Legroom back here is plentiful even behind my 6’1″ with 32″ inseam self, the second row can slide fore and aft (each seat independently) as well as recline. Seat heat controls are in the second row’s armrest console that also contains cup holders, charge ports and storage. The back of the first row’s console controls the HVAC for the rear of the cabin.
The center console precludes anyone from clambering to the third row between the seats. However, the seats themselves move forward and fold in order to provide a large enough opening for easy access to the third row which worked well enough for my own not so limber self to get back there. And eventually back out. Oh, to be eleven years old again…I suppose the one caveat would be a family with two child seats mounted in place in the second row, that would make access to the third row very difficult should it be needed.
That third row, while still trimmed as nicely as the rest although not in Nappa leather like the front two rows, is really for emergency use only or for much smaller occupants. It’s similar to the Highlander and Lexus RX350 in that regard, there is minimal leg and headroom and even when the second row is moved forward isn’t something to really look forward to.
Although it probably beats staying behind if it’s not an overly long ride. Seatbelts back here number two, as opposed to the Highlander’s three (which, having owned one, is not overly realistic space-wise for anyone old enough to be trusted to buckle themselves.)
However the cargo area is quite large, especially with the second row folded. Folding those seats is easy, pull the latch on the back of the seat once to drop the headrest and again to fold the seat. Then pull back up (and push the headrests up by hand) to re-erect it. Of course the rear hatch is power operated.
The entire CX-9 range also employs Mazda’s big news from the last couple of years, the Skyactiv-G Dynamic Pressure Turbo 2.5liter inline-4. Able to run on regular as well as super unleaded gasoline, it adjusts the power output accordingly.
When fed from the commoners trough, it will generate 227hp@5000rpm and 310lb-ft of torque at 2000rpm, but feed it the good stuff and it rewards you by unleashing an extra 23hp and 10lb-ft for totals of 250hp and 320lb-ft of torque at the same engine speeds. Interestingly, on the Monroney sticker they only list the lower of the two specifications, so the higher output potential is a nice benny.
While the power isn’t overwhelming in either case, especially with a vehicle on the larger side of things, it’s delivered in a smooth, quiet, and refined manner. When coupled with the superior handling traits that the CX-9 is endowed with it’s possible to simply keep a greater level of speed through corners than other machinery while also being more rewarding and fun to drive.
It’s not a Miata, however the G-Vectoring Control Plus and i-ACTIV predictive all wheel drive work together to move the power around as needed to help drive it around corners and provide optimum torque to the wheels as they need or can use it. No slipping and gripping here, just power where and when it’s needed.
In town traffic is handled quietly and comfortably, the six speed transmission shifts pretty much imperceptibly, and there isn’t a stop/start system either. There is a manual option but in town it’s a bit pointless and although I did use it in the hills a bit, I generally found it didn’t add much to the experience. That’s not so much a knock as a kudos to the transmission’s own brain, hit the Sport toggle next to the shifter and it changes the programming to be in a lower gear than normal and will hold that gear (or whichever it’s in) rather than quickly upshifting depending on the driving style and cornering speeds.
On a curvy road this can put a grin on one’s face, especially when imagining the entire family along and good time being made to the trip destination. Counting against it though is the fact that the A-pillars are very wide and also fairly close to the front seat occupants due to the positioning and angle of the windshield, necessitating a conscious look around them in order to see the road or a pedestrian, cyclist, or sometimes even another vehicle.
The wheels here measure in at 20 inches and in this case were shod with Japan-made Falken Ziex CT50 All-Season touring tires in a 255/50 V-rated spec. Falken (owned by Sumitomo) has been starting to become original equipment on several vehicles recently with its off-road Wildpeak series, it’s good to see them now also being fitted to more premium on-road passenger vehicles.
The wheels are an attractive design and the tires did their job well with good adhesion, low noise on all surfaces traversed as well as helping to keep the ride smooth, not always easy on 20s but attained to good effect here, no doubt in league with Mazda’s suspension designers.
Assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, this is one of the pure Japanese vehicles with exactly zero North American content and 90% Japanese content. As expected all components inside and out were of excellent quality, fit, and finish with no deficiencies noted. Every year I wonder how cars can be made any better, and yet every year thereafter I see new heights being reached all over the world, but Japan especially. This interior especially is easily as finely and carefully assembled as the last few Lexus vehicles I’ve driven, both of which were significantly higher priced.
In the end I actually kept this car for a couple of days extra over the standard time period due to some scheduling issues around the holidays which was appreciated. I drove it 321 miles and in this case that included a trip to South Denver and back, mostly on the freeway but with a fair amount of traffic for some reason that accounted for 165 miles. The balance of 156 miles was mainly around town, up in the hills and some normal highway driving.
Overall a little less of an economy mix than usual which likely accounted for the overall fuel mileage figure of 21.8mpg. While officially it is rated at 20city, 26highway and 23average, my figure is a little below par. Interestingly though, reviewing my time with the Highlander reveals that all of those figures (EPA, mine, as well as my driven mileage and its split) came in almost identical to that vehicle.
What else? Oh yeah, the safety systems are standard and full-featured with radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, land departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, emergency braking and brake assist, smart city braking forward and reverse, 360-degree cameras, and even a trailer stability control system listed (the tow rating is 3,500 pounds). Everything seemed to be working silently in the background with no issues noticed and thankfully none of the systems needing to be (or noticed to be) invoked.
The lighting is all LED and the headlights are active units, meaning as you turn, the inside unit turns with the wheel, affording a greater amount of light in the direction of travel, making a far larger difference in real life than what you’d think just reading about it.
I don’t know what else one could really want. As nice as some of the upper level vehicles from Lexus, Audi, Infiniti, Mercedes etc. are, this Mazda CX-9 Signature is the equal of many of them that cost quite a bit more, to say nothing of the league that the Mazda name has historically played in. If Mazda had decided to move ahead with its proposed Amati luxury brand back in the 1990’s I could certainly see this vehicle sold under that banner today as is.
However, as the traditional group of Japanese mass-market makers increasingly comes under pressure from the likes of VW, Hyundai, Kia etc., Mazda’s decision to try to move itself up a notch or two may be prescient. If nothing else, it presents an opportunity to acquire a very high quality and exquisitely manufactured vehicle at a (relatively) bargain price. And that, my friends, is the definition of a good value.
Thirty years later I don’t exactly know what ever happened to Tabitha, she probably graduated a couple of years later and went on to live a normal and hopefully happy life. For Mazda, I wish that things really work out and they (finally) make it big. They are simply too plucky and keep on trying to reinvent themselves with different interesting facets to their character to not finally break out and get the recognition (and market share) that they deserve.
Just as some supermodels have their day on the cover and are never heard from again and others remain in the limelight seemingly forever, hopefully Mazda keeps it going on. But Mazda, just please don’t forget the neighborhood you grew up in.
Thanks to Mazda for offering us this 2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature and a full tank of gas for a week, we appreciate it!
Pages: 1 2
I’m not currently looking for a new car, and don’t not expect to do so any time soon. If I was in the market, I probably wouldn’t be looking at 3 row CUVs or anything Japanese.
On the other hand, you have done an excellent job of showing the many qualities of this Mazda and I think it may actually be the most appealing vehicle you have reviewed, and it looks like for another $100, it comes in red.
Just as long as you’re not going to buy one or any CUV, or anything Japanese…or any new car for that matter.
Handsome inside and out. Mazda’s recent upmarket strategy is interesting, I hope it pans out for them.
This vehicle could work for my family for most situations. When looking at these larger 3-row crossovers, one first and foremost has to decide how important that third row is. Mazda, whether intentionally or due to unavoidable platform limitations, is betting that enough customers don’t need a minivan-like third row. Toyota has made the same bet with the Highlander for about 15 years now and that one seems to be selling at acceptable volumes.
We wouldn’t need a big third row I have two kids, so it would be for in-a-pinch uses to shuttle a few friends or the grandparents around town or to lunch (kids in back, grandparents in 2nd row, of course). The Pilot or that behemoth Atlas would be overkill. The rest of the time it would be a spacious station wagon and excellent long distance cruiser. With the turbo engine, near-luxury interior and noise control, and more carlike dynamics, it would be very well suited to nearly any road and condition, from hours of open slab interstate to curving mountain roads at elevation.
My one concern, and where they may have taken it a bit too far, is in the cargo volume behind the second row. Only 38 cubic feet. The same as a CR-V, only 7 more than their smaller cx-5, and 9 less than my 4Runner which is a full 9 inches shorter. That speaks to poor interior packaging. The Highlander has 48 cubic feet and is still 5 inches shorter than the CX-9. With reportedly improved driving dynamics and interior quality, and the stout Toyota V6 that provides similar acceleration and economy as the turbo CX-9, the Highlander erodes part of the Mazda’s advantages for me.
We’ve utitlized most of our 4R’s big cargo area on family road trips, the Mazda may be just a bit too small to swallow if I’m thinking of such a large vehicle.
Fantastic photography and review. It certainly is a great looking rig. It would certainly make the shopping list if I was in the market for that sort of vehicle. It will be interesting to see if people accept the premium pricing. Mazda is relatively more popular in Canada but mostly due to the 3.
What? No photos of the girl?
The last Japanese hold out against the detested CVT Mazda is gaining popularity my sister and BIL are currently looking at new cars again and have selected Mazda as maker of choice again their 6 has given minimal trouble in the time they’ve owned it so plan to stay with that brand, got to admit most of their stuff looks good and the odd one Ive driven was fine to drive.
Mazda has certainly covered the market spectrum over time. Of the three I have driven, one was a mid- to late 80s pickup and the other two were Miatas. Not much commonality with those and a CX-9.
As far as CUVs go, this one is on the more attractive end. However, as with all CUVs there are elements that look way too much like those of other brands offerings. Then again, I suppose one could argue such has existed to some degree for a long time.
Just so I don’t sound all pessimistic, the interior certainly exudes a certain degree of class that is very inviting. Good taste never goes out of style and this interior is tasteful.
Jim, it’s obvious you’ve enjoyed all of your testers although this one seems to have made more of an impression on you than others. That alone seems to signify an inherent goodness in these.
While shopping for a three row crossover back in the spring we did take a look at a couple of these. The front seats are a much nicer place to be then the competition. It’s also quieter and better styled but after that if falls flat. As mentioned it’s not class competitive for cargo or rear seat space. The 2nd row of a Honda pilot is stretch limo in comparison never mind the third row. The cargo space while not as awful as I assumed in pictures is pretty bad. It also falls short on utility with much lower available towing then the competition. The pilot highlander and durango (even in penta star guise) seem to pull harder engine wise.
Now if your say, grandparents and rarely need all those seats or cargo space it’s a hell of a car but for the primary buyers of 3 row vehicles I think it misses the mark.
It’s kind of a shame because Mazda is doing a lot of things right but it’s not helping their sales much. My parents have a CX-5 (their 2nd one and before that a 6) and they love it. I have driven it a couple times and agree enough that a used 6 will be on my next commuter short list. Funny thing my father mentioned a couple weeks ago. He dropped the CX-5 at the dealer about 2 blocks from my house, and asked the guy how the CX-5s were selling. The dealer GM told him he wished he could get more. The lot had plenty of mazda6 and mazda3 and a few CX9’s, but the dealer said they don;t sell well, stated a full 80% of his volume was CX-5 followed by CX-3 then CX-9 and mazda3 where tied.
The third row is on the small size as compared to similar sized vehicles. But the second row has no issues, there is plenty of legroom there. My picture shows it with the second row pushed as far back as it will go and the seat in front of it adjusted for myself. Car&Driver measures the first and second row legroom as virtually identical between the two but the third row as having more legroom in the Pilot. I haven’t myself been in a recent Pilot but found the Mazda to “feel” similar in the back two rows to the Highlander which I am very familiar with.
As far as driving dynamics go, the Mazda has the Highlander beat. Towing capacity is the same as the Pilot but behind the Highlander and Atlas for example.
In AWD form with dealer add-on transmission cooler the Pilot is rated for 5k lbs towing like the Highlander Ascent etc. At least up-to 2020 they still had that option.
I have a 2016 Pilot we ended up buying (EX-L) and my In-laws have a Highlander (platinum). The 2nd row in the Mazda and the Highlander do feel very similar but the Pilot feels roomier (maybe width has something to do with it? It looks like it’s 2″ wider in the specs) Honestly the Pilot feels like one of the roomiest 2nd rows I have ever sat in which is one of the reasons we got it.
On driving dynamics the Pilot has plenty of power but a bit of a letdown on handling compared to the Mazda. My wife and I actually agreed the Durango seemed to be the best one for actual driving, (quiet nice ride great handling) but again the sheer size of the interior in the Pilot won out, which as I mentioned is a big driver in this segment.
I like what Mazda did and if you don’t need the space I like the Mazda but I can see why it’s not a giant sales success.
That makes sense. I believe you are correct in the Pilot width aspect, it came up during the Highlander review as well (in relation to a Passport, the 2row Pilot derivative).
Mazda is one of the few that doesn’t have a 2-row in this segment anymore after the most recent set of restyles (which eliminated the CX-7) so perhaps they are trying to straddle both – so yes if the third row or the absolute space aren’t the biggest purchase drivers then it becomes more competitive.
Perhaps Mazda needs to dial things up with a CX-11…
Any buyer’s remorse? 🙂
It’s clearly the best strategy for Mazda. The market is strongest in the higher price ranges, a trend that’s not likely to change any time soon.
I wouldn’t want to be the pedestrian that gets hit with that blade-like protuberance above the grille though. I guess there’s ways around the pedestrian impact regulations, which have more to do with overall shape and deformity of the hood.
Such a comprehensive well written review! And what a stunning vehicle! No CX-9 in ZA, but every time I see a CX-3 or 5 I stop to admire it. I find the 3’s looks more challenging, and local sales aren’t great. It’s beautiful in a boy racer kind of way, but out of step with the sober Golf and Polo GTI’s that rule the looks department here..
A SIL bought one of the original CX-9s and it impressed me as a really nicely done car during the time she had it. Your review confirms some other things I have read about how Mazda is really turning out a nice product these days.
My one question, as a guy who chooses for the long haul, is whether Mazda has fiiiiinnnnaly done something about rust-resistance. Mazda has been the one outlier (at least up through the models of about 7-10 years ago) in terms of being more likely to suffer from body rust.
How does this line up with some of the higher-level Kias and Hyundais? I am sure the Mazda has a nicer interior but the Koreans have been gaining ground in my experience.
The interior in the Mazda is nicer once actually experienced and touched if the design speaks to you. However the Telluride and Palisade are styled more blocklike (as is the VW Atlas) which pays dividends in rear room. Once completely loaded up the pricing isn’t altogether different across the board. The differences are likely to be less tangible in less equipped models. I don’t see any downside personally to owning a H/K product but realize there are some out there that still do. I think this is partially driving Mazda’s decisions to step things up a bit, as a somewhat smaller player they need to differentiate themselves somewhat. Their recent moves to add awd to the sedans (available on the 3, discussed for the 6) in their lineups and make the engines more powerful speaks to that as well.
We don’t see much rust around here, so can’t comment on that. I get the sense (through reading various places) it’s been improving significantly over the last few years to a decade but others will likely weigh in with their own anecdotes.
I bought a new 2019 CX-9 after being turned off by the 48K price tag for a year-old CPE Acura MD-X. Other than (very) slight disappointment at the 2.5 turbo 4 over a proper 6, I’m very satisfied.
I approached this purchase as follows – in a perfect world, I’d own a pickup truck, a 2 -seat sports car, and a decent-sized sedan. In the real world, I wanted a vehicle that had some attributes of each that I would not hate driving everyday, wouldn’t break the bank and that is reliable. I think this vehicle does all that better than anything else I can think of. I appreciate the stretch – out room in the passenger compartment (I have never used the third row but it’s nice to know its there in a pinch), for a large CUV it’s a blast to drive and it averages 24 MPG after a little over a year of ownership. There’s plenty of cargo room with the second row folded (and if I’m lugging stuff I’m probably not driving with more than one other person). It’s also got looks that make you turn around for one more glance as you walk away.
Finally, after incentives and other discounts, I paid 35k before tax, etc. (I got the Touring model with the luxury touring package which got me most of what Jim writes about here). I challenge anyone to find a vehicle that fills so many roles so well, for near that amount.
Very balanced and accurate review, Jim. My daily driver is a 2019 CX-9 Touring in Machine Grey, purchased new to replace my former Subaru Outback. As a two-kid, one-dog household, I don’t need a third row daily but did want one for the occasional friend or grandparent who might join us. I also wanted something well built and fun to drive. After test driving competition from Ford (Explorer and Flex), Honda (Pilot), Kia (the then very new Telluride) and Toyota (4Runner and Highlander) the Mazda was far and away the best overall package for us.
We have really enjoyed the car so far over the past 18 months and nearly 15,000 miles. It is very comfortable on road trips and while less capacious than some of the competition, we have never found ourselves lacking for space. I appreciate that it is quite a bit more fun to drive than my old Outback, and that it isn’t lost in a sea of Traverses and Explorers here in Central Michigan. We previously owned a 2010 Mazda3 and the CX-9 carries a lot of similarities in terms of its driving character even though it is significantly bigger. The build quality is flawless and it feels and looks much more expensive than it is.
I’m happy to hear the audio interface has been updated, as that is the one area of mine that I find very unimpressive. The interface loads extremely slow and sometimes will not accept inputs for several minutes upon start and I have regular issues with SiriusXM connectivity. I’m hoping a software refresh will at some point improve my system. Otherwise, the controls are very intuitive and do keep your eyes on the road much more so than any other vehicle with a touch interface.
We just took our 2019 in (again) for similar issues and they updated to the latest firmware. Seems to have actually fixed it for a change. Not sure if this was a new fix that was not done before or if there is a new version but this is the longest it has gone without an issue (knock-on-wood)
Thank you for sharing that. I’ll have to contact our dealer and see if I can get a firmware update myself. It really is a perfect car otherwise and would be great to remove that constant irritant from my daily commute.
Mazda has been an overlooked gem for years, and I don’t understand why they don’t have more market share than they do. The cars look and feel much more expensive than they are and have excellent driving dynamics.
I put my money where my mouth is and replaced my Cadillac CTS with a new Mazda 6 and have been very pleased with the car. Bought a 2007 Mazda 3 hatch for my stepson this summer, and that little car is a blast to drive. Feels very solid with no squeaks or rattles, despite its age and 115,000 miles. I prefer sedans to crossovers, but when my wife wants to replace her 2012 Outback, we’ll check out the CX-5 and CX-30.
We’ve got a 2019 in soul red. It’s been a pleasant surprise. We were looking at CPO luxury SUV’s to replace our leased CX-5 but ended up in a CX-9 because of strong lease pull-ahead, loyalty and end-of-year specials that made it too good of a deal to pass-up. It’s just an excellent package that works. Recently it was in a fender-bender and we ended up with a 2020 Mercedes GLE350 rental. When we got the Mazda back I found I liked it better than the Benz. It had better low-end torque, handling, and features even though it cost $20k less. While I realize the third row is snug compared to a Highlander and Pilot, those are really minivan alternatives. The CX-9 works much better as a budget RX350 (two-row), X5 or GLE.
I was very impressed by the design and quality of the interior. The fit and finish look outstanding. I don’t look at new cars very much anymore. All cars have improved over the years. I bought a two year 2004 Acura TSX for my Son and I was bowled over by the beauty of the interior at the time. It was even better than the ’97 CL he had before. In light Palomino leather it was gorgeous and smelled great. It was even better than my ’94 Cadillac Seville. Last Summer I rented a new Grand Caravan for our trip to Oregon. The interior of my ’97 Town and Country LXI wasn’t as nice. The Caravan had a nice design and appeared to be of high quality, but it of course, could not compete with a high end Mazda like this. I think that a lot of the curmudgeons on the site, like myself, would be very surprised by how nice all types of new cars have become. They may be nice, but I just don’t want to spend the money. Thanks for the tour.
As usual, Jim, you’ve given us another thoughtful, informative review. With the usual stunning photography.
We’re very pleased with our 2015 Mazda 3, and I hope that Mazda’s recent shift in market strategy works for them. They seem to offer the most appealing vehicles to me at this time.
But…there’s a few things that significantly annoy me in our 3, and they seem to be present in this CX-9, even though it’s a completely different vehicle. First, those fat A-pillars are just as big an obstruction in our 3, and it’s a nuisance to have to consciously lean forward to look around them to see if the path is clear. Also, it’s too bad that this CX-9 still has the same HVAC mode button for airflow. You end up taking far too much time looking away from the road to achieve the correct airflow direction you want. That the icon is so tiny doesn’t help. It’s too bad, as I’d like a Mazda for our next vehicle – for my wife.
As for me, I think I’m destined to be another of those old guys in an old Toyota wagon type vehicle, like in Paul’s post a day or two ago.
Great review Jim. I’ve never driven one of these but they are fairly common on the streets of Tokyo. In this segment my favorites are the Volvo XC90 and the Audi Q7, but as you mention this CX-9 is just as nice and is priced thousands less.
Relatedly, I bought a set of Falkens to replace the factory Michelins on the C30 two years or so ago – they’ve been great; handle well and still have plenty of tread. I’ll likely buy another set.
This is a flawless review. I often help friends pick what their next car is. The Mazdas are always described as, “I KNOW you really want a BMW or Volvo but try the Mazda. The do. They’re impressed but something subtle always knocks it out of the running. It’s called snob appeal. I almost veered towards the CX-5 instead of our 2016 Volvo XC60. Honestly, the two reasons for me were no power folding side mirrors (as far as I can tell, they’re not on any Mazda) and the dealer experience. I love a loaner and Mazda doesn’t play that game. Otherwise, you’re a fool not to get one.
Jim, another thoughtful and comprehensive write-up! I sense you are an eighties music fan? I exclusively listen to 80s/90s: Smiths/Morrissey, Cure, Erasure, Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys, New Order, OMD (the list could go on and on).