The three-row crossover segment is typically versatility and comfort first and sporty and engaging second. Well luckily there is one family oriented three-row crossover that manages to give you a the best of both worlds, the 2021 Mazda CX-9. It offers three rows of seats for the full family and it’s also one of the more fun to drive crossovers you can buy in this segment.

2021 Mazda CX-9 Review

We’ve loved the second generation CX-9 since it debuted for the 2016 model year. For 2021, the CX-9 has received a new 10.3-inch display, while wireless charging has been added to the Touring, Grand Touring and Signature models. There’s also a new Carbon Edition package that adds black exterior trim, black 20-inch wheels, a black grille and red leather seats.

Other smaller changes, include new paddle shifters on the upper trim levels and a better exterior camera system. The Signature trim level also gets new quilted leather seats, new wheels, rear automatic emergency braking and a driver-attention monitoring system.

Under the hood the CX-9 only comes with one engine, a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque using 93 octane fuel or 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. with 87 octane fuel. The four-cylinder is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which on paper sounds old school, considering that the CX-9’s rivals offer 8-, 9- and 10-speed automatic transmissions.

2021 Mazda CX-9 Review

Although 250 hp may not seem like a lot, the CX-9 manages to hold its own against its main rivals, like the Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, and Toyota Highlander. Around town the CX-9 also feels more agile than newcomers, like the Kia Telluride and Hyundai Palisade. The suspension isn’t too soft and the steering does have more feedback than you typically get in this segment. When the road gets twisty, the CX-9 is up for the task.

A benefit of the four-cylinder engine is that the CX-9 is more fuel efficient than some of its rivals. The front-wheel drive CX-9 is rated at 22 mpg in the city, 28 mpg and 24 mpg combined. The all-wheel drive version is only slightly less fuel efficient at 20/26/23 mpg. The Pilot is rated at 20/27/23 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 mpg with all-wheel drive, while the Telluride is rated at 20/26/23 with FWD and 19/24/21 mpg with AWD.

2021 Mazda CX-9 Review

Inside the CX-9 looks and feels luxurious, but the only downside is that its interior is a bit smaller than other models in this segment. The CX-9’s interior has upscale materials that look like they could easily come from a luxury brand. The Signature trim level looks great with its brushed aluminum, real wood and quilted leather seats.

The first two rows offer ample space, but the third row is a bit cramped. There’s 29.7-inches of legroom in the third row compared to 31.9-inches in the Pilot. But it does have more rear legroom than the Toyota Highlander with its 27.7-inches of space. Cargo space is also on the smaller side with 14.4 cubic inches of space behind the third row.

On the safety front, the 2021 CX-9 has received the highest safety score from the IIHS, Top Safety Pick+. It comes standard with automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control.

The 2021 CX-9 is offered in five trim levels: Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring and Signature. The pricing starts at $35,335 for the base Sport trim level and tops out at $48,475 for the Signature with all-wheel drive.

At the end of the day the 2021 Mazda CX-9 is an impressive three-row crossover for drivers that actually like to drive. It’s more agile and engaging to drive than many of its rivals and inside the luxurious interior could easily have a luxury badge on the steering wheel.