Crossover & Midsize

2021 Mazda CX-9 vs. Honda Pilot: The Winner Hasn’t Changed

Once considered somewhat pricey, three-row midsize SUVs have exploded in popularity and become more affordable in recent years. World-leading luxury brands used to look down on SUVs as merely lowly conveyances, but even they have learned that resistance is futile. With so many choices and a wide range of prices, buyers have a hard time choosing. This article intends to make things a little easier—at least concerning the 2021 Mazda CX-9 versus the 2021 Honda Pilot.

The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is fun to drive but lacks space

U.S. News published its overall comparison review of the 2021 Mazda CX-9 versus the 2021 Honda Pilot in its Rankings & Advice section. The review sets out to differentiate the two mid-size crossover SUVs, particularly since all three-row SUVs seem similar. In a separate review about the 2021 Mazda CX-9, U.S. News ranked it third in its Midsize SUVs category.

It cited Mazda’s blend of high-octane performance, drivability, and high-class cabin for making it near the top of the list. Nicely weighted steering allows for accurate and composed cornering, which makes it fun to drive. Its high-end interior and well-placed controls make it a comfortable driving experience as well. But where it’s strong in performance, it falls short in cargo space. With both rear rows folded down, you get 71.2 cubic feet. With the third row folded down it drops to 38.2 cubic feet, and 14.4 cubic feet with all the seats up.

The 2021 Honda Pilot is smooth to drive and spacious

2021 Honda Pilot in the mountains
2021 Honda Pilot Elite | Honda

The 2021 Honda Pilot ranked far below the CX-9 at No. 10 by U.S. News. According to the review, it provides a comfortable ride and adequate, adult-friendly seating. In addition to that, the Pilot’s cargo space is considered above average for its class. With the second-row and third-row seats down there is up to 109.2 cubic feet. It shrinks to 55.9 cubic feet with the third-row seat down, and you get 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seats. The EX-L trim comes standard with a power liftgate, while a hands-free liftgate is standard with the Special Edition, Touring, Elite, and Black Edition.

The 2021 Honda Pilot beat the 2021 Mazda CX-9 in terms of seat comfort. It is capable of seating up to eight passengers. If you get the optional second-row captain’s chairs, seating capacity drops to seven. Either way, every row of seats offers plenty of room for adults and is comfortable and supportive enough for long-distance drives. The Pilot has optional leather-trimmed seats, heated and ventilated front seats, as well as heated second-row seats. The standard CX-9 can only seat seven people, but only six people with the optional captain’s chairs. Its smaller cabin means it’s less comfortable for adults in the rear row seats.

The CX-9 offers more overall quality than the Pilot

2021 Mazda CX-9 on a road through the woods
2021 Mazda CX-9 | Mazda

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The Honda Pilot scored the lowest possible predicted reliability rating of two out of five, while the Mazda CX-9 was rated 3.5 out of five. Another area where the CX-9 outclasses the Pilot is interior quality; critics have compared the CX-9’s interior to that found in some luxury vehicles. A reviewer from U.S. News went as far as to write that its interior is equal to brands such as Audi and Lexus. In fact, the higher-level CX-9 trims have genuine wood inlays and aluminum accents. And while it may be less spacious, the CX-9’s second row is adjustable with standard front heated seats. A heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats, heated second-row seats, and Nappa leather upholstery are available optionally.

While both the CX-9 and Pilot are said to have plenty of convenience and connectivity items, the base Mazda CX-9 offers more superior infotainment features. Sitting on top of the dashboard, a 10.3-inch touch screen infotainment system grants drivers and front passengers easy access to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, voice recognition, two USB ports, and Bluetooth. Push-button start and tri-zone automatic climate control also come standard. If those standard amenities aren’t enough, additional options include a 12-speaker Bose sound system, a moonroof, navigation, and a 7-inch digital gauge cluster.

After conducting a complete comparison of both midsize crossover SUVs, you will notice each one has unique features. At the same time, they’re both quite similar in other ways. When contemplating which model is best, it basically depends on what is important for you: the performance and luxury feel of the CX-9 or the more modest yet spacious Pilot.