Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you know that Mazda has been making strides over the past decade or so to be a more premium vehicle brand. So how does it compare against an actual premium brand with their latest all-new SUV? The 2022 Acura MDX moves into its 4th generation while the 2021.5 Mazda CX-9 remains relatively unchanged – mechanically and styling – since its introduction in 2016.
Engine – The only thing that doesn’t change for the 4th generation Acura MDX is the engine. It is still the same 3.5L V6 from the old MDX, albeit with a few very minor tweaks, and power remains the same at 290 hp & 267 lb-ft of torque (216 kW & 362 Nm). This is a pretty good engine. In everyday driving situations, the engine has plenty of grunt at lower rpms. From time to time the short gear ratios of the transmission allow the engine to rev close to the 3,000 rpm mark but that’s usually when setting off from a stop at a brisk pace. Should you want more power, the Acura MDX Type-S will be available with a turbocharged V6 engine and around 350 hp (261 kW) at a later date.
The Mazda CX-9 on the other hand relies on a turbocharged 2.5L 4-cylinder engine. This engine produces 227 hp & 310 lb-ft of torque (169 kW & 420 Nm) with regular fuel. With the more expensive premium fuel, it produces 250 hp & 320 lb-ft of torque (186 kW & 434 Nm). While it doesn’t have as much horsepower as the V6 in the MDX, the torque more than makes up for it with quick off the line acceleration and effortless overtaking maneuvers on highways.
Between these two 3-row SUVs, the Acura MDX is heavier at 2,077 kg (4,579 lbs) while the CX-9 tips the scales at 1,994 kg (4,396 lbs). So while on paper the MDX has more horsepower, the lighter weight of the CX-9 and extra torque should make it a close 0-100 km/h drag race. In a previous review, I compared the Mazda against the Kia Sorento which also had more power with less weight. But in the real world, the Mazda accelerated quicker off the line than the Kia. So I suspect it would be a similar case against the MDX.
In terms of fuel economy, the 2022 Acura MDX is rated for 12.6 L/100km (18.6 MPG) in a city and 9.4 L/100km (25 MPG) on a highway. During my time with the SUV, I averaged 11.6 L/100km (20.3 MPG). The 2021.5 Mazda CX-9 is rated for 11.6 L/100km (20.3 MPG) in a city & 9.1 L/100km (25.8 MPG) on a highway. During my time with the CX-9, I averaged 11 L/100km (21.4 MPG).
Transmission – The new 10-speed automatic transmission in the Acura MDX does a good job of changing gears when it’s left to its own decisions. The shifts are smooth and reasonably quick. It’s only when you try to take over control that things start to “fall apart” a bit. There is just the slightest of delays when using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
By comparison, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 has the grandfather clocks of transmissions. It is a regular 6-speed automatic transmission. However, Mazda’s decision to stick with this transmission means that they’ve had years of refining it. By all accounts, this is the best 6-speed automatic on sale today.
Braking – The 2022 Acura MDX receives thicker and larger diameter brake discs for better heat dissipation & stopping performance. The 2022 MDX utilizes a new electronic assisted brake booster that is meant to aid the automatic emergency braking system in reacting more quickly. But it has an adverse effect when lightly applying pressure to the brake pedal. It feels as though you’re stepping on a balloon. The MDX does slow down, for sure, but it doesn’t give you the feedback through your foot. Apply more brake pressure and the pedal feels firmer.
The Mazda CX-9 utilizes a more traditional brake booster and hydraulic braking system. It may not be able to operate the automatic emergency braking system in the same milliseconds as the MDX but the brake pedal feel and modulation is better for it.
Handling – Neither of these 3-row SUVs were meant to go around corners like an SUV with the letters “AMG” on the tailgate. However, both Acura and Mazda are known for being slightly more sporty brands than their closest competitors.
The Mazda CX-9 has a sharp and fairly communicative steering feel for such a large SUV. You can feel a bit more resistance through the steering wheel when turning into a corner than you can from the MDX’s steering wheel. In the Acura, it utilizes a new belt-driven electric power steering system. It is a variable ratio system that is very precise and quick to respond to driver inputs. However, it feels a bit too overly assisted. It’s great for maneuvering around parking lots or alleyways but it lacks a bit of feel on a twisty road. It does firm up a bit in Sport mode but not enough for my liking.
But when it comes to actual corner grip, the MDX has SH-AWD on its side. The updated system has 40% more rear torque capacity and 30% quicker front-to-rear torque transfer. In other words, it can send more torque to the rear wheels and it does it more quickly. The rear differential uses torque vectoring to try and rotate the rear of the MDX on corner exit so that more of the engine’s power is used to accelerate the car. The SH-AWD system works very well to also reduce understeer. With the MDX being such a big SUV, you think that it can’t go around corners as quickly as it actually can do. But at the apex of a corner, you can start to roll on the throttle quite aggressively and the SH-AWD system will manage the power very well to curb understeer and get the MDX quickly out of the turn.
If you need to tow, the Mazda CX-9 can haul 3,500 lbs while the Acura MDX can tow up to 5,000 lbs.
Ride Comfort – While the Mazda CX-9 is poised as more of a sporty driving SUV, it does a pretty good job of absorbing road imperfections & bumps. However, the 2022 Acura MDX is equipped with standard adaptive dampers regardless of trim level. The dampers are very well tuned to provide a smooth & comfortable ride. Even when you switch the drive mode to Sport, the dampers are still soft enough to absorb big bumps without transferring the shunts into the cabin.
Interior Space – Both SUVs are quite similar in their interior dimensions. In both cars, front seat occupants have loads of legroom and headroom. In the second row, the Mazda just edges the Acura with an available 1,001 mm of legroom vs 977 mm of legroom in the MDX. But sitting behind my driving position in the Acura is still comfortable. Also, you can remove the center seat for a pass-through in the MDX. The CX-9 Signature trim comes standard with 2nd row captain’s chairs while lower trims receive bench seating. The 3rd row is best saved for children in both SUVs. The Mazda has slightly more legroom but slightly less headroom than the Acura. However both are very tight for adults.
Behind the seats, the Acura MDX has a significantly larger trunk area than the Mazda CX-9. With all rows of seats up, the MDX has 513 L (18.1 cu-ft). 1,368 L (48.3 cu-ft) with the 3rd row folded, & 2,690 L (95 cu-ft) with the 2nd & 3rd rows folded. There’s also a pretty sizable compartment underneath the floor that will easily fit a backpack and camera equipment. The Mazda measures at 407 L (14.3 cu-ft) behind the 3rd row, 1,082 L (38.2 cu-ft) behind the 2nd row, and 2,017 L (71.2 cu-ft). With the 2nd and 3rd rows folded.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – For a luxury flagship model, you’d expect the MDX to have a quiet cabin. To my surprise, it’s not as quiet as I was expecting. Wind noise on highways is virtually non-existent but road noise is quite evident. Engine noise is also noticeable when accelerating and unfortunately, the V6 doesn’t sound the greatest.
The Mazda CX-9 is not particularly noisy on highways. It’s just when accelerating that you hear the turbocharged engine. However, that’s not a bad thing because the 4-cylinder in the CX-9 actually sounds really good. It has a throaty & muscular sound.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – The Mazda CX-9 is the less expensive of the two SUVs. It starts at $40,550 CAD ($34,160 USD) and can go up to $52,550 CAD ($46,805 USD) for this top Signature trim. The Acura MDX starts at $57,900 CAD ($47,200 USD w/ FWD) and can go up to $68,900 CAD ($60,950 USD w/ SH-AWD) for this top Platinum Elite trim. For both vehicles, these are the starting prices of the trims.
Gadgets – For the money, both come very well equipped even in standard form. They both have heated seats, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto integration, three zone automatic climate control, adaptive cruise control, and a full suite of advanced driver and safety aids such as automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keep, and blind zone sensors. However, the MDX has more features such as a panoramic sunroof, wireless phone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay & wireless Android Auto, Amazon Alexa, driver knee airbags, full digital driver display, and power liftgate all as standard.
At the other end of the spectrum, both SUVs have a slew of similar premium features such as head-up displays, premium leather seating surfaces, hands-free power liftgates, rear sunshades, heated steering wheels, ventilated front seats, satellite navigation systems, and premium audio systems to name a few. There isn’t really much difference between the top spec trims apart from the price.
The other major difference between these two vehicles are the infotainment systems. For the 2021 model year (in the United States) and 2021.5 model year (in Canada), the Mazda CX-9 is updated with the latest Mazda infotainment system. It is displayed on a 10.25” screen and is controlled with a rotary knob next to the gear selector. The new system is a welcomed update over the previous generation infotainment however, because it does not use a touchscreen, Apple CarPlay & Android Auto can be a bit finicky to use with the rotary knob.
The Acura MDX also receives the latest infotainment system from the brand and also does not have a touchscreen. So similar finicky controls for CarPlay and Android Auto. But the screen is larger at 12.3-inches and is controlled by a touchpad that Acura calls a “True Touchpad Interface”. What this means is that whichever position you touch on the pad correlates to that exact position on the screen. For example, touch the top right corner of the pad, the top right item in the screen gets highlighted. It takes quite a while to get used to this system as most other touchpads function like a laptop touchpad. But after some time with it, your muscle memory gets used to it.
Interior Design – The 2022 MDX takes a lot of inspiration from the updated RDX & TLX. The MDX has the same steering wheel, same gear selector, same infotainment screen, same drive mode selector, and same volume & tuning controls. Where it differs a bit is with the climate controls and the MDX has a raised wrist rest to make using the touchpad a bit more comfortable. The cabin also has subtle ambient lighting that changes depending on the drive mode or you can set it to a specific colour. The design of the MDX’s interior looks much more sporty than the Mazda CX-9’s cabin.
The CX-9 has an elegant cabin design language. It uses soft leather across the dashboard and door panels just like the MDX. However it doesn’t have as many buttons clustered around the center of the dashboard. They are more spread out between the center of the dash and the center console. The CX-9 also has an ambient lighting system but it’s not as bright or striking to look at as the Acura’s ambient lighting system.
Exterior Design – For the 2021.5 model year (2021 in United States), the Mazda CX-9 receives a new grille design along with the aforementioned infotainment system. That’s about it. The styling hasn’t really changed since its introduction back in 2016. However, it has aged well like fine wine.
The Acura MDX introduces a new design language for Acura’s SUVs. The 2022 RDX took some inspiration from this MDX. The exterior design language is instantly recognizable as an Acura. The headlights & taillights are slimmer than the older generation and are more inline with the look of the TLX sedan. It looks a bit more elegant with a hint of sportiness.
Warranty – The 2022 Acura MDX has a 4 year / 80,000 km new vehicle warranty which is one year longer than the CX-9’s basic new vehicle warranty. But the MDX also comes with a 5 year / 100,000 km powertrain warranty. This powertrain warranty is 6 years & 70,000 miles in the United States. For more information on Acura Canadian warranty, click here. For USA warranty information, click here.
But the Mazda CX-9 has an ace up its sleeve, albeit for Canadian customers. It has a 3 year / unlimited mileage basic and 5 year / unlimited mileage powertrain warranty. Unfortunately this is not available in the United States and instead it gets a more normal, 3 year / 36,000 mile basic & 5 year / 60,000 mile powertrain warranties. For more info on Canadian warranty, click here. For more info on U.S.A. warranty, click here.
Conclusion – In the end, while the 2021.5 Mazda CX-9 is almost 6 years old now, it can still hold its own against much newer vehicles. It’s almost like Mazda’s engineers future-proofed the CX-9. It may not be as spacious as the MDX, it may not have as much wireless connectivity, it may not have a panoramic sunroof, it may not be as quick around corners as the MDX but it definitely feels just as premium when you’re behind the steering wheel. Best of all, it does it for a lower price.
On the other hand, the 2022 Acura MDX is a good update on what was already a good 3-row SUV. It now has a lot more technology, updated driving dynamics, and a spacious interior. The only thing that’s really missing is perhaps a hybrid powertrain.
Thank you to Mazda Canada for providing the CX-9. www.Mazda.ca
Thank you to Acura Canada for providing the MDX. www.Acura.ca