Driving Fun in a Three-Row Crossover SUV
Story and photos by John Faulkner.
2021 Mazda CX-9 owners say things like “exceeds my expectations,” “I love it,” “it is one of the most beautiful cars on the road” and “super happy with my purchase.” When we drove it, we found this midsize crossover checks the boxes that put it in the premium class, but without the price.
Following their “Kodo–Soul of Motion” design language, Mazda says the CX-9 with its “fluid exterior lines gives an appearance of movement even while standing still.” Design cues include a long hood, laid-back windshield, short overhangs front and rear and a raked window with an integrated spoiler on the hands-free power lift gate. The narrow LED head, daytime running, fog and tail lights allowed the designers to take up as little real estate as possible, making for a sleek look. The redesigned grille with LED accent lighting is not overly large, but the Mazda badge is probably the largest on any in the company’s line-up.
Clean Fleet Report’s CX-9 Signature, painted in Snowflake White Pearl, had a color-keyed shark fin antenna and a power moonroof, with the dual, bright exhaust tips completing the graceful and attractive design.
The up-market interior on the CX-9 Signature has a luxury feel usually found in a premium crossover SUV. The Deep Chestnut color scheme with aluminum accents and Santos Rosewood trim was more elegant than expected. The dash layout is logical, simple and clean, with three round gauges (tachometer, speedometer and water temperature/fuel) with black faces and white letters were easy to read. The round automatic HVAC knobs were conveniently placed at the bottom of the center stack just above the leather-covered shifter.
The 10.25-inch horizontal color display, that is not a touchscreen, rises from the dashboard and is home to navigation and the Bose Centerpoint surround audio system. With 12 speakers, the sound quality is excellent for the AM/FM/MP3/AUX HD radio, SiriusXM, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Mazda Connect connectivity system includes Bluetooth, voice recognition, Aha, Pandora and Stitcher radio integration. The wireless phone charging was appreciated.
To manage the radio there is a wheel Mazda calls a Commander control on the center console. It’s designed to navigate the system with a smaller knob for volume control. We found the wheel cumbersome to use, requiring multiple steps to control usually simple functions. Mazda says its system is safer to use than one with a touchscreen or channel preset buttons, and that we should “give it three weeks” for it to become easy to use. We trust in time it will become a by-touch operation, but after a week we were still removing our eyes from the road to negotiate the system.
Convenience comes your way with remote keyless door locks, push button start/stop, power windows, rear view camera, carpeted floor mats, three-zone automatic HVAC, auto-dimming rear view mirror, tilt and telescopic steering column, rear door retractable window shades, rear seat climate controls, rain-sensing windshield wipers with a de-icer, folding power and heated side mirrors with turn indicators and an electronic parking brake. The Homelink radio frequency transmitter can be programmed to activate devices such as garage door openers, lighting, and gates and locks. An appreciated safety feature is the 360º View Monitor, that provides a bird’s eye view of the CX-9. The security this adds for the driver cannot be stressed enough.
Accommodating up-to six people with three rows of two seats, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 is comfortable for those in the first two rows, but it is best to reserve the 3rd row for children or those small of stature. The folding and sliding second row Captain’s Chairs provided a sufficient opening for third row access.
The third row, to be used for passengers only in the rarest of situations, will most likely be folded flat, which is a good thing. The limited storage behind the raised third row becomes a very useful space when that row is dropped. For even more space, the second row folds flat producing plenty of room for a run to the DIY store or maybe some antiquing.
The seats throughout the CX-9 Signature are trimmed in soft Nappa leather. The fronts and outboard second row seats are heated and quilted. The driver and passenger seats are ventilated, and have power adjustments with the driver also getting memory and lumbar. The seats were firm and comfortable, and the tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise and audio controls made a comfortable driver seating position easy to find. With the second row seats folding and sliding, and the third row splitting 50/50, there are multiple configurations providing flexible seating and cargo stowing options.
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is powered by a smooth and responsive turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing either 227 horsepower (hp) with 87 octane fuel or 250 hp running on 93 octane. The torque at 310 pound-feet is the same regardless of the fuel grade. The CX-9 is recommended to run on 87 octane, but spending a bit more on fuel may just unleash your fun side. Clean Fleet Report’s CX-9 was the all-wheel drive (AWD) model, front-wheel drive is standard. Regardless if two or four wheels are driving the CX-9, the six-speed automatic transmission, with manual shift and Sport mode, was smooth shifting.
The EPA rates the CX-9 AWD at 20 mpg city/26 highway/23 combined. In 235 miles driving through Southern California, we averaged 24.1 mpg. For 180 of those miles, on an all-freeway run with the radar cruise control set to 65 miles per hour, we averaged 28.9 mpg. This is respectable fuel economy for an AWD, 4,400-pound, six-passenger crossover.
Driving Experience: On the Road
Out on the road is where the case is made for owning a CX-9. The engine is quiet with no turbo lag, providing plenty of acceleration with zero-to-60 times in just over seven seconds. The ride was smooth, even on the grooved-concrete SoCal freeways. The handling, with accurate electric power steering, belied this was a large crossover. The firm independent front and rear suspension with front and rear stabilizer bars kept the body roll to a minimum when pushed hard around corners. The Falken ZIEX 255/50 touring all-season tires, were mounted on 20-inch alloy wheels, where the short sidewall and large wheel enhanced the CX-9’s looks. The tires provided good grip when pushed hard on sunny and dry Southern California roads.
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is equipped with G-Vectoring Control. This traction technology kicks-in when cornering, when on initial turn-in and throughout a corner, the system works by seamlessly adjusting power delivery, shifting vehicle weight front to rear and side-to-side. Mazda says G-Vectoring Control “Elevates your confidence and state of being through a heightened driving experience.” We agree. It was smooth and sweet to drive.
The 2021 CX-9 comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including front, side and air curtain airbags, a head-up display, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, dynamic stability control, traction control, a tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, rear parking sensors and an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 has been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and received 5 Stars, its highest safety rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the CX-9 its Top Safety Pick.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2021 Mazda CX-9 comes in five trim levels with these base prices, including the $1,100 delivery, processing and handling fee.
Carbon Edition $42,180
Grand Touring $43,040
Carbon Edition $44,080
Grand Touring $44,940
Clean Fleet Report’s CX-9 Signature AWD, with $395 in options and the $1,100 delivery fee, had a final MSRP of $48,100.
The 2021 CX-9 comes with these warranties:
Powertrain – Five years/60,000 miles
New Vehicle – Three years/36,000 miles
Roadside Assistance – Three years/36,000 miles
Observations: 2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
The 2021 CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s flagship midsize crossover SUV, has benefited in recent years from refinements and improvements. These include a retuned suspension for a smoother and quieter ride, resulting in a superb handling vehicle. The cabin has benefited from sound suppression through a thicker headliner and floor mats, making for a pleasant environment and comfortable riding experience.
The exterior style stands out, but it was the interior plushness that elicited a comment from a neighbor as “being delicious!” Okay, now we are getting to the sensual and emotional sides of what makes people think the CX-9 is a premium vehicle.
Go to your local Mazda dealer and see for yourself how the CX-9 has retained much of the old Mazda “Zoom Zoom” DNA. If you are looking for a driver’s midsize crossover, look no further.
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