First Drive: Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

by Michael Satterfield | Photos by Mazda - 09/12/2022

It has been a few years since I took the CX-9 across Texas on a road trip, the Touring Premium trim level was nice, but Mazda's Signature trim level offers a standard of luxury rivals brands like Lexus and BWM. As Mazda's flagship SUV, the handsome, three-row SUV is often overlooked by customers shopping in this segment, I believe mainly due to the perception that Mazda only builds compact cars and SUVs.

That perception is understandable as the CX-9 is the largest vehicle built in company history and while it is built in Japan, it is only exported due to its size. But when most people think about an SUV with a third row the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, or one of the other dozens of vehicles in this crowded segment. 

Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Interior

Overall the CX-9 hasn't changed much since I did my road trip in 2018, but the Signature trim level elevates the entire vehicle to another level. The quilted leather on the bolsters, beautiful wood trim, and rich color pallet make the CX-9 feel like a scaled-down Bentley Bentayga. The quality and attention to detail are unmatched at this price point, and if you didn't have the Mazda logo on the steering wheel, I doubt anyone would guess you were driving a car from the company famous for the Miata. 

The standard Sport model with its black cloth seats and basic appoints is fine, but it doesn't offer the value of the Signature trim when comparing apples to apples. The interior only gets interesting with the Carbon Edition and Signature levels, but below that, it is hard to make the case that the Mazda interior is up to snuff. The base Sport model starts at $36,905 which is a few hundred more than the more spacious Kia Telluride LX AWD and just around $600 less than the Toyota Highland L AWD. The $49,430 Mazda CX-9 Signature offers a lot of value when compared to the Highlander Platinum and the Telluride SX Prestige and a higher level of fit and finish. 

Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Parked in Driveway

The CX-9 does fall flat when it comes to practicality, if you happen to only need an SUV to haul the family and make trips to the store, the CX-9 is a great choice. Since it only offers a 2.5-liter turbocharged engine with AWD the CX-9 isn't going to also tow your boat to the lake on the weekends. The towing capacity is limited to just 3,500 lbs, while most of the competitors can tow 5,000-5,500 lbs. Being less truck-like means the CX-9 offers a great ride and more sporty handling, but that does mean that you give up some other features. 

The CX-9 also doesn't offer a hybrid option and shockingly the 2.5-liter turbo gets the same gas mileage as the 3.8-liter V6 that can be found in the Kia Telluride and the 3.0 liter V6 turbo in the Ford Explorer. The Highland Hybrid offers the same 3,500 lb tow rating but delivers around 10 mpg more on the highway and 15 more around town. 

Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Driving through the forest

For me, the Mazda CX-9 Signature is a vehicle you buy simply because you love the interior, the styling, and the way it makes you feel when you drive it. The quilted leather, wood, and other luxury appointments make it a very nice vehicle to drive. Is it as pratical as the competition? No, but Mazda has always been a company that is more focused on that emotional connection between the car and driver, so if you are in the market for a three-row SUV, take the CX-9 Signature for a spin and see if you feel something.