New vs Newer: 2018 and 2019 Mazda CX-9

Mazda’s CX-9 might be the midsize crossover choice for drivers, but the automaker isn’t letting that three-row stone gather moss. Continual changes year after year mean that there’s more to picking a particular model year to shop for besides the price. So let’s take a look at what’s new and what’s newer with the Mazda CX-9.

The biggest crossover from Mazda first came to market in 2016, surprisingly enough as a 2016 model. The crossover arrived as the brand’s flagship. That meant that it didn’t get just that bold grille, bulking flat nose, and more curves than you’d expect from any other brand’s crossovers – it also came with some surprisingly upscale interiors, especially if you checked the box for the top-level signature model.

But Mazda didn’t let the CX-9 go without continuous improvements. Just over a year after we first drove the big CX, Mazda revealed some changes for the 2018 model year.

The first was G-Vectoring Control, Mazda’s system that automatically eases into and out of the throttle when you’re entering and leaving a corner. Reducing torque slightly when you turn in makes for a quicker and more satisfying turn-in feel. It restores that torque on the way out, again improving the handling of an already crisp crossover.

Mazda also changed the second row of seats, a move it said improved passenger comfort and made it easier for passengers to gain access to the back row – though it’s still not an easy climb for most adults. The middle seat slides forward, but it doesn’t fold up and out of the way. The company also added some extra sound insulation to quiet down the CX-9 a little more.

On the safety side, Smart City Brake Support, an emergency low-speed braking system, was added as standard. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert were also made part of the standard package.

For 2019, there were again more changes and updates intended to make the CX-9 a nicer place to be – such as a new headliner and thicker floor mats, both intended to quiet the car even more. And they’ve done a great job. Mazda used to be known for cars that were much noisier inside than the competition, a move that, like a similar one from Honda, traded a little noise for lighter weight and better handling. Now Mazda has managed to offer both. Your ears will approve.

Mazda says the suspension has been re-tuned as well, to offer a smoother and quieter ride. The 2019 model was definitely both of those things, though it’s an incremental change you’ll likely only notice with extensive back-to-back testing.

GT trim and above get a new digital display in a redesigned dash cluster. They also add ventilated seats to the CX-9 for the first time. A big deal for summer travel, especially with those lovely dark brown Nappa leather seats. If you’re having trouble parking your crossover, a 360-degree-view camera comes on GT and Signature trims.

But the really big deal is in the infotainment system. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are finally here. The two systems are the gold standard for connecting your smartphone to your vehicle. They’re not perfect, but they’re by far the best solution. And while the Mazda Connect infotainment system’s interface was starting to feel a bit dated, those features were the most obvious misses. Now they come as standard.

Except that good guy Mazda hasn’t limited them to just the 2019 model year. If you’re looking at a 2018 without it, the dealer can add CarPlay and Android Auto as an accessory. They can add it going back as far as 2016. So if you’re on the fence about a deal on a new 2018, it’s worth asking the dealer to cut you some slack on that kit too.

 A less obvious but nearly equally important addition with the new infotainment upgrades is a corresponding USB port upgrade – now supplying a maximum of 2.1 amps, which means that you can now effectively charge your thirsty smartphone.

So those are the changes, what’s the same? How about the 2.5L turbo four. That engine puts out 227 hp on cheap gas and 250 on 93-octane. 310 lb-ft are along for the ride either way. The engine is smooth and responsive and moves this big crossover around better than you’d expect for those low numbers. Roll down a window and it also makes wonderful turbo noises, something most automakers hide.

Though it doesn’t move the CX-9 around as well as it could. That’s because of the programming of the six-speed automatic. It’s a gearbox that’s delightfully quick to drop gears, and almost never hunts or disrupts with a late-arriving extra gear down, but it also doesn’t let the four-cylinder rev. Redline is marked at around 6,300 rpm, but even in sport mode, the CX-9 is upshifting well before 5,500.

On the road, both model years handle near the top of the class. Thanks to the G-Vectoring system, turn in is sharp. Of course that’s by three-row SUV standards, but still, this one won’t have you wallowing over mid-corner and wishing you had slowed down another 10 km/h like many of its family hauler brethren. The ride is smooth, and in line with the good handling, the CX-9 is very well damped. That floating feeling that lingers after a dip in the road in most crossovers is minimized here.

So if you’re shopping for a Mazda CX-9, should you pick the new one or the newer one? That’s going to depend on what trim you’re looking at and how much you value certain features. If you’re looking at a GS or a GS-L, then there aren’t many changes. A couple of decibels of noise and that infotainment upgrade. But Mazda is currently offering $3,475 off of 2018 models. That brings a base GS front-drive down to $31,125. $5,575 less than a 2019 model, and more than enough to pay for the CarPlay upgrade.

On the higher trim levels, the choices can get a little tougher. The 2019 GT and Signature get ventilated seats and a surround-view camera that the 2018 model year vehicles don’t. On the other hand, the $3,475 price reduction on the 2018 models is enough to move you from the GT to the Nappa leather and rosewood of the Signature. And that’s a pretty nice move. 

A 2018 Signature rings in at $46,825 with the discount, compared to $48,500 for a 2019 model year GT. If you don’t mind not having ventilated seats and a surround-view camera, that seems like an easy decision to make. But if you want a breeze on your butt and a breeze when you park, then the 2019 might be your only option. If you’re looking for a bargain, lean toward last year’s model. If you want all the luxuries you can get, the 2019 GT or Signature is your likely choice.

Ventilated seats or cheap seats? 12/10/2018 6:28:00 AM