When the CX-3 arrived in May of 2015 as a 2016 model, there were 13 rivals in the subcompact crossover segment. Two others had arrived earlier that year and one more came onto the scene the following…

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 CX-3s look the same as those that came along later, but there are some key differences inside.

When the CX-3 arrived in May of 2015 as a 2016 model, there were 13 rivals in the subcompact crossover segment. Two others had arrived earlier that year and one more came onto the scene the following month, but interestingly four other models from that year’s 15 competitor class are no longer available today. The sporty Nissan Juke and its taller Cube compatriot were kind of replaced by the new Qashqai and newer Kicks, while the void left by the Jeep Patriot was more or less filled by the Renegade, but the Scion xB, along with its brand, is gone forever.

The Honda Element had been given the boot many years before that, whereas that automaker’s more popular HR-V arrived the same year as the CX-3, along with the just-noted Renegade and Fiat’s related 500X. Models still existing today that preceded these five include (in order of arrival) the Jeep Compass, Kia Soul (that like the Kona has an EV as well), Mitsubishi RVR, Mini Countryman, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, and Subaru Crosstrek (that’s now available as a plug-in hybrid for 2020), plus more recent entries including the Qashqai, Ford EcoSport, Toyota C-HR, Kia Niro (that’s available as a plug-in hybrid and an EV too), Hyundai Kona (which includes an EV), Kicks, Hyundai Venue, Mazda CX-30, and Kia Seltos (a 2021). That’s a total of 20, with more expected from a variety of automakers.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This is a late arrival 2019 CX-3 GT, and it has some upgrades worth noting.

Considering this burgeoning category the CX-3’s seventh-place standing is very good, especially when factoring in the little crossover SUV hasn’t visibly changed all that much since inception five years ago. Model year 2017 carried over from 2016 identically, but 2018 added a manual gearbox to base FWD models, retuned the suspension for more comfort, added Mazda’s G-vectoring control to improve handling, lowered interior noise, upgraded the steering wheel and instrument cluster, made the automaker’s smart city brake support low-speed automatic emergency braking standard, pulled more standard and optional i-ActivSense advanced driver assistive systems into lower trims, including full-speed smart brake support with front obstruction warning, lane departure warning, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and more. 

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 received minor styling updates for 2019, but you’ll need to look closely to see them.

The following model year saw Mazda modify the grille, taillights, and wheels, but changes to everything but those alloys were ultra-subtle, whereas the cabin received nicer materials along with new seats, while the lower console was redesigned to accommodate an electromechanical parking brake. Blind spot monitoring was made standard for 2019 too, while the top-line GT being reviewed here received genuine leather in place of leatherette in previous years, plus this top trim line also featured everything from the previous year’s Technology package as standard kit, which included items like satellite radio, automatic high beam assist, and lane departure warning.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
LED headlights with cornering capability and auto high beams are standard in GT trim.

The 2019 CX-3’s Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine gained 2 horsepower too, an increase to 148 horsepower that carries over to 2020 like the entirety of the car, incidentally, while torque stayed steady at 146 lb-ft, and continues to do so. I’m guessing it would be difficult to tell the difference between 2018 and 2019 models off the line or while passing, as an increase of 1.35 percent might only be perceptible to professional engineers testing both model years back to back, but I was happy with the previous model’s performance and therefore continue to find the CX-3 to be a fun car to drive.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The GT includes tiny LED fog lamps, more exterior chrome, and larger 18-inch alloys.

The same engine is included with all trims, by the way, while base GX models once again come standard with a manual and FWD, and optional with a six-speed automatic with FWD or the brand’s i-Activ AWD. The mid-range GS is standard with the autobox and optional with AWD, while the GT gets both the auto and AWD standard. The CX-3 starts at just $21,045 plus freight and fees, whereas my fully loaded tester hits the road for $31,045. Those numbers don’t change one iota for 2020, although a CarCostCanada report will show you how to save up to $2,000 in additional incentives for the 2019 CX-3, says their 2019 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page, but average member savings have actually been $2,166. Take note that the 2020 Mazda CX-3 Canada Prices page claims up to $600 in additional incentives, although once again it’s showing average member savings at $2,166.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Fresh new LED taillights grace each GT model.

The Skyactiv-Drive automatic gains steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in GS and GT trims, which make the little SUV more engaging to drive quickly, while only the GT gets two-inch larger 18-inch alloys on 215/50R18 all-season tires for additional grip around fast-paced corners. Handling is good despite merely making due with a semi-independent torsion or twist beam rear suspension, although this setup is common in this smallest SUV class, while the front MacPherson strut design is also par for the course and delivers good control through quick curves, while the power-assist rack-and-pinion steering provides good directional control and fairly decent feedback.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Early 2019 CX-3s had the option of Cocoa brown Nappa leather plus leatherette dash and door inserts.

Certainly there’s nothing wrong with the way the CX-3 drives, especially since Mazda improved its ride quality, and together with this increased refinement is one of the nicer interiors in its class. This is nothing new for the independent Japanese brand, and while the CX-3 doesn’t quite measure up to the new CX-30 or CX-5, let alone the near-premium CX-9, at the very least needing fabric-wrapped A-pillars plus a soft-touch dash-top and door uppers to do that, the primary instrument hood is finished in stitched leatherette for an upscale look and feel, while the centre portion of the instrument panel gets a contrast-stitched and padded leatherette bolster across its middle.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 GT delivers a truly upscale interior.

Before going any further I need to mention an interesting change taken midway through the 2019 model year. That instrument panel bolster and the door inserts were actually finished in stitched leatherette in earlier 2019 examples like my Soul Red Crystal painted tester, whereas this changed to grey Grand Luxe Suede (think soft, plush Alcantara) in the fall when I received my Snowflake White Pearl example. Now, for 2020, the suede-like material remains the only surfacing for these areas, and thanks to a massive photo gallery (just click on any photo above) you can see the difference with your own eyes.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
This late-2019 CX-3 GT doesn’t look quite as fancy due to a black interior, but believe us it’s just as nice.

This means if you’re eyeing up a new 2019 CX-3 at your local dealer (and plenty are still available due to somewhat sluggish sales during fall and winter plus the new challenge of COVID-19), you’ll now know why some 2019s have the leather look and others are all soft and cuddly. I personally like the suede a lot, and would choose it if the option was available due to its richer, more opulent appeal, plus it’s the newer of the two GT interior choices and therefore might bode better upon resale, but both are nice.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The gauge cluster includes both analogue and digital elements.

You may also notice a change in upholstery designs, with my red tester featuring the chocolate brown and cream two-tone perforated Cocoa Nappa leather interior package that’s no longer available for 2020, and the white model getting the same perforated black leather with grey piping as you’ll find in the 2020. Mazda offers the 2020 CX-3 GT with a no-cost Pure White interior option too, just like it did in 2019, so your choices are greater with the outgoing CX-3 than with the new one, as long as you can find an example with Nappa leather. No matter which version you choose, Mazda fits leatherette bolsters to each side of the centre stack and lower console, thus making sure you won’t chafe your knees. As I’ve been saying all along, the attention to detail in the CX-3 GT is impressive.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Top-line CX-3 GTs get this pop-up display that shows projected info right in the safest line of sight.

Upholsteries and trims aside, the two cars are pretty well the same other than some small details. The lovely instrument panel bolster gets visually separated from the dash above by an attractive metallic trim strip that elegantly integrates the centre vent, which would otherwise be invisible unless tilted up or down to direct air. The corner vents are circular in design, and their bezels are finished with a satin-aluminum outer ring and a piano black lacquered inner ring for the older model, this matching some other glossy black trim around the shifter and elsewhere, although the newer CX-3 GT features a glossy red inner ring that ironically would be more suitable to the older model’s red exterior.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Late-arrival 2019 and 2020 GTs get this suede-like padded bolster and red rings around the air vents.

Fortunately Mazda still offers its gorgeous trademark colour in the 2020 model for the same upgrade price of $450, while my white tester’s extra paint charge was only $200. Mazda offers the exact same seven-colour pallet for 2020 as it did for this 2019 model year, and when researching Mazda Canada dealers nationwide to find out if enough 2019 CX-3s were available to warrant this review, I noticed plenty of colour options and trims.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Maps and Waze mean that Android Auto is finally part of the CX-3 experience, although only in late-2019 and 2020 models.

If you’re into the luxury-look of satin-silver polished metal, the CX-3 will be an absolute delight. There’s more surrounding the wing-like analogue and digital primary gauge cluster, plus the thin twinned lower steering wheel spoke and upper door garnishes around the door pulls. Yet more metallic trim surrounds the fixed tablet-style infotainment display perched on centre dash top, while wonderful knurled metal rings dress up each of the three automatic climate control dials. Knurled metal also edges the infotainment controller on the lower console, which is surrounded by quick-access buttons for the main menu, audio system, navigation, radio favourites, and the back button, while a useful rotating volume dial gets the identical knurled metal treatment.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
Knurled metal rings around the auto HVAC dials, padded leatherette knee protectors, and three-way heated seats are premium-level kit.

Speaking of the infotainment system, Mazda has been cold-molasses-like slow to integrate Android Auto and Apple CarPlay into this model, which means if you’re a fan of either you’ll need to choose the updated late 2019 arrival, or of course a 2020. Yes, believe it or not the otherwise very good 7.0-inch centre touchscreen display in my early 2019, complete with navigation, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, controls for the very good seven-speaker Bose audio system that includes satellite and HD radio, automated text message reading and responding, plus more, is devoid of these two smartphone integration apps, but the newer version includes both as seen in the photos, and therefore I hooked up the Android version that works well.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 includes this knurled metal trimmed rotating infotainment controller as well as touchscreen operation.

Features in mind, both 2019 and 2020 CX-3 GTs also include auto on/off LED headlights with adaptive cornering, auto-levelling and the aforementioned auto high beams, LED fog lamps (although they’re tiny and therefore hard to see), LED rear combination taillights with signature elements, extra chrome exterior trim, proximity-sensing keyless entry, a 10-way power driver’s seat with memory, a colour Active Driving Display (which is kind of like a head-up display), traffic sign recognition, an auto-dimming centre mirror, a powered glass sunroof, and everything already mentioned.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The Cocoa Nappa is really nice if you can find an early-2019 CX-3 GT, but you’ll forgo the newer model’s psuede trim.

Notable features pulled up from lesser trims include pushbutton ignition, rain-sensing wipers, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, a leather-clad shift knob, a wide-angle reverse camera (without active guidelines), Aha and Stitcher internet radio functionality, two USB charging ports, three-way heatable front seats, an overhead console with a sunglasses holder, a folding rear centre armrest with integrated cupholders, a removable cargo cover, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual active and passive safety features found in this segment, and more.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The classic black seats feature classy grey piping.

The just-noted 10-way powered seats and the tilt/telescopic steering provided enough adjustability to provide good comfort without forcing my long-legged frame to reach too far for its leather-wrapped rim, the latter easily one of the nicest in its class. Rear seat roominess is good for this smaller class of subcompact SUVs, with the new CX-30 (which really should have been dubbed CX-4 despite the name already being used in China) providing a little bit more room, performance and luxury for those willing to upgrade.   

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The rear seating area includes a folding centre armrest with integrated cupholders.

Being that the CX-30 has just arrived it’s difficult to know if it will do as well as the CX-3, but Q1 of 2020 shows the two models running neck-to-neck at 1,486 units for the older SUV and 1,420 for the new entry, and there may have been availability issues with the latter. Year-over-year Q1 comparisons show the carnage COVID-19 is inflicting to the auto industry, with the CX-3’s sales down by almost 59 percent, but believe me it’s hardly worst amongst its peers. The previously mentioned Soul is down 61 percent while the Renegade has lost 68 percent, which actually looks good when compared to the Compass that’s plunged by 71 percent. The Qashqai is even faring worse with a 74 percent drop in Q1 year-over-year sales, while the Kicks is off by 69 percent. Everything else is failing slightly better (although not necessarily with as many overall sales), but not much.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
CX-3 cargo capacity is fairly good when compared to smaller subcompact SUVs, measuring 504 litres (467 in the GT) behind its 60/40-split rear seatbacks.

Looking back at normal markets, the CX-3 had a very successful start, and earning the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada’s 2016 Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year award right off the mark and rising to fourth in its class for 2016 and the same for 2017, plus an impressive third for 2018, but age dropped it to seventh last year, and now, as noted, the CX-30 may pass right on by until Mazda can provide us with an all-new CX-3. I’ll have a full review of the 2020 CX-30 coming soon, plus a review of a 2020 CX-3 GT, but until then you may want to consider a 2019, as there are plenty of savings to be had. This in mind, remember to check out CarCostCanada to save the most you possibly can.

2019 Mazda CX-3 GT
The CX-3 can stow up to 1,209 litres (1,147 in the GT) of gear when the rear seats are laid flat.

In the end, any Mazda CX-3 is a good choice in this segment, particularly if you want a stylish, sporty, refined subcompact SUV that’s easy on fuel—it’s rated at 8.8 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 8.0 combined with its manual and FWD, 8.3 city, 6.9 highway and 7.7 combined with the automatic and FWD, or 8.6, 7.4 and 8.1 respectively with the auto and AWD. Just the same, this segment is beyond hot as covered earlier in this review. Therefore I recommend doing your homework so you’ll be 100 percent happy with your final choice. I believe once you’ve done your due diligence the CX-3 will be on your shortlist, as remains one of this segment’s best.

Story and photo credits: Trevor Hofmann

Photo Editing: Karen Tuggay

Mazda is doing a good job of taking its brand as close to premium territory as it can without actually raising prices to the point where it has to compete directly with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and the rest…

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Mazda’s CX-5 makes a good argument against paying more for a premium brand name. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

Mazda is doing a good job of taking its brand as close to premium territory as it can without actually raising prices to the point where it has to compete directly with Audi, BMW, Mercedes and the rest of the luxury labeled lot.

It starts with good outward design that translates well into all sizes and body styles, the sporty CX-3 subcompact SUV looking very similar to the fresh new CX-30, as well as the compact CX-5 shown here, and largest three-row CX-9 mid-size model, and likewise for the compact 3 and mid-size 6 series car lineup, not to mention the fabulous MX-5 sports car.

Mazda calls its latest design language KODO 2.0, or in other words this is now the second-generation of its clean and elegant “art of the car” philosophy, a glimpse of which we initially saw in its sensational Vision Coupe and Kai concepts from the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, the latter of which more or less morphed into the latest Mazda3 Sport, and is starting to affect the brand’s SUVs like this recently updated CX-5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s styling is both sporty and elegant. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

The CX-5 has been Mazda’s compact crossover utility since it laid its Ford Escape-based Tribute to rest in 2011, the much more modern Mazda3-based design arriving in January of 2012. The second-generation model seen here came onto the scene in 2017 and integrated much more KODO 2.0 styling into its design than its predecessor, resulting in a much more upscale looking SUV.

The real premium experience happens inside, however, with details like fabric-wrapped A-pillars and a luxuriously padded dash top, upper and lower instrument panel, and door uppers front to back, and then going so far as to trim out the cabin with a tasteful supply of anodized metal accents, this beautifully brushed treatment even decorating some of the switchgear that’s sometimes finished with knurled metal detailing, not to mention real Abachi hardwood in its top-tier Signature trim line. Mine didn’t include the Signature’s dark chocolate brown Cocoa Nappa leather and trim, the latter included on the door inserts and armrests along with the seats, but its Pure White regular leather was impressive nonetheless. It all makes for a rich, upscale environment.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
LED headlights are standard, while GT and Signature trims get more distinctive elements as well as dynamic cornering ability. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

To be clear, despite the luxurious appointments seen inside the SUV in the photos, it isn’t a Signature model, but even this mid-range (third-rung out of four) GT trim line is nicer inside than most competitors top-line trims, albeit devoid of over-the-top premium bits like the Signature’s aforementioned wood inlays that adorn the instrument and door panels, plus the satin chrome-plated glove box lever and power seat switches, higher end cross-stitching detail on the steering wheel, plusher Nappa leather upholstery, a black interior roof lining, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror instead of a less elegant framed one, LED illumination for the overhead console lights, vanity mirrors, front and rear room lamps and cargo area light, and a host of upscale features like a nice bright 7.0-inch LCD multi-information display at centre, a one-inch larger 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display, a 360-degree surround parking monitor, front and rear parking sensors, gunmetal finish 19-inch alloy wheels in place of the GT’s silver-finish 19s, an off-road traction assist function to improve its ability on the trail, and the quickest Skyactiv-G 2.5 T four-cylinder engine featuring a Dynamic Pressure Turbo (DPT) good for 250 horsepower (with 93 octane premium fuel or 227 with 87 octane regular) and 310 lb-ft of torque (for 2020 it gains 10 lb-ft to 320 when fuelled with 93 octane), plus paddles for the six-speed automatic transmission.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
These 19-inch silver-painted alloys are standard with the GT. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

That’s a really potent powertrain for this class and available optionally for $2,000 in as-tested GT trim (for 2020 the GT with the turbocharged engine also gets paddles, off-road traction assist, and an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen display), although my tester came with the base non-turbo Skyactiv-G 2.5 four-cylinder with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation and no paddles on the steering wheel. So equipped it makes 187 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, which is around the same as offered by the class sales leaders with their most formidable engines, while I prefer the feel of a regular automatic over those competitors’ continuously variable transmissions (CVT) any day of the week.

Of note, Mazda also offers a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel powerplant in top-line Signature trim that puts out 168 horsepower and 290 lb-ft of torque, the ritziest CX-5 starting at $40,950 (plus freight and fees) and topping out at $45,950 with the oil burner upgrade, so you’ll need to get the calculator out to see how long it’ll take to save $5,000 by using normally cheaper, more efficient diesel fuel. Before you do, however, make sure you check around for available examples, as the diesel feature was only available for the 2019 model year (at the time of writing there were plenty, albeit nowhere near as many as gasoline-powered variants).

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Top-tier trims also get signature LED lighting in the rear. (Photo: Karen Tuggay)

I tested it and was impressed, but as much as I like Rudolf’s invention and was plenty happy with its 8.9 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.4 combined fuel economy, the much less expensive, and much quicker turbo-four achieves a very respectable claimed 10.8 city, 8.7 highway and 9.8 combined rating as it is, so it’s no wonder the diesel was discontinued. My GT tester, which comes standard with i-Activ all-wheel drive (AWD) and starts at $37,450, is good for 9.8, 7.9 and 9.0 respectively, while the same engine with FWD that comes standard with mid-range $30,750 GS trim is most efficient with a respective rating of 9.3, 7.6 and 8.5.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Even the refinement, quality of materials and near-premium excellence of this non-top-line GT trim will impress. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Believe it or not there’s a fourth engine available, the 2.5-litre four found in the $27,850 base GX without cylinder deactivation, which performs just as well yet manages just 9.7 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 8.8 combined with FWD, whereas that engine with AWD is said to consume 10.2 city, 8.2 highway and 9.3 combined. AWD is a $2,000 option in GX and GS trims, by the way, and standard with the GT and Signature.

There’s absolutely no way I’m going to itemize every feature available in each trim, not to mention the various packages, but being that I tested the GT I should go over its standard kit. Features specific to the GT that can’t be found in lesser trims (yet come standard with the Signature) include the aforementioned 19-inch alloys on 225/55 all-seasons (lower trims include 17-inch alloys on 225/65s), adaptive cornering for the headlamps, LED signatures within the headlights and taillights, LED fog lamps, LED combination tail lamps, power-folding side mirrors, plus piano black B- and C-pillar garnishes, and that’s only on the outside.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s dash design is artfully crafted and intelligently laid out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Proximity-sensing access lets you inside and pushbutton ignition gets things started (although the latter is standard across the line), while the primary instrument cluster is Mazda’s classic three-gauge design with a decent sized multi-information display in the right-side dial (the 7.0-inch LCD MID is standard in GT trim for 2020), and above that a really handy windshield-projected colour Active Driving Display (ADD) (head-up display) comes complete with traffic sign recognition. Additionally, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat includes power lumbar support and two-way memory, while a six-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat is included too, as are three-way ventilated front seats, and three-way heatable rear outboard seats.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The gauges are laid out in Mazda’s sporty three-dial design. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to premium-level niceties, a satin-chrome front console knee pad adds class to the front seating area, as does a fabric-lined glove box and premium stitching on the front centre console, while a powered moonroof adds natural light, a Homelink universal garage door opener adds convenience, accurate navigation got me where I was going, and a 10-speaker Bose audio system upgrade sounded great thanks to an AM/FM/HD radio, seven channels of customized equalization, SurroundStage Signal Processing, Centerpoint 2 surround sound technology, AudioPilot 2 Noise Compensation, and SiriusXM satellite radio (with a three-month complimentary service). Mazda also supplies CX-5 GT and Signature owners with SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services (with a five-year complimentary service), as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, air vents on the backside of the front console, and more.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Android Auto is standard across the CX-5 line, as is Apple CarPlay. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Some other features pulled up to the GT from lower trims include automatic headlight levelling, a front wiper de-icer, radar cruise control with stop and go, a heatable steering wheel, an additional two USB ports in the rear centre armrest, and a bevy of advanced driver assistive systems such as Smart Brake Support (SBS) with forward sensing Pedestrian Detection, Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS) and High Beam Control System (HBC) from second-rung GS trim, plus auto on/off LED headlights and LED daytime running lights, LED turn signal indicators on door mirrors, rain-sensing intermittent wipers, an electronic parking brake, dual USB ports and an auxiliary audio input, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Aha and Stitcher internet radio, SMS text messaging read and respond function, as well as all the expected active and passive safety systems from the base GX. There’s plenty more, but I’ll leave something for you to discover.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The sides of the lower console are padded leatherette, and that metal-edged knob just below the shifter is for controlling the infotainment system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-5 is spacious and comfortable no matter which trim you purchase, with excellent front and rear seating, including ample room for three abreast in the rear row. Legroom and headroom is good too, while the rear outboard heaters are a nice touch, although the controls can’t be accessed if someone’s sitting in the middle position. Now that I’m griping, a bright and airy panoramic sunroof would be welcome in top-tier GT and Signature models.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
Yes, that’s a fabric-wrapped A-pillar embellished by a beautifully detailed Bose tweeter. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

More important than that is the CX-5’s best-in-class 40/20/40 split folding rear seatbacks with convenient cargo sidewall-mounted release levers. I’m always calling for a centre pass-through and this is an even better solution, because there’s more than enough room for an entire family’s skis, poles and snowboards down the middle while boots, helmets and other gear is stowed in back with rear passengers comfortably occupying each window seat. Once again I bring up the folly of housing the rear seat warming buttons within the folding armrest, where they can’t be accessed when the centre pass-through is lowered. Hopefully Mazda will rethink this decision and relocate the rear seat heater switchgear to the door panels when the model comes up for redesign. On the positive, the CX-5 can load up to 875 litres (30.9 cubic feet) of cargo behind the rear seatbacks and 1,687 litres (59.6 cu ft) when they’re loaded flat, making it one of the roomier compact crossovers in its mainstream volume-branded class.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rich looking CX-5 GT gets the no-cost option of a Pure White leather interior, and believe it or not Signature trim is even nicer. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda tops off all this roomy luxury with performance that comes very close to premium as well, although in my base GT tester I’m not referring specifically to straight-line power as much as ride and handling. The sense of quality starts with well-insulated doors and body panels, so that everything is solid feeling upon closure and nice and quiet once underway, while the ride is firm but never harsh, more akin to an Audi or BMW than a Mercedes or Lexus. Still, that translates into good manoeuvrability around town and better than average agility when pushed hard. Mazda relies on tried and tested engineering to achieve these results, its front suspension made up of MacPherson struts with coil springs and stabilizer bar, and its rear suspension incorporating an independent multi-link setup with coil springs and stabilizer bar.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The rear seating area is large and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As noted earlier, the base engine is on par with some of the class leaders’ top powerplants as far as acceleration goes, but more importantly it’s smooth and efficient, while the six-speed automatic transmission was so smooth it made me wonder if Mazda hadn’t adopted a CVT into its drivetrain. Of course, it shifts like a regular automatic when revs climb, and while this is a very good thing that performance fans will appreciate, it once again goes about its business smoothly. While the base GT doesn’t offer paddles, you can shift manually via its console-mounted gear lever, and take note Mazda does provide a Sport mode that certainly gives it more pop off the line and better passing performance, but that’s it for extra drive settings, the default mode taking care of any eco and comfort duties that a driver might otherwise want to select.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
While initially appearing upscale, the heated rear seat controls can’t be accessed if someone is sitting in the middle or if gear is stowed through the centre pass-through. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

In summary, the 2019 Mazda CX-5 is an exceptionally good entry that should be considered seriously by anyone purchasing in its compact SUV class. The Canadian segment leader is Toyota’s RAV4 with a category-best 65,248 sales in calendar year 2019, followed closely by Honda’s CR-V with 55,859 deliveries, Ford’s Escape (all-new for 2020) at 39,504, Nissan’s Rogue at 37,530, Hyundai’s Tucson at 30,075, and the CX-5 at 27,696 unit sales. While the CX-5 might seem far down the list at first glance, keep in mind there are 14 entries in this class, and the next best-selling VW Tiguan only managed 19,250 deliveries, while the Chevrolet Equinox found just 18,503 buyers, Jeep Cherokee just 13,687, Subaru Forester only 13,059, Kia Sportage 12,637, GMC Terrain 12,023, Mitsubishi Outlander 10,701, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross 5,101 unit sales. What’s more, the CX-5 was one of just six models to increase its numbers year-over-year, the rest losing ground.

2019 Mazda CX-5 GT AWD
The CX-5’s 40/20/40-split rear seatback is another premium touch that makes it easier to live with than most competitors. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Right now is a good time to buy a CX-5, because Mazda is offering up to $2,000 in additional incentives on 2019 models (and plenty of 2019s are available right across Canada), and for those wanting a 2020 CX-5, up to $1,000 in incentives. Make sure to check CarCostCanada for all the details, including itemized pricing of trims, packages and individual options, manufacturer financing/leasing deals, rebate information, and otherwise hard to get dealer invoice pricing that can help you negotiate the best possible deal. Most retailers are available by phone or online, and of course they’re motivated to sell.

All said I highly recommend the CX-5 in this class, especially for those who appreciate the finer things in life, yet would rather not have to pay a premium price.

After first driving the all-new 2019 Mazda3, I would’ve immediately said it was by far the best car in its compact segment. Then the new 2020 Toyota Corolla arrived, and while the Mazda3 might still…

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT FWD and AWD Road Test

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The new Mazda3 Sport look fabulous, especially in top-line GT trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

After first driving the all-new 2019 Mazda3, I would’ve immediately said it was by far the best car in its compact segment. Then the new 2020 Toyota Corolla arrived, and while the Mazda3 might still nudge it out of the way for tops in class in my books, it no longer holds such an obvious lead.

Of course, sales numbers and what I find most appealing don’t always correlate, the Honda Civic leading this category in deliveries by a country mile. In fact, the Civic is the best-selling car in Canada and has been for years. Even after losing 12.8 percent in year-over-year 2019 sales it still managed to top 60,000 (60,139 to be exact) units, while the Corolla was second after a 2.5 percent year-over-year loss with 47,596 sales, the Hyundai Elantra was third after a 5.5 percent downturn resulting in 39,463 deliveries, and the Mazda3 you see on this page, along with its four-door sibling, was fourth after a surprising 20.4 percent drop to 21,276 units.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Red or grey? FWD or AWD? Manual or automatic? So many choices, but one great car. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

There are many others in this class too, Volkswagen’s Golf coming close to beating the 3 with 19,668 unit sales after an 8.4 percent dip, but to be fair to VW we need to lump its 17,260 Jetta deliveries into the mix after a gain of 14.1 percent, for a total of 36,928 VeeDub units and an effective fourth place, while Kia’s Forte also gained 8.0 percent for 15,549 unit sales. I won’t go into detail about the segment’s sub-10k competitors, but will say some, including Chevy’s Cruze and Ford’s Focus, have called it quits whereas Nissan’s Sentra, with just 7,719 units sold, probably should (although I haven’t driven the new one yet so we’ll need to wait and see if it’s got what it takes to break away from the bottom-feeder crowd).

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The Mazda3 Sport certainly doesn’t come up short on styling. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Pulling the outgoing Sentra up beside any recent Mazda3 makes the Nissan look rather dowdy, but such is the case for comparing a car that hadn’t been significantly updated for seven years with one that’s been regularly redesigned, the last time being this very model year. I don’t want to make this review a hatchet job on the past Nissan Sentra, however, because a new one is coming and we’ll see how well it stacks up after testing. Still, I can’t believe Nissan will make the massive leap forward necessary in a single generation for the Sentra to measure up to the best in this class, which in my opinion is the Mazda3.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Mazda offers a variety of wheel upgrades that really make the 3 stand out. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

So why am I writing a review about a 2019 model so far into the 2020 calendar year? That’s easy, as there are plenty of new 2019s still available throughout Canada in every trim. I don’t specifically know why this is the case. Possibly Mazda Canada didn’t expect the 20-plus percent downturn in sales last calendar year and therefore overestimated their allocation, but you should take advantage of any savings nonetheless, because the 2020 Mazda3 hasn’t changed very much in either four-door sedan or hatchback body style. I’m covering the five-door Sport model in this review and will write another review of the sedan shortly. For this review I’ve tested two top-line GT trims in both front- and all-wheel drive, so I’ll cover most of the important issues, particularly what it’s like to drive the new i-Activ AWD system.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
LED headlights come standard across the line, while adaptive cornering capability is standard with the GT. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Regarding potential discounts for a 2019 Mazda3 Sport, CarCostCanada is reporting up to $1,000 in additional incentives without haggling, compared to $750 with the 2020. That’s not a lot, but I’m guessing you’ll be able to negotiate a larger discount if you have all the information you need to do so. This in mind, a CarCostCanada membership will provide access to dealer invoice pricing, so you’ll know exactly how much the dealer paid for the car you’re negotiating on. This could save you thousands with or without a trade, plus CarCostCanada also provides info about the latest manufacturer rebates. Make sure to check them out before you visit the dealership.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The GT comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheel. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Back to the car in question, the five-door Sport model is mechanically identical to the Mazda3 sedan despite its performance-oriented name, which gives it both 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre SkyActiv engines, the first good for 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque and the upgrade making 186 horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, with six-speed manual and automatic transmissions standard and optional across the entire lineup (even in top-line GT trim, which is a bonus for performance fans), the former a slick-shifting relatively short-throw gearbox with a nice, easy, evenly weighted clutch take-up, and the latter providing manual-shift capabilities including paddle shifters in GT trim, while both transmissions come with a drive mode selector featuring a very responsive Sport setting. i-Activ AWD is only available with the automatic, incidentally.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
These great looking 18-inch rims add a level of sporty sophistication to the near-premium Mazda3. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

For 2020, the Mazda3 Sport GT comes standard with proximity-sensing keyless entry, which was previously part of the optional Premium package that my 2019 test car includes. The Premium package adds a more stylish frameless rearview mirror for 2020, plus satin chrome trim throughout the cabin, although this 2019 model certainly wasn’t devoid of the latter.

For 2019, trims include the base GX starting at $21,300 plus freight and fees, the mid-range GS from $24,000, and the top-line GT from $25,900, with the 2.0-litre engine found only in the base model and 2.5 standard in GS and GT trims. The automatic transmission costs an extra $1,300 across the line, while i-Activ AWD adds $1,700 over and above the price of automatic-equipped models.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The LED taillight design was certainly influenced by the MX-5 sports car. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Both direct-injection, 16-valve, dual-overhead cam engines are given Mazda’s trademark SkyActiv name, but only the larger mill features segment-exclusive cylinder deactivation, while both can run on regular fuel, the former claimed to achieve a Transport Canada five-cycle rating of 8.7 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.8 combined with its most efficient 2.0-litre four connected to the base manual transmission, or 8.6 city, 6.7 highway and 7.7 combined when the same engine is mated to the automatic. Alternatively, the 2.5-litre four is said to be capable of 9.2 L/100km in the city, 6.6 on the highway and 8.1 combined with its manual gearbox, 9.0 city, 6.8 highway and 8.0 combined with its automatic, or 9.8, 7.4 and 8.7 with its auto when mated to AWD.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
While the red car features a more traditional black interior, this black and red combination looks fantastic. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Considering the power advantage, the top-line engine doesn’t give up much in economy. Of course, if you choose to use most of its power all the time you won’t be able to meet the claimed numbers, but I only flogged my two weeklong loaners for short testing purposes despite the spirited performance offered by the 2.5-litre four. As luck would have it, the red FWD model with the black interior came with the six-speed manual, and the grey AWD car with the red interior featured its standard six-speed auto with paddles, allowing me a nearly complete driving experience when it comes to the GT model.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The 12-speaker Bose audio system in the GT features these gorgeous drilled aluminum speaker grilles. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

First off, both models provide excellent driver ergonomics, which isn’t always the case in this compact class or higher. The driver’s seat, which is 10-way-powered including lumbar support in GS and GT trims when their respective Luxury and Premium packages are added, is wholly comfortable with decent lateral support and very good lower back support. Even more important for me is a tilt and telescopic steering column that provides excellent reach, due to my longer legs and shorter torso. Fortunately the Mazda3’s wheel can actually be pulled rearward more than necessary, which allows for ideal driver positioning regarding comfort and control.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
What do you think? Black or … (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The rear seating area is comfortable and spacious too. Headroom is good, with about three and a half inches of airspace left above my head, about four ahead of my knees, and plenty of space to put my feet underneath the driver seat when it was set up for my five-foot-eight frame. Likewise, I had about four inches between my left hip and shoulder to the door panel, which was certainly enough, plus there’s enough room to seat three average-sized adults in back, but I’d rather not have someone larger than a child in the middle on a longer trip.

Speaking of three being a crowd, Mazda includes a wide folding centre armrest with dual integrated cupholders too, but the 3 Sport doesn’t include a lot of extras in the rear seating area, such as overhead reading lights, vents on the backside of the centre console or anywhere else, USB charging ports or any other type of device charger, or for that matter heated seats.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
…. red? The latter sure catches the eye. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The cargo compartment was definitely spacious enough for my needs. It’s nicely carpeted all the way up the sidewalls and of course the backs of each 60/40 folding seat, which unfortunately don’t offer a centre pass-through (as is the case with most competitors). The hard shell carpeted cargo cover is easy to remove, and needs to be flipped upside down on the cargo floor or shoved behind the front seats to store, while the 3 provides 569 litres of dedicated storage behind the rear seatbacks or 1,334 when they’re fully folded.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The steering wheel is a thing of beauty, and very comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While we’re inside, I should talk about some key Mazda3 attributes, interior quality and refinement. The theme is minimalist, albeit impressively finished for the class. In fact, few mainstream volume-branded compact models come as close to delivering a premium product. The 3’s entire dash top and all door uppers are finished in a higher grade of padded composite than usual, while the instrument panel and door panels just below are covered in an even plusher stitched leatherette, one of my testers’ interiors even dyed in a rich crimson red to match its perforated leather upholstery.

I’ve liked the newest Mazda3 since first testing it in the aforementioned sedan body style, particularly the horizontal dash design theme that’s visually strengthened by a bright metal strip of trim spanning the entire instrument panel from door to door. It cuts right through the dual-zone automatic climate control interface, and provides a clean and tidy lower framing of the vents both left and right. This top-line model adds more brushed metal, including beautifully drilled aluminum speaker grilles plus plenty of satin-aluminized trim elsewhere. Mazda continues its near-premium look and feel by wrapping the front door uppers in the same high-quality cloth as the roofliner.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
A new 7.0-inch partially digital display modernizes the 3’s gauge cluster. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Framed by a lovely leather-clad sport steering wheel, the rim held in place by stylishly thin spokes endowed with high-quality metallic and composite switchgear, the primary instrument cluster is a mix of outer analogue dials and inner digital functionality, organized into Mazda’s traditional three-gauge layout. The speedometer is at centre, and therefore part of the larger 7.0-inch screen that doubles as a multi-information display. It’s not as fully featured as some in the industry, but it certainly serves its purpose well.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The narrow display limits the size of the camera, but it’s high in quality and generously equipped. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The 8.8-inch centre display is a tablet-style design sitting wide and low, yet due to a narrow profile it makes for a relatively small screen compared to most currently on the market. This will either be a positive or a negative depending on how much you like big screen infotainment, or not, and only required some extra attention paid to the backup camera when reversing. The camera is nice and clear with a high resolution, while active guidelines are provided, but it’s a bit on the small side.

The rest of its functions work very well, with Mazda once again going with a white on black background for the majority of interface panels, except of course navigation which is bright and colourful, as is the satellite radio display that shows attractive station graphics. The system is solely controlled by a rotating dial on the lower console, which once again gives the car a more premium look and feel than the mainstream segment’s usual touchscreen centre display, but I would’ve appreciated the ability to also tap, swipe and pinch the screen for various functions. Nevertheless, I was able to do most things easily with this infotainment system, including connecting my smartphone via Android Auto (Apple CarPlay is also included).

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The Mazda3’s switchgear is very high in quality, as is most everything else in the impressive cabin. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I should probably itemize everything in the previously-noted upgrade packages, the GS trim’s Luxury package featuring the 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with memory mentioned earlier, plus leatherette upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and a powered glass moonroof with a manual-sliding sunshade, whereas the GT comes standard with the auto-dimming centre mirror and moonroof while being available with a Premium package that exchanges the faux leather upholstery for real hides and including the power/memory driver’s seat, plus it links the exterior mirrors to the memory seat while adding auto-dimming to the driver’s side.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The infotainment system is operated by this rotating dial and surrounding buttons. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional GT Premium package features include 18-inch alloy wheels in a black metallic finish, a windshield wiper de-icer, proximity-sensing keyless entry, a windshield-projected colour Active Driving Display (ADD) (a.k.a. head-up display), rear parking sensors, a HomeLink wireless garage door opener, SiriusXM Satellite Radio (with a complimentary three-month trial subscription), SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link services (with a complimentary five-year trial subscription), the aforementioned navigation system, Traffic Sign Recognition (TSR), and a bevy of advanced driver assistance systems including Smart Brake Support Rear (SBS-R) that automatically stops the car if it detects something in the way (like a curb, wall or lighting standard), and Smart Brake Support Rear Crossing (SBS-RC) that does the same albeit after detecting a car or (hopefully) a pedestrian, these last two features complementing the Smart Brake Support (SBS) and Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) automatic emergency braking from the GS, plus that mid-range model’s Distance Recognition Support System (DRSS), Forward Obstruction Warning (FOW), forward-sensing Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Lane-keep Assist System (LAS), Driver Attention Alert (DAA), High Beam Control System (HBC), and last but hardly least, Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go. Incidentally, the base GX model features standard Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring (ABSM) with Rear Cross Traffic Alert (RCTA), meaning the occupants of a Mazda3 GT with its Premium package are as wholly protected as in any luxury branded alternative.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The 3 GT’s 10-way powered driver’s seat is comfortable and supportive. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I could go on and on talking about GX, GS and GT features, such as the GX trim’s standard LED headlamps, LED taillights, LED interior lighting front and rear, pushbutton ignition, electromechanical parking brake, three-way heatable front seats, Bluetooth connectivity, SMS text message reading/responding capability, and more, plus I really appreciated the sunglasses holder in the overhead console that comes standard in the GS, which protected the lenses of my Ray-Bans thanks to its soft felt lining, not to mention the GS model’s auto on/off headlights (the base model only shuts them off), rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, two-zone auto HVAC, and heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel rim (I love this feature in the depths of winter).

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The red leather seats really make the Mazda3 Sport’s interior pop! (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The GT’s standard Adaptive (cornering) Front-lighting System (AFS) with automatic levelling and signature highlights front and back made for clear night vision, plus its upgraded 12-speaker Bose audio system provided excellent sound quality, and the 18-inch alloys on 215/45 all-season rubber were no doubt an improvement through the corners when compared to the GX and GS models’ 205/60R16 all-season tires on 16-inch alloys, the fact that Mazda doesn’t offer steel wheels with covers like most of its rivals being a bonus nevertheless.

Speaking of wheels and tires, the sportier Mazda3 GT produces a slightly firmer ride than the two lesser trims, but it certainly never felt rough. On the positive it handles sublimely, always feeling stable and in control despite its rather remedial front strut and rear torsion beam suspension setup, the aforementioned 2020 Corolla, the Civic and others coming standard with fully independent chassis designs.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
Rear seat roominess is good, and the level of quality is just like the front seating area. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additionally, the more potent 2.5-litre engine provided a lot of get-up-and-go, while its Sport mode made a significant difference in performance off the line and during passing manoeuvres. The automatic’s manual mode only requires the flick of the shift lever to engage, while as previously noted Mazda provides the GT with shift paddles on the steering wheel that work best when manual mode is chosen, but they’re not needed in order to change gears. Then again, the manual shifts so nicely you may want to save $1,300 and swap cogs on your own, which would be my preference being that I don’t commute daily.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
The 3 allows for a lot of cargo when the 60/40-split rear seatbacks are upright … (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The AWD system, incidentally, makes response off the line immediate with zero to very little front wheel slip, which isn’t the case with the FWD version, particularly in wet weather. I also noted more high-speed control in both wet and dry conditions with the AWD car around corners, although I must say that my manual-equipped FWD tester provided its own level of control that an automatic simply can’t match when really pushing hard. I’d personally go with AWD, however, just to save me the hassle of chaining up on my way to the ski hill or when traveling up country mid-winter, as I’m sure this feature would turn the Mazda3 into a little mountain goat when matched with a good set of winter tires.

2019 Mazda3 Sport GT
…. or all the way down. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

All in all the Mazda3 is a great driver’s car, as well constructed as many luxury-branded compacts, more than adequately filled with features, popular enough so that its resale value remains high, impressively reliable, and safe according to the IIHS that gave the U.S. version a Top Safety Pick award for 2019. Added to all this it’s one of the best looking models in the compact segment, once again providing a premium appearance that seems pricier than its reasonable window sticker proves. I can’t help but recommend the Mazda3 to anyone wanting an excellent compact car at a great value.

I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll…

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature Road Test

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Mazda’s CX-9 is arguably one of the best looking crossover SUVs in its class, especially in top-line Signature trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

I can guarantee you something. If you take the time to visit your neighbourhood Mazda dealer, or the Mazda stand at your local auto show, and sit inside any of its models’ Signature trim line, you’ll be questioning why you purchased your current ride or whether or not you should continue considering the other vehicles on your shopping list.

What’s more, if you currently drive a premium brand, it’s highly possible you’ll be left wondering why you paid so much more, or alternatively if you’re driving another mainstream volume brand, you’ll likely be curious as to why the Mazda is finished so much nicer inside than your vehicle.

Mazda offers the top-tier Signature trim line in its 6 mid-size sedan, CX-5 compact crossover SUV, and this CX-9 mid-size three-row crossover SUV, and along with plenty of high-end features such as 19- to 20-inch alloy wheels, a powered steering column, a surround parking camera, front parking sensors to go along with the rear parking sensors already included, ventilated front seats, heatable rear seats, etcetera (depending on the model), Mazda adds soft, high-quality Nappa leather upholstery and genuine hardwood inlays, the CX-9 Signature being reviewed here including gorgeous Santos Rosewood trimming the centre console panel as well as each door switch panel, front to rear.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s elegant lines don’t only benefit the SUV’s frontal design, but it’s mighty attractive from behind too. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda doesn’t stop there, but the fabric-wrapped roof pillars get pulled up from lesser trim lines, while there’s also more soft-touch, padded surfaces throughout Mazda’s cars and SUVs than most mainstream competitors, even in their models not offered with Signature trim, so get ready to be impressed when it comes to refinement levels.

This CX-9 Signature interior, for instance, is as close to premium as mainstream volume manufacturers get. The multi-layered dash is entirely made from a padded leather-like material that extends around to the door uppers front to back. Additionally, the pliable upper portion of the dash and harder lower composite panels are separated by a metallic inlay that truly feels real, his visually extending over to the corner vent bezels and side door panels.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
This big, bold satin-chrome grille really helps the CX-9 to stand out in a crowd. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Due to its optional Snowflake White Pearl paint, my tester came standard with a deep reddish-coloured Chroma Brown Nappa leather upholstery that also visually extended to the instrument panel, lower console and door inserts, and felt extremely plush on the latter due to what felt like thick memory foam below, while the same colour brown is used for contrast stitching on the steering wheel and armrests.

Mazda applies piano black lacquer around the shifter and power window switchgear panels, the powered mirror toggle nicely finished in knurled metal just like the rotating infotainment system controller on the lower centre console. Fortunately Mazda goes easy on the shiny black plastic, a difficult substance to keep from scratching or collecting dust, but it’s very generous when it comes to brushed aluminum accents, the brand even making the power seat controls from this premium-like metallic material. Like I said earlier, Mazda’s Signature series provide a rich experience.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Full LED headlights, LED fog lamps and 20-inch alloys make quite the upscale statement. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

As far as digital advancements go the current CX-9 is ahead of some of its peers and behind others. Its primary gauge package appears like a traditional three-dial design, but with GT models and above the centre-mounted speedometer, plus the surrounding real-time fuel economy and range gauges are actually part of a 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster added this year, which is flanked by an analogue tachometer to the left, plus temp and fuel gauges on the right. This is a major change from outgoing 2016-2018 CX-9’s gauge package that included analogue gauges at the centre and left side, and a big full-colour multi-information display within the right-side bezel. Now the multi-information display sits within the analogue-style digital speedometer, and offers a full assortment of useful functions.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The LED taillights are exquisitely detailed. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The upgraded gauge cluster is augmented by a true head-up display system that projects vital information onto the windshield. It even included a speed limit reminder, which I found quite handy.

The centre infotainment touchscreen measures a reasonably large 8.0 inches in diameter and provides a good, high-resolution display. Its fixed tablet-style design, which has it protruding upright out of the dash, is just starting to catch on as a sort of infotainment standard layout amongst mainstream competitors, making Mazda an electronics forerunner. My tester included a fabulous new dual-screen backup camera with an impressive overhead view on the right side, making parking ultra-easy when combined with its front and rear sensors, and take note that Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration were added for 2019 as well.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
If you like the CX-9’s exterior design, you’re going to love its interior. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Also new is SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, while the infotainment system also includes navigation with detailed mapping, a superb 12-speaker Bose audio system with Centerpoint surround sound and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, satellite and HD radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, text message reading and response capability, etcetera.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature’s cabin is filled with soft-touch surfaces including Nappa leather, while the hardwood trim is real. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Unique to Mazda, at least amongst volume brands, is its premium-like lower console-mounted control interface, comprised of a large metal-edged rotating dial, a similarly designed albeit smaller volume knob, and surrounding quick-access buttons. This is a more comfortable way to modulate the infotainment system, although you can always use the touchscreen for tablet/smartphone-like tap, swipe and pinch gestures, the latter function ideal for changing the scale on the navigation map, for instance.

As you probably just noticed, the CX-9’s current second-generation has been around since 2016, which makes its luxury brand levels of refinement all the more impressive. Truly, you’ll need to pull up in one of the just-introduced 2020 Hyundai Palisade or Kia Telluride three-row SUVs in order to show off something that measures up to the CX-9’s pampering interior (although I have yet to test the 2020 Toyota Highlander, which was already pretty good). Of note, this generation of CX-9 is a purely Mazda-made affair that rides on the brand’s advanced SkyActiv platform, unlike the first-gen CX-9 that was based on Ford’s older Edge.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
New for 2019, a centrally-mounted 7.0-inch display houses the speedometer and multi-info display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The new chassis, which sports McPherson struts with coil springs and a stabilizer bar up front and a multi-link setup with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in back, was further enhanced for 2019 to provide an even more comfortable ride, making it the perfect companion for overcoming bumpy inner-city streets, bridge expansion joints and uneven pavement anywhere else, while it’s also flawless on the open freeway where its upgraded steering system provides better linear behaviour at high speeds, resulting in an SUV that tracks brilliantly at all times, and therefore capable of eating up hundreds of miles at a time without breaking a sweat.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The infotainment system includes a new dual-screen parking camera with a 360-degree bird’s-eye view. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s dynamic pressure turbo-enhanced SkyActiv-G 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine provides plenty of passing power on the highway thanks to 250 horsepower, but also a surprising amount of get-up-and-go when taking off from standstill due to an extremely robust 320 lb-ft of torque. This is a big seven-passenger SUV after all, yet the efficient four-cylinder is all that’s needed for sporty performance around town or when the road starts to wind, and while no paddle shifters were included, unfortunately common in this class, manual mode can be selected by flicking the gear lever to the left and pulling back for upshifting or pushing forward for downshifting.

Mazda is very clear in its specifications that the engine makes full horsepower with 93 octane gasoline or higher, but I’m going to correctly guess that most journalists refill it will much cheaper 87 octane, so the engine is probably only producing the 227 horsepower claimed with the lower grade gas. This said its strong torque rating only drops by 10 lb-ft when using budget fuel, and only needs 2,000 rpm to release full twist, so I wouldn’t worry too much about thrust.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The automatic transmission only has six forward gears and no paddles for manual mode. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Selecting Sport mode, via a metal rocker switch next to the shifter, adds snappier acceleration thanks to the six-speed transmission’s ability to hold its gears up to redline, plus it doesn’t automatically shift when it hits the solid red line at the 6,300 mark on the tachometer, but instead holds its given gear for better control through the curves. This is very rare in this class or any, and gives the CX-9 a much sportier feel than its contemporaries despite only having six forward gears, which when combined with its particularly agile suspension system, as well as its nicely weighted engine-speed-sensing variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering, is wholly impressive.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
A beautifully detailed rotating dial can be used to control the centre touchscreen, while quick-access buttons pull up popular functions. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control technology carries over from the previous model, seamlessly shifting more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward upon exit. I wasn’t able to notice it working away in the background, but appreciated the added stability, especially during a particularly nasty rainstorm, at which point Mazda’s i-Activ AWD made sure each of my Signature model’s 255/50R20 all-season tires were put to full use.

Important in this class, the AWD CX-9’s fuel economy is rated at 11.6 L/100km in the city, 9.1 on the highway and 10.5 combined, which despite making a lot more power than the Kia Sorento (which will only be a five-passenger model for 2020), isn’t much more consumption than the South Korean SUV’s 11.2 city, 9.0 highway and 10.2 combined rating, while the V6-powered Highlander is good for a respective Transport Canada rating of 12.1, 9.0 and 10.6. The FWD CX-9 won’t be available for 2020, by the way, so Mazda will no longer be able to claim its very thrifty fuel economy rating of 10.6 L/100km in the city, 8.4 on the highway and 9.6 combined.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The attractive 10-way powered, Nappa leather-covered driver’s seat is wonderfully comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The CX-9’s engine gets started by a pushbutton ignition system, by the way, while interior access is provided by proximity sensing keyless entry featuring not-so-subtle black buttons on the front door handles. Mazda doesn’t go so far as to add these buttons to the rear door handles as well, as some others do, but the overall ergonomics of the driver’s position is better than many in this class. The seat provides the usual fore and aft, up and down, plus tilt and backrest functions, not to mention two-way lumbar support that just happened to fit the small of my back ideally, so no complaints here (but you may want to check this feature out for size). It proved fabulously comfortable all week long, with much credit going to the powered tilt and telescopic steering column’s generous reach.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
With nice attention to detail, Mazda even aluminized the power seat controls. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The second row seating area is roomy and extremely comfortable, while the window seats provide good lower back support. Mazda includes a nice wide folding centre armrest complete with the usual dual cupholders, plus a large interface for the automatic climate control system’s third zone on the backside of the front console, complete with switchgear for the aforementioned three-way heatable rear seats, while the outboard positions affected by the warmth easily slide out of the way for access to the third row.

Those rearmost seats include comfortable backrests, yet not a lot of space for an average sized adult’s knees and feet unless you slide the 60/40-split second row so far forward it starts getting a bit cramped. In other words, the third row is probably suitable enough for smaller adults, but ideally it’s best left to children.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The second row is spacious and comfortable. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

When the third row is upright there scarcely seems to be any room for cargo in back, although Mazda claims it can manage loads of up to 407 litres (14.4 cubic feet). Not having a need for the final row I simply folded them flat, leaving a sizeable 1,082 litres (38.2 cu ft) of cargo capacity at my beck and call. When required the second-row folds down in the usual 60/40 configuration, which while making one of the seat warmers useless when carrying four aboard and needing to stow longer items like skis longitudinally (a centre pass-through or 40/20/40-split second row would be better), does provide 2,017 litres (71.2 cu ft) of available load space. It’s a nicely finished cargo compartment too, with carpeting covering three-quarters of the way up each sidewall, plus a heavy-duty removable load floor covering a shallow carpeted hidden stowage area.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The tri-zone automatic climate control system gets a rear panel for adjusting the temperature and rear seat warmers. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Additional storage includes a sunglasses holder in the overhead console, a large open bin ahead of the shift lever, a sizeable bin under the centre armrest, and of course the glove box, which is quite big and velvet lined no less. Yes, just more of that pampering noted earlier.

Complementing all the refinements mentioned, areas unseen are stuffed full of sound-deadening insulation, the windshield and front windows are made from noise-isolating glass, the body shell is extremely rigid and improvements have been made to the steering and suspension systems, making everything from the way its doors close to the CX-9’s overall driving dynamics feel as if it were a luxury-branded SUV, while providing an extremely quiet interior.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The third row is nicely finished, but probably best for smaller folk. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

The driver and passengers alike will be comforted in other ways too, for instance in the knowledge that the CX-9 Signature is one of the most advanced vehicles on the road when it comes to advanced driver assistance and safety systems, with all the usual active and passive safety features now joined by adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, plus more.

Other features that provide CX-9 Signature owners with a premium-branded experience include an electromechanical parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding side mirrors, a Homelink garage door opener, a reworked overhead console with LED overhead and ambient lighting, plus a better designed LED room lamp control switch, while its heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with premium cross-stitched detailing is a real bonus during cold winter months.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
There’s 407 litres of available space back here, which isn’t too bad for a three-row crossover. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

While the aforementioned driver’s seat is 10-way powered with memory, the CX-9 Signature also gets an eight-way power-adjustable front passenger’s seat with powered lumbar, plus rear side window sunshades and more for just $51,500 plus freight and fees, which is excellent value when comparing luxury branded crossover SUVs with similar equipment, and on par with mainstream rivals with similar features, albeit less luxury. Truly, the only item I noticed to be missing from my CX-9 experience was a panoramic sunroof, the powered moonroof overhead being more traditionally sized.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Fold the third row down and the CX-9 becomes a lot easier to live with. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann)

Pricing and features in mind, make sure to check all of the 2019 Mazda CX-9 trims, package and individual option prices at CarCostCanada, plus find out about any available rebates too, while you can save even more by accessing the 2019 CX-9’s dealer invoice pricing. Currently you can save up to $2,500 in additional incentives on a 2019 (at the time of writing), or up to $1,000 for the virtually unchanged 2020 model.

I’m sure you’ve seen top-line CX-9s like my tester before, so you’ll likely agree that it looks as if it could’ve rolled off the assembly line of a luxury manufacturer. Its big, stylish satin-silver grille, featuring special night illumination wrapping around its lower half, plus its full LED headlamps with auto high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-leveling, not to mention its beautifully aerodynamic lower front fascia with integrated LED fog lamps, stunning 20-inch light grey high lustre alloy wheels, tastefully applied satin-chrome trim all-round, attractive LED taillights, and overall sleek, elegant lines from front to back make it a standout entry in its otherwise practical mid-size three-row crossover SUV class. Added to this, all the refined luxury, top-tier features, superb driving dynamics and full suite of advanced safety equipment make the CX-9 a very strong contender, and fully worthy of your attention.

Mazda is in a unique branding position, in that it’s wholly independent and therefore able to offer more for the money than some of its rivals.  What do I mean? Most of Mazda’s rivals offer a higher…

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
With its big illuminated satin-chrome grille, LED headlamps, 20-inch alloys, and elegantly understated good looks, the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature could easily come from a pricey luxury brand. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Mazda is in a unique branding position, in that it’s wholly independent and therefore able to offer more for the money than some of its rivals. 

What do I mean? Most of Mazda’s rivals offer a higher priced premium brand for owners to gravitate to when they might otherwise feel the inclination to move up to a BMW or Mercedes-Benz, and therefore they won’t allow their mainstream volume models to wander too far upmarket in design or finishings so as not to interfere with this hierarchal brand strategy, but Mazda has no such constraints, so therefore its cars and SUVs are often a cut above their rivals. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9’s narrow LED taillights, stylishly understated satin-chrome detailing, and sleek overall shape make it a head-turner from every angle. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Take the 2019 CX-9 mid-size crossover SUV I’m driving this week. It looks like it could’ve rolled off the assembly line of a luxury manufacturer thanks to a big, stylish satin-silver grille with special night illumination that wraps around its lower half, full LED headlamps with auto high beams, adaptive cornering capability and auto self-leveling, a beautifully aerodynamic lower front fascia with integrated LED fog lamps, stunning 20-inch light grey high lustre alloy wheels wrapped in 255/50R20 all-season tires, tastefully applied satin-chrome trim all-round, and a great deal more on the outside. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Easier to see at night, the Signature includes thin white LED illumination around the lower half of its grille. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

That said it’s the CX-9 Signature’s interior that really makes occupants feel pampered, much thanks to a two-tone brown and black motif that includes soft Nappa leather upholstery with beautifully detailed stitching, genuine Santos Rosewood trim on the centre console and doors, aluminum dash and upper door panel inlays, satin-chrome interior switchgear, loads of soft-touch surfacing throughout, fabric-wrapped front roof pillars, LED overhead and ambient lighting, plus more, while areas not seen are stuffed full of sound-deadening insulation, the windshield and front windows are made from noise-isolating glass, and plenty of additional refinements to the body shell, steering and suspension systems make everything from the way its doors close to the CX-9’s overall driving dynamics feel as if it were a luxury-branded SUV, while providing a much quieter interior. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
A vertical stack of LED fog lamps join special 20-inch alloy wheels in Signature trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The driver and passengers alike will be comforted in other ways too, for instance in the knowledge that the CX-9 Signature is one of the most advanced vehicles on the road when it comes to advanced driver assistance and safety systems, with all the usual active and passive safety features complemented by adaptive cruise control with stop and go, forward obstruction warning, Smart Brake Support and Smart City Brake Support autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, advanced blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, new seatbelt reminders on the second- and third-row seats, and more. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
In similar fashion to how Jaguar’s F-Pace SUV pulls its taillight design from the beautiful F-Type sports car, the CX-9’s tail lamps are inspired by the lovely little MX-5 sports car. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The CX-9 Signature offers an impressive assortment of electronics too, such as a head-up display that projects key information onto the windshield ahead of the driver for easy viewing, a 7.0-inch colour TFT display within the primary gauge cluster, an 8.0-inch tablet-style infotainment touchscreen on the dash top with new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, new SiriusXM Traffic Plus and Travel Link data services with information on real-time traffic, weather conditions, fuel prices, and sports scores, a new four-camera 360-degree surround parking camera with a bird’s-eye overhead view, navigation with detailed mapping, 12-speaker Bose audio with Centerpoint surround and AudioPilot noise compensation technologies, plus SurroundStage signal processing, satellite and HD radio, voice activation, Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, text message reading and response capability, plus much more for just $51,500, which is superb value when comparing to luxury branded crossover SUVs with similar equipment (check out all 2019 Mazda CX-9 trims and pricing at CarCostCanada, plus make sure to learn about any available rebates and save even more by getting the 2019 CX-9’s dealer invoice pricing).

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Check out the CX-9 Signature’s fabulous interior! You’ll see a lot more of it in my upcoming road test review. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Other features that provide CX-9 Signature owners with a premium-branded experience are proximity access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a new frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, new power-folding side mirrors, a Homelink garage door opener, a reworked overhead console with always appreciated sunglasses storage and a better designed LED room lamp control switch, front and rear parking sensors, tri-zone automatic climate control, a heated leather-wrapped steering wheel with premium cross-stitching detailing, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with powered lumbar support and memory, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat with power lumbar, three-way heated and new cooled front seats, heated rear outboard seats, rear side window sunshades, and more. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Move up to the Signature and you’ll get this ultra-helpful split-screen 360-degree overhead parking monitor. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

The changes to the CX-9’s steering and suspension systems not only provide the higher-quality, more premium-like ride noted earlier, but were also designed to deliver greater linear behavior at high speeds, and I’ll let you know how Mazda succeeded in my full road test review. Likewise, I’ll comment on how the carryover its G-Vectoring Control technology feels while seamlessly shifting more torque to the front wheels during corner entry and then sending it rearward upon exit, how i-Activ AWD deals with inclement conditions (although we only had to deal with a rain storm during our weeklong test), how the dynamic pressure turbo-enhanced SkyActiv-G 2.5 four-cylinder engine responded to throttle input at takeoff, when exiting fast-paced corners and while passing on the highway, and whether or not the SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission was still up to snuff in an era of seven-, eight-, nine- and even 10-speed autoboxes, not to mention CVTs, despite the inclusion of manual actuation and Drive Selection with a Sport mode. 

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature
The CX-9 Signature even one-ups some of its premium-branded rivals by including real Rosewood trim. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Mazda is very clear in its specifications that the engine makes 250 horsepower with 93 octane gas or higher, but I’m going to correctly guess that the majority of journalists refill it will much cheaper 87 octane, so the engine is probably only making the 227 horsepower claimed with the lower grade gasoline, but this said its extremely robust 310 lb-ft of torque doesn’t change with the budget fuel and only needs 2,000 rpm to release full twist, so I wouldn’t worry too much about thrust. 

As for the rest of the story, make sure to come back for my full review…