2016 Mazda CX-9 Signature Review

Mazda's nicest model is an SUV that drives like a sporty car

Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief

Positives: As well-proportioned and as handsome as a Jaguar F-Pace if not more so, high-quality and luxurious interior, great steering and handling, drives like a sporty car instead of an SUV, upgraded screen and gauges and all controls are spot on.
Negatives: Front grille will get damaged before any bumper contact, may have passing issues at higher speeds with diminished horsepower, needs premium fuel to extract the most power, third row is cramped.
Bottom Line: One of the best three-row SUVs out there, bar none. It looks, drives and feels absolutely wonderful. Mazda nailed the new CX-9 like few automakers do their first version of a new generation. Near perfect.
Mazda has been rolling out one great car after another. The 3, 6, CX-5, CX-3, MX-5 Miata and now the CX-9. Doing up a three-row SUV isn't a high hurdle, but doing it incredibly well is a tall order. The Toyota Highlander and the Honda Pilot are the top sellers in this segment, and rightfully so. They're about as practical as they come with ample room for all. The CX-9 isn't as big as these two, but the driving experience is oodles more rewarding, as are the visual and tactile pleasures. You wouldn't mistake either the Honda or the Toyota as premium vehicles, whereas the CX-9 in Signature trim is as rich as it comes for the price, in terms of feel, drive, design and materials.

We had the privilege of driving one this summer, and we were hard-pressed to give it back. We won't hide our enthusiasm for the new CX-9, lest we run the risk of sounding like we work for the small Japanese automaker. Read our full review below.

Driving Experience



Okay, so no one who knows anything about current Mazda’s would suspect that the new CX-9 would be bad to drive. Hell, it’s been proven time and again that Mazda is primarily focused on creating cars that are fun to drive, no matter what segment they fall into. The 3, 6, CX-3, CX-5 and naturally the Miata are all great cars that drive incredibly well. Nevertheless, we’re still surprised by how good the CX-9 is to helm. It’s quick, drives smaller than it is and doesn’t cause the driver to regret not getting a sports car (well, not that much, anyway).

The choice of a 2.5-liter Dynamic Pressure Turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine for the CX-9 has to go up against naturally-aspirated six-cylinder versions from its competitors, a choice that made us shrug at first since the max ouptut is 227 horses. But then when we got behind the wheel, we found it willing and able despite the fact that we never drove the CX-9 with a full load of bodies and gear. For our daily needs, it was more than fast enough thanks to decreased weight and an overall lighter curb weight when compared to its competition.

Ride Quality: The right balance of sporty and smooth with good composure over bumps and expansion joints. Mazda doesn’t compromise driving dynamics nor do they make their vehicles overly cushy. Even with 20” wheels, it’s never a jarring ride. Just about right for us.

Acceleration: Whoever says there’s not enough power in the turbo mill is gravely mistaken. It’s plenty quick with great throttle response. Of course, we never really fully loaded the car with gear and passengers. The car shifts quickly and makes you want to drive it like a sporty car rather than a three-row SUV.

Braking: Strong brakes that have good pedal progression. The diminished weight certainly helps.

Steering: The electrically-assisted steering was excellent. Good feel and feedback, and you can place the CX-9 into corners with utter confidence. Great for something this big.

Handling: Minimal body roll and great balance. An SUV this large doesn’t deserve to take corners this well. Our only chagrin is the stability control system that can’t be shut off and tends to be a bit too intrusive when you want to get frisky with it.




As great as the infotainment systems and screens are in every other Mazda, it appears that they’ve upped the look and feel of things for the CX-9. The display screen is brighter and more vibrant, and the center instrument gauge is now a clear LCD screen that can display vital vehicle information. The big center touchscreen isn’t very reachable while driving, but you’ll end up using the excellent Audi MMI-like Mazda Connect control knobs between the seats, anyway. We like that Mazda has made their back/forward audio controls on the steering wheel vertical instead of horizontal, unlike the rest of their lineup.

We’re not sure why other competing carmakers have to make things so complicated and unattractive. Mazda has pretty much nailed the technology in the Signature, and there’s pretty much nothing

Infotainment System:The 8-inch touchscreen on the Signature is excellent. It has the look and feel of those found on the likes of BMW and Audi, and the screen seems brighter and crisper than on lesser Mazdas.

Controls: All controls on the CX-9 are well-thought-out and well-laid-out with easy access and great tactility, especially the Mazda Connect controls (main knob and surrounding buttons) that make system control a breeze. Virtually no one does it better, not even BMW.

Bluetooth Pairing: Just about the easiest pairing system we’ve seen. It’s quick and seamless.

Voice Call Quality: Mazda’s call quality is clear. Zero issues here.




We think the CX-9 is the best looking large crossover out there, even among the premium models that are way above the Mazda price ceiling of this CX-9 signature. It’s cohesive design is handsome from pretty much every angle, and it isn’t overstyled at all. Yes, better looking than the Lexus RX, the Audi Q7 and even the new Jaguar F-Pace. Mazda designers did a spectacular job of exercising restraint (aside from the large but very tasteful grille and the big chrome strip undergirding the fascia). One could even call the CX-9 sleek, and that’s without an overabundance of creases and angles. Everything just looks clean, and that goes for the interior, as well. The touch of Rosewood inside and the use of dark hued metallic surfaces is brilliant.

Front: Big and handsome without too much pomp and circumstance. The big grille protrudes a bit too much, making it a target for “park-by-feel” drivers. Few styling elements make for a truly attractive mug.

Rear: Mimics the Mazda6 in its use of slender taillights with a single round element and two spartan chrome strips to break up the visual height. Twin round exhaust pipes are just perfect.

Profile: This is how you do beautiful. No floating roof, no massive chrome elements, no dramatic creases. Just a handsome shape with thin pillars and small front and rear overhangs, all accentuated by a gorgeous metallic gray paint job. This one will age very well, indeed.

Cabin: Step inside, and you’d swear you in a car costing twenty-thousand more. It’s well-appointed with premium leather, expensive-looking and feeling materials, and some of the best ergonomics we’ve seen in a car. The door handles are meaty and so well-stitched, you’d swear you were in a Land Rover, but they’re better than that.




The new CX-9 feels about two generations ahead of its predecessor, and that applies to comfort, too. Aside from the somewhat cramped quarters in the third row and the second row bench that make third-row ingress and egress a bit harder than captain’s chairs (but not difficult, thanks to a second row that folds forward), the CX-9 is a superstar. Ample space for the first two row occupants makes for long-haul ease, and the very quiet cabin is a testament to the increased sound-deadening materials used -- acoustically laminated windshield and front windows, 53 pounds of muffling materials in the floor. Everything else about the cabin feels and looks premium.

Front Seats: Perfectly bolstered and well-cushioned. These seats are a notch below the Lexus RX and two below the Volvo XC90’s, but they are pretty much better than every other SUV’s front seats. They look amazing in Auburn Nappa leather that’s a rich red-brick hue we don’t see this well executed in cars far more pricey.

Rear Seats: Very comfy second row seats that move rearward (cramping the already somewhat cramped third-row occupants). The third row is really for kids and lacks leg and headroom, but no adults like to go back to the third row, anyway, right?

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): Very quiet, indeed. Freeway driving is fatigue-free thanks to the use of more quieting materials. No rattles or shakes to speak of. The car feels premium.

Visibility: Excellent forward and rearward visibility thanks to big glass and thin pillars.

Climate: Big climate control knobs make modulating easy while driving, and the system works very well, blasting plenty of cold air for hot summers. We just wish the CX-9 offered ventilated front seats like the Lexus RX and even the Hyundai Santa Fe Limited.




Though the CX-9 doesn’t have IIHS crash test ratings yet, it does offer plenty of safety features like blind-spot monitoring, radar-based cruise control, and lane-departure warning and correction. Stability control, rollover control, ABS and traction control are all standard on the CX-9, providing a solid base for the safety-minded.

Our only chagrin about the safety is the very intrusive and often abrupt collision warning system made available on top trim models that have the intelligent cruise control. It tends to jam the brakes so hard, you think you’ve hit something when you’re only travelling at very low speeds in traffic when you’re very close to another car in front of you. A bit annoying, even though you can control the sensitivity.

IIHS Rating: The CX-9 in its current form has not yet been tested by the IIHS.

Standard Tech: Our Signature top-tier model came with tire pressure monitoring system, dynamic stability control, Mazda radar cruise control, rear camera, trailer stability assist, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist

Optional Tech: The CX-9 Signature comes with all safety features standard. No optional equipment is available.




Suffice it to say that the CX-9 isn’t the biggest three-row SUV out there. But unless you have a big family that needs boku room, you’ll probably be more than happy with it. Storage cubbies are good but not huge, but most everything is well thought-out. We would’ve liked a more accessible area for our phones and keys, but these are small issues that don’t detract much from a pretty incredible interior as a whole.

Storage Space: The storage spaces within are ample, including a great split-top center armrest that’s deep and good door pockets. The cupholders are well-place just aft of the center console controls. We like the space of the cubby beneath the center stack, but it was a bit hard to reach into and hard to see with its dark plastic and lack of lighting.

Cargo Room: 14-cubic-feet of cargo behind the third row is smaller than most of the third-row competition, but the manually folding third row goes flat to make for 38 cubic feet. Fold both rear rows and you get an abundant 71 cubic feet, more than enough for a long road trip for two.

Fuel Economy



The lack of a V6 and the lighter weight of the CX-9 help give it great gas mileage for a vehicle this large. Though it could use more power at higher speeds, the move toward a turbocharged four (Dynamic Pressure Turbo gives it great low and midrange punch) is smart, given that Mazda studied SUV driver habits and found that most of them didn’t call upon power at the upper ranges as much as they did in traffic. All this thinking gives the CX-9 the best fuel economy numbers in its class.

Observed: 22 mpg combined.

Driving Factors: We didn’t see the highest numbers the CX-9 could attain based on 21/27 mpg EPA figures, but we drove it in Sport mode in local traffic with a mix of highway driving.




The CX-9 Signature’s 12-speaker BOSE audio system is one of the best we’ve seen. And it comes as no surprise since BOSE engineered this one specifically for the CX-9. It boasts a mid/high range speaker right in the middle of the dash with two more in the front corners, along with tweeters. Not only is the system plenty loud, the clarity is spectacular. Coupled with a very quiet interior, it’s a pleasure to listen to.

It's pretty hard to fathom that Mazda has created one of the best three-row SUVs on the planet, and it doesn't even come close to $50K fully-outfitted at its top trim level. Even in its base trim, the CX-9 is fantastic. It drives like something much smaller and has that classic Mazda driving experience that treats the driver as well as it does its occupants. Though it lacks some third-row functionality and a small amount of cargo space, the CX-9 is simply fantastic. Great to drive, great to look at and incredibly well-built, it's one of our favorite vehicles in a long time. There's almost no point in going upmarket to Lexus or BMW unless brand cache is one of your top priorities. The CX-9 drives like a dream and looks like one, too. Also note, Mazda is now among the top brands when it comes to reliability, too. So, what are you waiting for?
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