photo courtesy of Nissan Motor America

Other technology amenities include wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless phone charging, USB-A and USB-C charging ports, Google Maps, and Waze.

The 2021 Nissan Rogue doesn't reinvent the wheel. It keeps doing what the Rogue has always done – offer family-friendly functionality that is hard to beat in its class. For that reason, it deserves to be on your test drive list.

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