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Comparison: 2021 Mazda CX-9 vs. 2021 Subaru Ascent

Which of these Japanese-brand mid-size 3-row SUVs is the better buy?

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2021 Mazda CX-9 
Starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $39,900 CDN

Pros
•    Powerful engine 
•    Near-luxury styling, ride and handling and interior
•    Unlimited mileage warranty

Cons
•    Snug 3rd-row seating
•    Small cargo bay with rear seat in place
•    Limited towing capabilities

 

2021 Mazda CX-9 Highlights

In the mid-size 3-row SUV arena, the all-wheel-drive (AWD) 2021 Mazda CX-9 delivers an exterior that is sleek and harmonious and an interior that is so upscale that it could easily have come from Audi or Lexus. The Mazda’s turbocharged 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine produces 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque (using premium fuel). A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard. For the CX-9’s six trim levels, Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Pricing ranges from the $39,900 CDN base GS to the $53,350 CDN 100th Anniversary Edition.

Upfront, the 2021 Mazda CX-9’s controls are laid out logically, with an aluminum rotary knob and auxiliary buttons for the new 9-inch infotainment screen. Second-row seating can either be a power-operated split-bench or two captain’s chairs that bring the occupant count down to six. When a road trip beckons, the CX-9’s rear cargo bay’s 407 litres of room isn’t as generous as the 2021 Subaru Ascent’s up-to-504-litre rating.

Mazda cars and SUVs always have a special something, a way of engaging the driver while still keeping the passengers happy. Even in a vehicle as functional as the CX-9, that special something is still evident. Compared to its Subaru rival, the Mazda's relatively light body and sophisticated torque vectoring technology combine to give the CX-9 impressive cornering abilities but always with a comfortable ride quality.

 

2021 Subaru Ascent 
Starting Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $36,995 CDN

 

Pros
•    Roomy for passengers and their cargo
•    Competitive pricing
•    Excellent towing capabilities

Cons
•    Workmanlike turbocharged 4-cylinder and CVT combo 
•    Interior prioritizes function over form
•    Bland styling inside and out


 
2021 Subaru Ascent Highlights

The 2021 Subaru Ascent is the largest SUV the Japanese brand has ever built. Like the 2021 Mazda CX-9, the Ascent forgoes the traditional 6-cylinder engine favouring a turbocharged 2.4-litre 4-cylinder that’s a good compromise of energy and fuel economy. The flat-4 makes 260 horsepower and 277 pound-feet of torque going to all four wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Prices range from the base $36,995 CDN Ascent Convenience to the topline $51,495 CDN Premier trim.

If not as luxuriously appointed as the Mazda, the Ascent has a warm and welcoming interior that’s also highly practical, with seating for up to eight occupants. For the driver, controls are easy to reach and use. Family-friendly safety features abound, such as an alert system reminding the driver to check the rear seat before leaving the vehicle. This kind of innovative thinking makes the Ascent an appealing 3-row/8-passenger SUV.

Although enthusiastic drivers will find the Mazda is more athletic, the Ascent also has sporty tendencies in the handling, steering, and braking departments. On twisty roads, quick reactions make the Subaru SUV feel agile, like a smaller vehicle. Braking is similarly acceptable—responsive without being touchy, and no mushy pedal feel. Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD system includes off-road-enhancing X-mode and hill descent control and active torque vectoring. It’s a superb setup, and Subaru has lots of expertise in this area.

 

Final Recommendation

The mid-size 3-row SUV segment offers plenty of options for buyers. Yet both the 2021 Mazda CX-9 and 2021 Subaru Ascent offer something different and unique that make them standout.

Guess the 2021 Mazda CX-9’s price just by looking at it, and a figure in the luxury bracket would be understandable. A family-friendly SUV with this kind of style and performance starting at around $40,000 CDN is genuinely remarkable. And its 3-year/unlimited-kilometre factory warranty begs owners to take the long way home. 

But while the Mazda caters more to its driver than its passengers, the Subaru is the better all-rounder.

With a roomier interior, the ability to tow more, off-road-friendly AWD system and a slightly lower pricing structure, we think the 2021 Subaru Ascent will appeal to a broader range of mid-size 3-row buyers.

 

Specs

2021 Mazda CX-9

 

2021 Subaru Ascent

 

 

Engine

2.5-litre Turbocharged I4

2.4-litre Turbocharged F4

Horsepower

227-250 hp @ 5,000 rpm

 

260 hp @ 5,600 rpm

Torque

310-320 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm

 

277 @ 2,000-4,800 rpm

Transmission

6-speed automatic

Continuously Variable Automatic  

Fuel Economy (L/100 km)

11.6 city, 9.1 hwy, 10.5 combined

 

11.6 city, 9.0 hwy, 10.4 combined

 

Warranty

3-yr/Unlimited-km

3-yr/60,000-km

Max Seating Capacity

6-7

6-7

Curb Weight

1,994 kgs

2,043-2,081 kgs

Wheelbase

2,930 mm

2,890 mm

Overall Length

5,065 mm

4,998 mm

Width

1,989 mm

1,956 mm

Height

1,716 mm

1,819 mm

Headroom, Front

998 mm

1,048 mm

Headroom, 2nd Row

978 mm

1,016 mm

Headroom, 3rd Row

899 mm

922 mm

Legroom, Front

1,041 mm

1,072 mm

Legroom, 2nd Row

1,001 mm

979 mm

Legroom, 3rd Row

754 mm

804 mm

Shoulder Room, Front

1,471 mm

1,552 mm

Shoulder Room, 2nd Row

1,476 mm

1,533 mm

Shoulder Room, 3rd Row

1,349 mm

1,454 mm

Cargo Volume Behind 3rd Row

407 L

498-504 L

 

Maximum Towing Capacity

3,500 lbs (1,588 kgs)

5,000 lbs (2,270 kgs)

 

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