2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Review by David Colman +VIDEO
Sometimes you want all the bells and whistles
By David Colman
Special Correspondent to THE AUTO CHANNEL
You can become a CX-9 owner for just $35,750. That amount will put you in a Touring version powered by the same 2.5 liter turbo engine found in our tested $46,605 CX-9 Signature model. So why would you opt to spend more than $10,000 extra for the CX-9 Signature? Because the Signature model is so well equipped and so artfully constructed that it looks and feels like it costs $10,000 more than it actually does. Just look at the new inclusions for 2021. The Signature interior is decked out in tasteful Nappa leather everywhere you look. This Deep Chestnut hide is soft, supple and handsome, with seat heating and ventilation for both front row occupants. New quilting and piping patterns lend the first and second row seats a sophisticated appearance that is augmented by real wood dash and door surfaces. Newly patterned real aluminum trim adds zing. Harmony is the byword that describes this handcrafted environment. The Signature model eliminates the second row bench seat that is standard across the rest of the CX-9 model line. This reduces passenger carry from 7 to 6. Bear in mind that due to the size limitation of the third row bench, 2 of those 6 positions should be reserved for small children.
In addition to the interior upgrade, the Signature supplants the Touring's front wheel drive with Mazda's "i-ACTIF" all-wheel-drive. While this substitution slightly increases fuel consumption, the CX-9 Signature still records 23MPG in overall driving thanks to the efficiency of its "Skyactive" inline 4, which is turbocharged to produce 250hp at 5000rpm, and 350lb.-ft. of torque at just 2500rpm on premium fuel. The alloy block, alloy head engine drives all four 20 inch diameter wheels through a 6-speed automatic transmission equipped with manual-shift and Sport Mode options. In daily driving, the 2.5 liter turbo 4 punches above its weight class, providing such creamy acceleration you almost never need to resort to manual gear paddle manipulation for added boost. You're excused if you conclude the CX-9 has a beefy V6 hiding under the hood.
Those model specific standard alloy rims are shod with all season Bridgestone Ecopia HL 422 radials (255/50R20) which do an admirable job of gluing the CX-9 to the pavement in any weather. Also contributing notable stability to the package is Mazda's sporting suspension design: independent all around, with MacPherson struts up front, multilinks out back, and stabilizer bars at both ends. Since it only takes 3.1 turns to move the steering wheel from lock-to-lock, this 4,409lb. SUV is more agile than it looks. While it will never keep a Mazda Miata in sight on a twisty road, it will never lag far behind either. Mazda has imbued the CX-9 Signature with the same "G-Vectoring control plus" technology that also energizes the responsive handling of its sportier offerings like the Miata, Mazda3, and Mazda6.
In addition to its technical aptitude, the Signature line has a few added tweaks for 2021, including an understated titanium metallic grill surround, a 10.25inch color dash center display, and a pristine new exterior shade called "Snowflake White Pearl" which added $395 to the bottom line as our tester's only extra cost option. While the central display screen visually dominates the dashboard, we found using it with ease to be perplexing. The Mazda infotainment system depends on intimate familiarity for ease of operation. Every time we confront this system on a short term basis, we find the logic of its programming to be evasive. Thankfully, Mazda has splayed a few buttons across the dash and atop the center console which control audio volume, air temperature and the like. But operating the single large control knob located between the seats requires you to take your eyes off the road. Such eye-evasive action is never a good idea while driving and is a common weak point in all Mazda products. Perhaps a few months of familiarization would eliminate this objection, but short test stints behind the wheel leave me repeatedly baffled.
If you're looking for an SUV with more than a modicum of sporting blood, then give the latest Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD a hard look. If you don't need all the bells and whistles of the top line Signature model, then check out the less expensive new Carbon model which retails for $41,080 and still offers all wheel drive and many of the same comfort extras that endeared us to the CX-9 Signature.
2021 MAZDA CX-9 SIGNATURE AWD
ENGINE: 2.5 liter inline 4, Skyactive Turbo, DOHC, VVT
FUEL CONSUMPTION: 20MPG City/26MPG Highway
PRICE AS TESTED: $48,100
HYPES: Artistic Interior, Solid Performer
GRIPES: Tiny Side Buttons on Keyless Entry Fob
STAR RATING: 9 Stars out of 10