I really enjoyed my week with a 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature edition, so much so that when a 2020 Kia Telluride SX arrived the week after, with a look that reminded me of the previous ride, I decided to do something that has never been done before in this space: compare two new vehicles.
The top-of-the-line among the CX-9s—Mazda also has Sport, Sport All-Wheel-Drive, Touring, Touring AWD, Grand Touring and Grand Touring AWD trims—the Signature is an SUV with AWD, a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder, turbo engine that generates 227 horsepower at 5,000 rpm. Its towing capacity is 3,500 pounds.
The SX AWD tops the Telluride trims—Kia also has LX, LX AWD, S, S AWD, EX, EX AWD and SX—with the SUV’s 3.8-liter, six-cylinder, Gas Direct Injection engine pushing out 291 hp at 6,000 rpm. The eight-speed automatic’s towing capacity is 5,000 lbs.
Both drove very well. I’m routinely asked to name my favorite vehicle of all I have driven, and I follow up with a question about what the asker is looking for. (EV? SUV? Sedan? Sports car? Monster truck?) What I always mention is, of all the makes, Mazda impresses me most. They are always such a pleasure to drive, and you immediately figure out that they are engineered that way. And yet I don’t own one. Go figure.
Here is a very unscientific measurement of the two vehicles: No one in my neighborhood, office parking lot or the mean streets of Orange County approached me about the CX-9. But I had people crawling out of the woodwork to inquire about the Telluride–more than with any other Ride Me ride. Heck, more than with my pimped out 1974 Cadillac El Dorado convertible that now belongs to a certain Los Angeles Times scribe. With that one, people would drive up next to me at stop lights and ask how much I’d sell it for. I was not only getting “How much?” for the Kia but “What is that?”; “Is it a 2020?” and “Is that a Mercedes?”
Talk is cheap. After just one day with the Telluride, I must confess that I let it slip, “I think I like this better than the CX-9.” Perhaps that is not fair given the comparison of a four-cylinder to a V6. The Telluride feels very solid even though, when it comes to curb weight, its 4,354 lbs. to the CX-9’s 4,383 lbs.
Both handled very well around the curves and up the hills and were plenty powerful taking off from a dead stop to freeway speeds. The CX-9 gets the edge in gas mileage, with the government rating it at 20 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and 23 mpg combined. The Telluride is at 19 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg combined. Its annual fuel cost of $1,950 is $300 more than the CX-9’s.
On the EPA’s Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Rating, on a 1-10 scale with 10 being best, the CX-9 beats the Telluride 5 to 4, but the smog rating has the Kia at 5 and the Mazda at 3. No Government 5-Star Safety Ratings data was available yet on the 2020 Kia. The 2019 Mazda got a five out of five stars overall, which included fives for front seat and rear seat side crashes and fours for rollover and driver and passenger frontal crash.
When it came to sliding into the driver’s seats my body type–I can’t help it, I’M BIG BONED!–it was awkward titling my head to get through the door opening and I kept playing with the seat adjuster to find the perfect position in the CX-9. I encountered no such issues with the Telluride. Each seats seven, although the CX-9 has a bench-style, three-seater second row and the Telluride has two captain’s chairs, which do make it easier to get to the three fold-down, third-row seats in the very back. The driver’s seat in the Mazda has power with lumbar and memory for two positions, and both front seats can be heated. The Kia’s 12-way powered front seats can be heated and ventilated, as can the second-row seats as part of the $2,000 SX Prestige Package on the tester.
That Kia package also includes a head-up display and 110-volt inverter, Nappa leather seat trim, premium cloth headliner and sun visors and rain-sensing windshield wipers, the latter of which is included at no extra charge on the CX-9. The only optional equipment on my CX-9 tester were the cargo mat ($100), illuminated doorsill trim plates ($575) and the machine gray paint job ($300). Nothing extra was listed for the Telluride’s Dark Moss colored covering, but carpeted floor mats and cargo mat with seat back protection were $210 and $115 respectively.
These test vehicles come loaded, and the Kia and Mazda were pretty similar when it came to being overstuffed with goodies. Both had: keyless entry; push button starts; 20-inch alloy wheels; power lift gates; advanced cruise control; stability control features; LED headlights and fog lamps; power folding and heated outside mirrors; dual front, front side-impact and side curtain airbags; power moonroof (as Mazda calls it; Kia says “sunroof”); rear view cameras and surround/360-degree monitors; leather-trimmed interiors (black on the Telluride, auburn on the CX-9); and safety alerts, sensors and warnings for different driving and parking scenarios.
The Telluride has a 10-inch color touchscreen near dash controls for the Harmon/Kardon audio system, while the CX-9 has an 8-inch color touchscreen and Bose sound system. Both vehicles audio systems can also be controlled on their steering wheels. The Mazda has a rear roof spoiler and shark-fin antennae. The Telluride has these standard features the CX-9 does not: wireless phone charging; side window curtains; heated steering wheel; and fixed glass rear sunroof.
The base price on the CX-9 is $45,365 while the Telluride is $43,490. Adding in the respective extras and fees, the Kia still comes out less expensive, $46,806 versus $47,385.
Mazda offers a 60-month/60,000-mile (whichever comes first) powertrain warranty and 36 months/36,000 miles bumper-to-bumper with 24-hour roadside assistance.
Kia’s is 10 years/100,000 miles on the powertrain (limited) and five years/60,000 miles for the basic warranty and roadside assistance.
Even without the price and warranty differences, and I can’t believe I’m writing this given my overwhelmingly positive views of Mazdas (including the CX-9 I tested), head to head I have to go with the Telluride.
But as the ol’ car journo saying goes, I would not kick the CX-9 out of the bed.
OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.