One Button Seriously Helps the 2020 Mazda CX-9 Off-Road: Tombstone Hill Ep. 3

Can Mazda's largest crossover actually hack it off-road?

One Button Helps the 2020 Mazda CX-9 Off-Road. Seriously.
We challenged the 2020 Mazda CX-9 and its new off-road traction assist system.

Off-Road Traction Assist is new for the 2020 Mazda CX-9 – and it works!

Our newest off-road test for crossovers is Tombstone Hill, and that’s were we placed the 2020 Mazda CX-9. Why? Mazda just added a new button, one that engages the Off-Road Traction Assist mode. Other than this little addition of tech, the 2020 Mazda CX-9 is the same as lat year’s model.

Saying it’s the same isn’t a bad thing. The 250 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is turbocharged. It’s hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission and it makes 310 lb-ft of torque down at 2,000 rpm. That helps a LOT when you’re bouncing around off-road in the Rocky Mountains. Tombstone Hill sits just below 9,000 feet elevation. Having a turbo helps.

One Button Helps the 2020 Mazda CX-9 Off-Road. Seriously.

This fully loaded 2020 Mazda CX-9 comes in at about $48,000. That’s a top-of-the-line model. Prices start at about $34,000.

Mazda already has a pretty good all-wheel drive (AWD) system called Predictive AWD. This system works with a number of factors to – you guessed it – predict the need for AWD. It works with everything from the windshield wipers (if they’re on, you may need AWD) to steering inputs. It will factor in outside temperature, wheel-spin, speeds and other items in a fraction of a second.

Simply put, it will go from a front-drive to AWD vehicle (usually) before you need it.

In the past, we have seen Mazda products do fairly well on our old obstacle, Gold Mine Hill. On that test, we noticed the AWD system had some issues in challenging sections with wheel spin. It got to a point where Mazda themselves contacted TFL Studios (after a test) and asked some pointed questions.

One of the main issues was the fact that the system didn’t quite know when to send power to the right wheel when it got challenging off-road. There was no such issue on snow and ice.

We suspect that this may have helped Mazda design this new Off-Road Traction Assist button.


Located near the driver’s left knee, the innocuous button does one main thing: when triggered, it tells to breaking system to slow the spinning wheel. This allows the power to be rerouted to the wheel that has traction. It’s a more deliberate fix than relying on AWD, which may not trigger the needed wheel in extreme situations.

To test this, we did a few maneuvers that most crossover owners wouldn’t consider. Then again, that’s why we push these crossovers so hard on the hill – to see what they can truly do.

Check out the video!

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.