2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review

Still the Best-Driving 3-Row SUV Around


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Makes you feel like you're driving a tall sports car, punchy engine, sporty and sumptuous interior is one of the best in the business, great new standard and optional equipment, excellent styling looks premium.
Negatives: Cramped third row isn't for adults, infotainment software could be better, meager 3,500 lb towing capacity.
Bottom Line: The CX-9 is one of those crossvers that gives you way more than you paid for. No one does interiors this nice except for maybe Hyundai's Palisade. The best aspect, however, is the way the CX-9 drives, which brings a smile to our faces every time we get behind the wheel.
Mazda designs and builds its vehicles to be driven by those who love driving. The fact that they've also made them stunning to look at and wonderful to sit in is icing on the cake. The CX-9 3-row crossover is now in its fifth year with not many signs of aging. For 2020, Mazda adds a suite of standard safety equipment and also adds numerous standard features depending on the trim level. Thankfully, 2nd-row Captain's chairs are standard on Grand Touring and Signature trim levels. Although you lose a passenger in terms of capacity, you do get an upgrade in comfort for those occupants. The CX-9 has always been a bit down on space for third-row passengers, and that's now more evident with the arrival of the Hyundai Palisade and the Kia Telluride. We drove the top trim Signature for a week to see how the biggest Mazda is holding up. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

9.4

 

Every time we get behind the wheel of the CX-9, we're astounded by how great it is to drive. It might not be the fastest, but that doesn't matter. Its combination of body control, steering, and balance makes it more fun to drive than every other three-row crossover out there.

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 provide great feel and progressiveness with no grabbiness. Braking distances are better than average.

Steering: Steering is taut and provides good effort and great precision. There's some feedback, but not as much as the small CX-5.

Handling: There's no 3-row crossover that's this nimble. Mazda’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system helps anticipate wheel spin and adjust power from front to rear when necessary.

Technology

8.8

 

There's nothing complex about the in-car tech in the CX-9, but that's a plus. The infotainment system may lack some graphic pizzazz, but it's simple in its operation, which is a boon for driving. Controls are excellent but not quite as good as Hyundai's.

Infotainment System:The CX-9 in higher trims now gets a bigger 9-inch touchscreen, but we wish the system graphics were better.

Controls: The control knob and buttons between the seats are as good as Audi's, and we like the ability to employ operations without having to touch the screen while driving. Buttons and knobs are all well-made and easy to use.

Styling

9.3

 

The styling of the second-generation CX-9 has held up remarkably well. We love the fact that Mazda doesn't overstyle their vehicles but imbues them with both elegance and sportiness. No other mainstream brand does it this well. The CX-9 is well-proportioned and attractive from pretty much every angle. Mazda gave it a premium look, unlike crossovers that cost way more.

Front: The most dramatic angle is the front with its large shield-shaped grille and tapering headlights. There hood extends over the top of the grille nicely, giving the CX-9 solid presence. On the downside, the big chrome element in the lower fascia seems a little out of place.

Rear: The attractive tail section is tastefully done, and the taillights mimic the round exhaust outlets well. The taillights could be larger, but they are at least handsome.

Profile: The CX-9 has nice proportions from front to rear and sporty lines without too much creasing. The double spoke dark chrome wheels look great, and the sporty lines make it look like a Jaguar F-Pace in some respects.

Cabin: Our tester's Parchment leather combined with the open pore matte rosewood looks and feels premium, indeed. The interior design is beautifully done, and material quality is top notch. It wouldn't look out of place on a car costing $20K more.

Comfort

8.9

 

The CX-9 has great seats in front and in the second row. The interior is aided by great materials and excellent ergonomics. Although competitors like the VW Atlas and the Kia Telluride offer more room, the CX-9's cabin is one of the best in terms of overall comfort.

Front Seats: We're not sure where Mazda sources its leather, but the seat leather is thick and soft. Bolstering and cushioning are great. We just wish the seatbacks were a little bit wider.

Rear Seats: The Captain's chairs are some of the best in the industry with great comfort and solid amounts of adjustability. The third row is too tight for tall adults, and regular-sized ones won't want to spend a lot of time back there.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The CX-9 does a masterful job here, and it's largely because Mazda has increased the sound dampening inside. At highway speeds, it's quiet and composed, almost Lexus-like.

Visibility: The CX-9 has great visibility with large glass areas and thin pillars.

Climate: The system works very well, providing good heat and cooling. The CX-9's heated seats in front and back make everyone happy in Chicago winters, and the ventilated seats in the Signature work well, too.

Safety

9.3

 

Mazda has improved the CX-9's safety in a big way, to the point that it nabs the top spot for crash testing and safety ratings. This is no small achievement, especially since testing criteria are more rigorous this year.

IIHS Rating: The CX-9 received the Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS for the 2020 model year, scoring "good" in all crash tests .

NHTSA Rating: Five stars from the federal government.

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

7.9

 

If you're looking to load a ton of stuff in the CX-9, it's not a the front of the pack in the segment. Small storage space, however, is very good.

Storage Space: The handy split-top center armrest is well-sized and convenient to use since it's side-hinged instead of rear-hinged. Door pockets are also big and accommodating.

Cargo Room: 14-cubic-feet of cargo behind the third row isn't massive, only good for a few grocery bags. 38 cubes behind row two are good for the CX-9's size. A full 71 cubic feet with the seats folded flat are respectable but not as big as the new Ford Explorers 87.8.

Fuel Economy

8.6

 

The turbo four strikes a nice balance between grunt and fuel economy. 26 mpg combined with all-wheel drive. We missed the EPA numbers driving in the overly aggressive Sport mode on suburban roads. Having driven the CX-9 last year, we can attest to the fact that it can do much better than this in combined environments.

Observed: 19.8 mpg on local roads, entirely.

Audio

9.3

 

The CX-9 Signature’s 12-speaker BOSE premium system is one of the better systems in the industry, and it comes standard on the Signature. The bass is strong without any distortion, and sound is crisp and clear.



If you don't need tons of cargo space and an adult-sized third row, you can't do much better than the CX-9. So many families buy three-row crossovers without ever sticking adults way in the back for anything longer than a quick trip, so why not get a crossover that's actually not just good, but great, to drive and one with styling and materials that are hard to beat. We think the CX-9 beautiful, agile, fun, and really easy to use. It's one of the best in the segment if you can get past the third row interior dimensions and the lack of a V6 engine option.

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