You may not have noticed this, but mainstream brands are becoming much more luxurious these days. The 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature I recently drove is a case in point. I happened to experience it first at night, opening the door to a tailored brown leather interior bathed in gentle accent lighting. Abundant semi-gloss aluminum trim swooped gracefully around the cabin, complementing the lustrous rosewood-trimmed centre console. Sharp, white numerals stood out from the deep black faces of the instruments and a bright, green light directed my finger straight to the “start” button.
Once the engine came to life, a head-up display coolly hovered in the distance, its numerals likewise sharp and clear. On the road, dynamic LED headlights followed my turns, wrapping themselves around corners to maximize visibility as the CX-9 quietly and smoothly explored the suburban night.
Okay, the CX-9’s not an Audi or a Benz — it obviously lacks the imprimatur of a German luxury brand — but if this wasn’t established five-star luxury it was certainly boutique four-and-a-half. What it lacks in brand identity it arguably makes up for with a cheeky abundance of features, quality and tasteful design. At $53,695 including freight, some will consider it a comparative bargain (the “base” version starts at $36,700).
2019 is something of a model refresh year for the Mazda CX-9. It’s not hugely different from last year’s CX-9, but some running changes have been made. My observations above that it’s noticeably quiet and smooth are supported by this year’s suspension and steering tweaks along with enhanced sound insulation and noise absorption. It also gets available surround-view camera, ventilated front seats, automatic door mirror retraction, and Apple CarPlay/Android-Auto/XM Traffic support.
The list of standard features for the Signature model tested is… let’s put it this way… impressive (I’ve listed them below).
The CX-9 is officially described as a seven-passenger mid-size SUV. But when I say it’s mid-size, that’s only because there are larger SUVs available, like the Chevrolet Suburban, Nissan Armada or Toyota Sequoia as favoured by American buyers. If you asked average Canadians, they’d surely describe a midsize SUV like the CX-9 as large.
It doesn’t feel like it to drive, though. Nimble and responsive, it’s easy to get in and out of, and as familiar as a car on the road. Of course, you get the “command” seating of an SUV and you get lots of interior room (over 1,000 litres with the third row folded; over 2,000L with second and third rows folded. Still, it can be a handful backing into a shopping centre parking spot (the 360-degree camera is a big help).
The Signature version is an all-wheel drive vehicle running on 20-inch tires. It weighs 1,987 kilograms (4,371 pounds) and tows 1,588kg (3,500lbs), when equipped with a $534 hitch kit. Fuel consumption is rated at 11.6 L/100km city and 9.1 L/100km highway. I got a bit better than that.
Motive power is 2.5-Litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine making 250 horsepower at 5,000 rpm and a formidable 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm when using premium grade fuel, according to Mazda. However, regular grade fuel, which Mazda puzzlingly indicates that the CX-9 requires, will lower output to 227 hp. Hmmm.
Either way, put your foot down and the CX-9 responds with surprising urge, and while cruising on the highway it delivers a stable and relaxing ride. A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission with Sport mode manages the ups and downs, but if you have a large family and you’re planning to tow a trailer, maybe bring a bunch of friends and test drive the CX-9 in hilly terrain to add some weight and challenge. When serious work is required, the big torque should give you the grunt you need.
In daily driving you should find the Mazda Connect HMI interface easy to use. It combines voice activation, touch screen and a centre-mounted rotary control to manage your navigation, entertainment and climate. The steering wheel is heatable, seats are heated and ventilated, dual zone climate control works well and the seats offer excellent support and comfort. It’s roomy inside. I liked the radar cruise-control; it works well.
Mazda’s done a fine job building a vehicle that – for me – is large, but “drives small.” Personally, though, I don’t need a seven-passenger SUV and if I was going to look at Mazda, I’d go for the smaller CX-5. But the third row will be required by some, and I can confirm that getting into and out of that seat is easily accomplished. I wouldn’t want to sit there for long, however.
CX-9 does feature a sunroof, but it’s small. Lets a bit of light in, but doesn’t give you that panoramic experience found on many SUVs. The navigation system’s voice activation works very well, but the instructions it gives are muddy and sometimes difficult to hear. Not sure what that’s all about! Maybe it could use a self-parking utility, I was thinking while cruising for a parallel parking spot… Other than that, complaints are few. I don’t need a large midsize vehicle like this, but you may. If so, the 2019 Mazda CX-9 is worth a look.
Standard features: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature includes: SKYACTIV-G 2.5 T (4-cylinder with Dynamic Pressure Turbo), SKYACTIV-Drive 6- speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode and Drive Selection switch, G-Vectoring Control (GVC), i-ACTIV AWD, 20″ alloy wheels, Smart City Brake Support, Advanced Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop-and-go, High Beam Control, Lane Keep Assist, Lane Departure Warning System, windshield-projected colour Active Driving Display, 360 View Monitor, 8″ colour touchscreen display with Mazda Connect, HMI Commander, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, SiriusXM Travel Link data services, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats (outboard only), LED headlights with signature lighting, signature grille illumination, power liftgate, front wiper de-icer, navigation system, Nappa leather upholstery with premium stitching detail, wood-trimmed centre console panel and door switch panel, LED interior lighting, frameless rearview mirror
Options (Machine Grey Metallic paint): $300
Price as tested: $53,695