2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review

The sports car of the 3-row crossover world


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Best driving three-row crossover by far, premium interior styling and materials are truly luxurious, excellent exterior styling, plethora of high-end standard features.
Negatives: Third row is tight for adults, could use more mid-range power, infotainment system is starting to show its age, cargo space is smaller than the competition.
Bottom Line: The CX-9 might not be huge inside, but if you want a great-driving, athletic, and luxurious ride, you can't do much better for the money. The CX-9 is a great value regardless of trim level, and it has some of the best styling inside and out.
Mazda keeps improving on its winning three-row crossover formula. Though it hasn't gained any size, Mazda has given it more inside in terms of tech, driving improvement features, and comfort. The CX-9 has always been one of our favorites in terms of driving fun, overall style, and bang for your buck. Now, the top trim Signature gets the full beans treatment and tops out at just over $46K, all in. We drove the Signature for a week to see if we would be just as enamored of it as we were when we last took it out for a spin. Read on for the full details.
 

Driving Experience

9.1

 

The CX-9 drives much smaller than it actually is. Thanks to great chassis, a punch turbo four engine, and great steering, the CX-9 is a pleasure to drive.

Ride Quality: The ride is comfortable but sporty. It's smooth over just about every surface but still provides connection to the road. At no point did the ride feel too firm or overly plush.

Acceleration: 0-60 from the turbo four arrives in about 7 seconds, which is pretty quick for the segment. The throttle response is very good with minimal turbo lag and great upshifts and downshifts from the automatic transmission. Sport mode is a bit aggressive in normal driving situations.

Braking: The CX-9's brakes are strong and progressive with great pedal feel.

Steering: The electrically-assisted steering is excellent, though it could use a bit more feedback. Turn in is quick and on center at highway speeds. It responds very well to inputs and manages to make the CX-9 feel like a big sports car.

Handling: The CX-9 corners very flat and keeps its body in check with aplomb. It feels planted and secure in the curves far better than just about everyone in this segment.

Technology

8.7

 

Though we like the simplicity and ease of use with the Mazda infotainment system, it's starting to show its age in terms of aesthetics. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard on Touring, Grand Touring, and Signature trim levels. It's about time.

Infotainment System:The 8-inch touchscreen on the CX-9 is easy to read and use. It just doesn't look as good as systems found in the Dodge Durango or the Volkswagen Atlas. It is, however, much better than the current Toyota Highlander.

Controls: We love the infotainment controls on the center console. The main control knob between the seats actuates smoothly and accurately, which we love. It doesn't matter that the touchscreen doesn't work while you're moving because this is a much better way of controlling menus.

Styling

9.5

 

In addition to a great driving experience, the CX-9 shines in terms of its looks both inside and out. Mazda is probably the best in the mainstream, non-premium auto industry in terms of styling. You won't find a better looking three-row crossover for the price.

Front: The front end is prominent without overdoing it. The five-bar shield-shaped grille is upscale and attractive, but we'd like to see the option for dark mesh like the CX-5. The thin LED headlights look great, as does the nose that protrudes just the right amount for visual drama.

Rear: Some might say the rear fascia is too simple, but we love it. The round LED elements in the taillights match the round tailpipes perfectly, and we like the simple brushed chrome bar that mates the taillights. It's not at all overdone.

Profile: The CX-9 is very well proportioned with thin pillars and just the right amount of front and rear overhang. In white paint with the dark alloy wheels, the CX-9 looks like a premium vehicle.

Cabin: This is the top end in terms of the CX-9's interior with Auburn leather and open pore matte rosewood that's better than anything else in its class. The dash is elegant, and we love the new gauge cluster with its central digital display that looks classic analog.

Comfort

9

 

The CX-9 has some of the best front seats we've come across. And though the second and third rows could use a bit more space, the seats are great. It's also quiet at highway speeds and benefits from ventilated seats.

Front Seats: The seats have the right balance of bolstering and cushioning, and the Auburn leather is buttery soft, one of the better hides we've come across.

Rear Seats: We'd love to see captain's chairs back here, but the seats are comfortable. The third row is cramped and only good for kids, unfortunately.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The cabin is quiet even at high speeds, and the build quality is excellent. We didn't hear any creaks or any errant noise in the premium cabin.

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

Climate: Big climate control knobs make controllling the system easy while driving. With both heated and ventilated seats, the CX-9 Signature is truly comfy year round.

Safety

8.8

 

The CX-9 performed admirably in crash tests. It also now has a great set of standard and optional safety features that move it to the front of the pack in the segment. Signature trim gets everything standard, which is great for the price.

IIHS Rating: The CX-9 scored a Top Safety Pick by nailing all the crash tests with "good" in every category. It only missed the Top Safety Pick+ score due to its "acceptable" score for headlights and LATCH.

NHTSA Rating: The feds gave the 2019 CX-9 five stars in crash tests.

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, a 360 camera, Smart Brake Support, Smart City Brake Support, and lane keep assist.

Optional Tech: None.

Storage/Cargo

8

 

There are larger, more capacious three-row crossovers out there. The CX-9 lags behind the VW Atlas and the Toyota Highlander in terms of interior space, but it's still decent for families when it comes to gear hauling and small item storage.

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-placed 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

9.2

 

The turbo four is quick and efficient, a great combo. The CX-9 does very well for its size with 26 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. We missed the EPA numbers largely because of aggressive driving in Sport mode.

Observed: 23.8 mpg combined.

Audio

9.3

 

The CX-9 Signature’s 12-speaker BOSE premium system comes standard in this trim, and it's a great system with powerful sound and great clarity. We'd pay for an upgrade like this, but Mazda throws it in.



Mazda is building some of the best vehicles around in terms of quality, design, and driving fun. We can't think of another mainstream brand that's infusing its cars, from its cheapest (the new Mazda3) to the priciest (our CX-9 Signature). Though a sporty-driving crossover isn't everyone's cup of tea (Americans like big and cushy), we love the CX-9 for being different but also catering to those who want a premium look and feel without the insane price. Those who want decent space, good tech, great styling, and incredible driving fun for a three-row crossover should look no further.
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