Pros - Sporty looks. Roomy. Fast. Nimble. Fun to drive. Well- equipped. All-wheel drive
Cons - Tight third-row seat. Modest cargo area with third-row seats up. So-so fuel economy.
Bottom Line-Mazda's mid-size sport-utility is its flagship for good reasons.
One need not sacrifice driving fun with a sport-utility when Mazda's upscale CX-9 Signature is available.
Mazda emphasizes driving fun with the CX-9 because it provides strong acceleration, good handling and plenty of room, along with sporty styling.
There are no major changes for the 2021 CX-9 because its design was good to begin with and the latest generation model isn't that old. There are various CX-9 models, starting with the $33,960 front-drive Sport and end with the $46,605 Signature AWD model (Prices exclude a $1,100 delivery charge).
I tested the top-line CX-9 Signature AWD, which comes with standard all-wheel-drive and is absolutely packed with features.
The 2021 Signature's special items include a titanium gray metallic finish front grille, new 20-inch silver finish aluminum alloy wheels and larger chromed dual exhaust outlets. The interior has been upgraded with new quilting and piping, and there's patterned aluminum on the dashboard, door panels and handle bezels.
A new 10.25-inch center infotainment display is the largest to be put in a CX-9. It may take some time to figure out how to work the display, which is partly controlled by a prominent console knob, but it generally gets good marks. There are many small dashboard controls for such things as the three-way climate control system. My test CX-9 was Android Auto capable and had Apple CarPlay. The Bose AM/FM sound system with 12 speakers sounds good, and there also is a wireless phone charger, auxiliary jack and 6 USB inputs.
Then there's a push-button start, hands-free power rear hatch, power sunroof, heated and ventilated Nappa leather-trimmed power front seats and a tilt/telescopic wheel with audio and cruise controls.
The CX-9 seems to have every safety item in the book. They include a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning system, lane keep assist, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear parking sensors, advanced smart city brake support, radar cruise control with stop-and-go and a 360 degree view monitor. Front side-impact air bags and side air curtains help protect occupants.
The automatic-fold door mirrors always are appreciated in tight parking spots. Ever price the replacement cost for front side mirrors damaged by careless parking lot drivers?
A large console consumes a lot of front-seat space, but there was room in my test CS-9 for four tall adults because the second-row seat had two captain's chairs, preventing three-across seating, and the tight third row area is available for kids. It's fairly easy to reach because of a sliding second-row seat.
Cargo room beneath the smooth-acting power hatch is just adequate, but there's plenty of cargo space when the rear seats are folded forward. There's also a small, shallow storage area beneath the cargo compartment rug.
Power comes from a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It generates 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on 87-octane gasoline and 250 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque on 87-octane gas. I had no idea what brand of gas was in my test CX-9 Signature, but found it did quick 65-80 m.p.h. passing on highways. A driver can put the CX-9 in regular or "Sport" driving modes, but i did most testing in regular mode.
"Sport" allows a little quicker acceleration because it increases engine revs and tightens the steering a bit, but it really isn't necessary unless you're doing aggressive driving. It can't help fuel economy, which is an estimated so-so 29 miles per gallon in the city and 26 on highways.
The engine works with a responsive six-speed automatic transmission, which can be crisply shifted manually via steering wheel paddles.
Driving fun? The CX-9 handles much like a tied-down large car. The quick steering is precise in normal driving mode and works with an all-independent suspension, front/rear stabilizer bars, dynamic and stability traction control systems and, of course, the all-wheel drive system with G-Vectoring control.
Handling is nimble, but there's slight body sway when sweeping through high-speed expressway on-and-off ramps in either normal or "Sport" mode, but the somewhat firm ride is compliant in either mode. In short, "Sport" won't rattle your teeth. The brake pedal has a smooth, progressive action.
My test CX-9 Signature AWD had only one option- $550 Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint, which is a fitting color for such a sporty SUV.