Will the 2022 Mazda CX-9 go all BMW with rear-drive and an inline-6?

2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature

By Chuck Giametta

What changes will make the 2022 Mazda CX-9 different?

A dramatic rebirth as a BMW-baiting, rear-wheel-drive-based crossover with a 300-plus-horsepower inline-six-cylinder engine – or little more than a warmed-over rerun of the 2021 model.

This seven-seat midsize crossover is at a crossroads. It’s due for its first full redesign since model-year 2016. Whether that’ll come for model-year 2022 or ’23, only Mazda knows. More intriguing is what the redesign will entail.

The next-generation CX-9 could maintain mainstream-crossover construction: front-wheel-drive architecture with a transverse-mounted engine and optional all-wheel drive. Or it could transition to a new Mazda platform that takes it upmarket, pitting it against premium-brand midsize crossovers like the BMX X5, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Genesis GV80.

Should I wait for the 2022 Mazda CX-9 or buy a 2021?

2021 CX-9

Wait for the 2022 if you’re moved by the idea of a new-age CX-9 and believe it’s just around the corner. Mazda is elevating all its cars and crossovers, using elegant styling and class-above cabin décor to move from a mass-market make to a near-luxury brand, on par with, say, Acura or Genesis.

It’s a tall order. But a hallmark of prestige brands is a rear-wheel-drive platform and an engine mounted longitudinally. Advantages include more refined road manners, thanks to better vehicle balance. Rear-drive engineering also frees the front wheels from both steering the car and being the default agent of propulsion. And the layout makes it easier to achieve styling proportions that bespeak sporty luxury: long hood, rearward-biased cabin, short overhangs.

That describes the next-generation Mazda 6 midsize sedan. Due for model-year 2023, the racy-looking flagship of Mazda’s car line will spearhead the automaker’s most serious effort yet to push upmarket. Whether the next-generation CX-9, the flagship of its crossover line, follows suit is the question here.

The automaker has confirmed plans to assemble a crossover at a new joint-venture factory with Toyota in Alabama. Whether that’ll be the redesigned CX-9 or another crossover altogether, is uncertain. (Some reports suggest the new entry will slot in size and price between Mazda’s compact CX-5 crossover and the CX-9 and be badged the CX-6.) Production at Mazda Toyota Manufacturing U.S.A. begins during 2021.

If all that conjecture is too distracting right now and you want a midsize crossover that’s still among the class leaders for looks and handling, buy a 2021 CX-9.  A smartly efficient package with an interior already worthy of a premium-class nameplate, it’s a praiseworthy example of the conventional-crossover formula.    

In fact, Mazda could well believe there’s another model-year’s life left in the design. It could in effect re-issue the ’21 CX-9 as the little-changed 2022 model while it formulates the crossover’s future.

That would mean the ’22 CX-9 could return the five-model 2021 lineup: Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature. All would again have a transversely mounted turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Front-wheel drive would remain standard. All-wheel drive would be standard on the top-of-the-line Signature trim and optional otherwise.

Granted, today’s CX-9 is among America’s oldest midsize crossovers. It shows its age with dated infotainment graphics, for example. And it doesn’t offer amenities available on top rivals, such as lane-centering automatic steering, wireless connectivity for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a panoramic moonroof, a power-folding third-row seat, and a power adjustable steering column.

Yet, Mazda may have leveraged the slow pace of change across its entire lineup into a virtue. In 2020, this small Japanese automaker earned its first No. 1 ranking in the influential Consumer Reports reliability survey. If that’s important to you, it’s another reason to opt for the proven 2021 CX-9 over the all-new model.   

Will 2022 Mazda CX-9 styling be different?

2021 CX-9 Carbon Edition

Only if it’s fully redesigned. A carryover CX-9 would retain the ’21’s shapely form, Mazda’s distinctive grille, and slimline LED headlights. The Carbon Edition would return in an exclusive shade of gray with black trim and wheels. The Signature’s grille bars would again feature LED accents. Expect Sport and Touring to return with 18-inch alloy wheels, the other models with 20s.

Inside, a largely carryover 2022 CX-9 would exhibit craftsman-like attention to gauges and controls. All would come with a 10.25-inch tablet-style infotainment screen, a center-console button and knob cluster its primary interface. Underpinning its upscale aspirations, all but the Sport model would again come with leather upholstery – in striking red for the Carbon Edition and in luscious quilted Nappa complemented by real rosewood trim for the Signature.

2021 CX-9 Carbon Edition

Seating for seven would remain standard for Sport and Touring. Seating for six would be optional for the Touring and standard on Carbon, Grand Touring, and Signature with two captain’s chairs in place of the second-row bench.

Unaltered dimensions would mean good room and comfort in the first two seating rows, but far less space for third-row passengers than in such rivals as the Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, and Dodge Durango. Indeed, a third row friendly only to folks shorter than 5-foot-4 or so is a current-generation CX-9 demerit. So is tight cargo space behind the third row and a 71.2-cubic-foot maximum that’s among the stingiest in the competitive set.

2021 CX-9 Signature Edition with 2nd-row Captain’s Chairs

By concentrating the mass of mechanical components in the nose of the vehicle, a front-drive/transverse-engine platform is typically more space efficient than a rear-drive/longitudinal one. If the next-generation CX-9, be it a ’22 or ’23 model, retains that format, expect Mazda to give it a roomier third row and more cargo space without making it significantly larger overall.

2021 CX-9 Touring with 2nd-row bench seat

If it adopts the rear-drive/longitudinal platform of the coming Mazda 6, get ready for a crossover bigger inside and out than today’s CX-9. And that would open the door for the provisional CX-6 as a five-seater. (On the subject of badges, some sources say Mazda may adopt double-digit suffixes for crossovers. It already has the subcompact CX-30 and could rename the next CX-5 the CX-50, the CX-9 the CX-90, and the new crossover the CX-60 or CX-70.)

Not apt to change is Mazda’s commitment to sophisticated styling. As a concept version of the rear-drive Mazda 6 demonstrates, a rear-drive-based CX-9 would likely be lower and wider, with more dramatic proportions and an evolution of the brand’s comely grille.  

Any 2022 Mazda CX-9 mechanical changes?

2021 CX-9

A change to a structure with standard rear-wheel drive and optional all-wheel drive would of course be a radical departure. So would mounting the engine front-to-rear rather than side-to-side. And if the next-generation CX-9 adapts that layout, the engine is likely to be an all-new six-cylinder that will reportedly debut in the redesigned Mazda 6.

Displacement hasn’t been confirmed – around 3.0-liters is a reasonable guess – but it’s a good bet the engine will use Mazda’s innovative Skyactiv-X technology. This combines the spark ignition of a gasoline engine for fuel efficiency with the compression ignition of a diesel engine, for greater torque.

Some reports say this six will produce around 350 horsepower. And Mazda promises Skyactiv-X increases mileage 30 percent compared to a similar engine without the technology. It wouldn’t be turbocharged but would employ a mild-hybrid-type 48-volt electrical system to assist acceleration.

If the 2022 CX-9 retains its current layout, all models will return with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder linked to a six-speed automatic transmission. Expect output to remain 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque on 93-octane gas. On 87 octane, output drops to 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.

Most crossovers in this competitive set have V-6 engines that generate similar horsepower but less torque than Mazda’s turbo four. Torque is the prime ingredient in acceleration and this engine provides the CX-9 with fine punch away from a stop, good response around town, and plenty of muscle for freeway-speed merging and passing. All ’22 CX-9s would again come with a driver-selectable Sport mode that sharpens throttle response. Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature would again have steering-wheel paddles for manual-type gear control.

2021 CX-9

Normally operating in front-wheel drive and automatically shuffling power rearward to quell tire slip, a carryover CX-9’s AWD system would again be a low-friction-surface traction enhancer while also adding a measure of grip on dry pavement.

The system will again feature Mazda’s Off-road Traction Assist, which electronically transfers power to the wheels with the most footing, even compensating for tires not in contact with the ground. But even with 8.8 inches of ground clearance — slightly above average for the class – a carryover CX-9 would not be suited for serious off-roading.

On road, though, even an unchanged 2022 CX-9 would remain arguably the best-handling crossover in the competitive set. Standard again would be Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Plus, which subtly manipulates engine and brakes to hone initial turn-in. Ride quality should again be most comfortable with the 18-inch tires. But the 20s’ larger footprint best exploits the precise steering and well-sorted suspension.

A rear-drive-based platform holds potential for an even purer driving experience. Mazda could even calibrate the AWD system to favor a rear-drive feel while distributing power forward as needed to retain traction.

Will 2022 Mazda CX-9 fuel economy improve?

2021 CX-9

Not likely. If the 2022 CX-9 isn’t redesigned, expect EPA ratings to remain excellent for the class, again trailing only the Toyota Highlander Hybrid among midsize crossovers with three seating rows.

A carryover 2022 CX-9 should again rate 22/28/24 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 20/26/23 with AWD. (The Highlander Hybrid rates 36/35/36 and 35/34/35, respectively.)

Note that the ’22 CX-9’s turbo four-cylinder can run on regular-octane gas, but Mazda acknowledges the more expensive premium-octane will extract the full measure of its performance.

With so little known about a potential Skyactiv-X six-cylinder engine or the next-generation platform, predicting future CX-9 fuel economy is problematic. But if 350 horsepower is feasible and Mazda keeps its 30-percent-more-efficient promise, EPA ratings around 24/31/26 mpg with AWD seem possible.

Will the 2022 Mazda CX-9 have new features?

Central infotainment controller pictured in the 2021 CX-9 Signature, which has real wood and aluminum interior trim

Adding items like a panoramic moonroof would need to wait for the next full redesign. But Mazda could conceivably outfit a carryover 2022 CX-9 with such driver assists as semi-autonomous steering. Same for the convenience of automatic brake hold, which relieves the driver from maintaining pressure on the brake pedal when the crossover is stopped at a light or in jammed traffic. Amenities like wireless app connectivity and maybe a power-folding third row might be possible before a full redesign, too.

Even if the ’22 CX-9 isn’t all-new, we’d urge Mazda to make its full array of existing safety features standard across the line rather than reserving some for higher trim levels, as it did for model-year 2021.

Laudably, every 2022 CX-9, redesigned or not, would return with Mazda’s i-Activesense system that includes autonomous emergency braking designed to automatically stop the crossover to mitigate a frontal collision with another vehicle, object, or pedestrian. Lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction is part of i-Activesense. So is adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead, even in stop-and-go driving. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection are also included.

2021 CX-9 10.25-inch infotainment screen

However, for model-year 2021, automatic rear braking was limited to the Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, and Signature grades. And Mazda reserved it’s 360-degree video monitor with front and rear parking sensors for the Grand Touring and Signature.

Those omissions aside, even the base-level ’22 CX-9 should return with a nice array of standard features, some of which aren’t available on rivals until you climb well up their model ladder.

Based on model-year 2021 feature sets and assuming a similar model lineup, expect the ’22 CX-9 Sport to again come with heated front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, three-zone automatic climate control, six-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support, and two front USB ports. Keyfob control of locks, pushbutton start, auto-leveling LED headlights with automatic high beams, and rain-sensing windshield wipers will also be standard.

The ’22 Touring grade would include all that, the aforementioned leather upholstery, and add a six-way power passenger’s seat, an easier slide and tilt function for the second-row bench, two second-row USB charging ports, a power liftgate, hands-free perimeter unlocking, and an automatic-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink.

For ’21, Mazda offered the Touring with a $2,060 Premium Package that included a Bose 12-speaker audio system with satellite radio, a wireless phone charger, power moonroof, front and rear parking sensors, two third-row USB charging ports, LED fog lights, and second-row retractable window sunshades. With this package, owners had the no-cost option of the second-row bench or captain’s chairs.

2021 CX-9 hands-free power liftgate

The ‘22 CX-9 Carbon Edition would again mate all that with the aforementioned exclusive color, trim, wheels, and red-leather upholstery. It would also have ventilated front seats, an eight-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and memory, heated second-row captain’s chairs, a heated steering wheel, a 7-inch configurable digital gauge display, and LED cabin accents. A hands-free power liftgate, power-folding mirrors, steering-linked headlights, and a windshield wiper de-icer would also be included.

To all that, the ’22 CX-9 Grand Touring would again add a head-up instrument display that projects onto the windshield key vehicle data, even blind-spot-monitoring icons. Also aboard would be imbedded satellite navigation that doesn’t rely on a cell signal for real-time GPS mapping.

As the flagship, the AWD-only CX-9 Signature would return with all the above, plus the LED-bejeweled grille, quilted Nappa upholstery, aluminum and Rosewood cabin accents, and larger dual tailpipes.

How will 2022 Mazda CX-9 prices be different?

2021 CX-9 Signature; note LED-infused grille

They’ll likely increase, but don’t count it on. Mazda has in the recent past held the line on base prices for some CX-9 models, even lowering them for others.

As a side note, the automaker says Grand Touring and Signature models account for more than 50 percent of CX-9 sales, so buyers seem to be responding to the upscale appeal of the CX-9 in those trim levels.

For reference, here are 2021 CX-9 base prices, including Mazda’s $1,145 destination fee. The ’21 Sport was priced at $35,105 with front-wheel drive and $37,005 with AWD, the Touring at $36,895 and $38,795, respectively.

Base price for the ’21 Carbon Edition was $42,225 with front drive and $44,125 with AWD. For the ’21 CX-9 Grand Touring, base prices were $43,085 with front-drive and $44,985 with AWD. With AWD standard, the ’21 CX-9 Signature was priced at $47,750.

When will the 2022 Mazda CX-9 come out?

2021 CX-9

Look for a 2022 CX-9 release date in the third second quarter of 2021.

What are the top 2022 Mazda CX-9 competitors?

Buick Enclave, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Traverse, GMC Acadia, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Sorento and Telluride, Nissan Pathfinder, Subaru Ascent, Toyota Highlander, Volkswagen Atlas

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]