TORONTO, ONTARIO – Mazda, ever the plucky and agile little Japanese automaker, has been commended for their take on what the three-row crossover should be. The current CX-9 bucked some trends at the time of its release: with power from a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a somewhat smaller exterior package, and a genuine focus on ergonomics, premium materials, and craftsmanship. It is in contrast to the typical V6 power, ever-growing volumes, and interiors built to a price. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 has been updated, and one of the things that Mazda is particularly excited about, is the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. We were invited to a tech session to learn about the updates and what they mean to consumers, in what is one of the most competitive segments around.
Android Auto and Apple CarPlay both provide a streamlined solution that essentially bypasses manufacturer-provided infotainment interfaces, by way of your data-connected smartphone. Mazda has been late to this game, but it is something they insist they wanted to get right. Part of the delay comes from how both systems interact with the MazdaConnect human-machine interface – more specifically the rotary knob that is situated just aft of the gear selector.
In practice, the Android Auto implementation is somewhat similar to the one seen in the latest Acura TLX, which uses a rotary knob/joystick interface to manipulate the cursor. The downside with Mazda’s implementation is that the rotary knob is the only way to interact with Android Auto – the touchscreen functionality is disabled. Mazda says this is down to how the MazdaConnect system passes user inputs to the smartphone. I don’t own an Apple iOS device, but some of our colleagues in the office will be able to put these updates to the test at a later date.
The 2019 CX-9 gets some updates, though they are mostly under the skin. The interior roofliner is updated to keep more noise out, the seatbacks are updated, as are the grab handles and armrests. Mazda has also tweaked the suspension: updated springs mean better damper controls, which means better body control over bumps and under lateral load. The wheel hubs, bearings, steering knuckle, and various bushings have all been updated for better road feel. The CX-9 has always felt fairly light on its feet (but is no comparison to the MX-5), so these updates should help improve that feel.
Pricing is another item that has been tweaked: the separate packages for the i-ACTIVSENSE safety suites have been removed. As soon as you opt for Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel drive, you get i-ACTIVSENSE, which means most models on dealer lots should be equipped as such. The base GS (front-wheel drive) starts at $36,700, which is a $300 increase from last year. The CX-9 GS AWD starts at $40,000. At the top of the range, the CX-9 Signature is priced at $51,500, which is a $1,200 increase. In all cases, the added equipment is meant to offset the price increase.
One very interesting takeaway from this presentation: Mazda is launching a program that will allow owners of existing cars equipped with the MazdaConnect interface to retroactively add Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality to their cars. It’s not just a software upgrade – the USB port and associated hardware needs to be upgraded, so this will involve a visit to your local Mazda dealer. Mazda is targeting cars going as far back as the 2014 Mazda3, which is certainly a nice gesture. As inventory level increases for this worldwide campaign, you can set yourself up with this upgrade for $445, if your car qualifies. Owners of the 2018 Mazda6 and 2019 CX-3 will be able to get in on this upgrade for $250.
We expect this new smartphone integration to trickle its way through the rest of the Mazda lineup in a few years. As a millennial glued to my phone, Android Auto really goes a long way to improving the everyday convenience of any car, thanks to its standardized interface and functions (such as the excellent Google Maps). Mazda was certainly late to the game, but they’ve done a great job handling it in such a comprehensive way that they are so well known for. We’ll have the updated 2019 CX-9 on test in short order, so we can see how all everything comes together.
*Photos Courtesy of Mazda Canada*