2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature new car reviews

Yes, the sticker says that the CX-9 is powered by a turbocharged inline-four good for 227 horsepower and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, but, looking through the spec sheet, Mazda says that you can get up to 250 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. of torque if go for the 93 octane instead of the 87.

What does that mean for overall performance? There is a chance that the bump in power may go unnoticed, but it's certainly good to know that you have the option if you want it—even if it's more akin to telling your friends your gross income instead of your net income.

What else is there to know about the CX-9? Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional on all but the top Signature trim, which is only available in all-wheel drive.

Maximum cargo volume is around 38 cubic feet of space with the second and third rows folded down, but if you need to use every seat, you'll have a little over 14 cubic feet to work with behind the third row.

To learn what it's like to drive, keep reading below.

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J.G. Pasterjak JG Pasterjak
Production/Art Director

My wife drives a 2016 Mazda CX-5, which I long considered to be one of the finest small crossovers, or sport-utes, or tall wagons, or whatever the heck we’re calling these things these days. It just so happened we were on a trip together one time, picked up a CX-5 out of the press fleet when we arrived at our destination, and within 5 miles I told her that was going to be the next car she bought. Of course, I couldn’t let her drive it because of press car rules, but maybe she snuck behind the wheel when I wasn’t looking and sat in the driver’s seat and realized I was right.

Anyway, the CX-5 had the right combo of size, driver engagement, practicality, features and price, and it was a pretty easy decision.

Now the CX-9 shows up in my driveway, and while I’m not going to tell her to go car shopping again, I am reminded of that same excited feeling that I got when I first drove the CX-5. The CX-9 is proof that SUVs don’t have to be boring.

In a lot of ways, the CX-9 is kind of more than the sum of its parts. Competing in a strata of mid-$40k to mid-$50k premium SUVs, the CX-9 is up against some stiff competition from Lexus, Infiniti, and even BMW and Mercedes. With only 227hp on tap, you’d think the CX-9 would be the odd duck in that premium segment, but the entire experience of the vehicle is equally as high end as any of its competitors (except for one nearly fatal flaw, which I'll discuss in a minute).

Although the CX-9 is roomy and spacious on the inside—the third row of seats isn’t exactly luxurious, but it’s also not a complete penalty box—it drives like a far more compact vehicle. That’s not to say it feels small or vulnerable, just that the excellent driving dynamics give you a good sense of where the car sits on the road, and mostly excellent vision and sightlines help in that regard as well.

Feature-wise, the Signature edition Mazdas are pretty much loaded with anything you could imagine, and while Mazda’s driver control interface can be a little cumbersome with some of its menus, it’s far from the worst interface out there. I’m still loving Mazda’s commitment to solid, tactile buttons and dials for many of the primary controls, and I’ll gladly sacrifice the dash real estate for buttons if it saves me some menu diving on a touchscreen for my most-used switches.

But there’s one nearly unforgivable flaw in the CX-9, that I’ve actually found myself walking out to the car to double and triple check to see if I really experienced it or just had a Pepsi Max-induced hallucination. But, no, it’s real. At night, the screen from the driver information center reflects perfectly in the windshield. There’s basically a second, inverted version of the DIC screen right above the main screen, hovering in the middle of the windshield like some system-crashed HUD. It’s kind of unforgivable and makes me wonder if they just forgot to test the thing at night.

Until sundown, however, the CX-9 is a full-size utility wagon worthy of the Mazda badge which feels for all the world like it outperforms its specs. Our test car stickered at $47,855, which puts it under competitors from the other major brands and gives you enough change to build a little cardboard shade for the info screen.

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Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/1/20 10:36 p.m.

When it came out the CX-9 was the best looking Mazda SUV. Now it just seems like a bloated CX5 that's not differentiated enough in its proportions to look like either a 3-row or a higher rung product. Visually the exterior doesn't work for me. Interior looks good.

Robbie (Forum Supporter)
Robbie (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/1/20 10:43 p.m.

In reply to Vigo (Forum Supporter) :

I think if it were going off some jumps in the press photos that would help

Vajingo
Vajingo New Reader
8/2/20 9:52 p.m.

I agree, cx3, cx5, and end it there. If doing a cx9 it needs to be a bigger engine. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
8/3/20 8:11 a.m.

I'm still enjoying our 2019 CX-9.  For me, it was another minivan or something with nearly as much carrying capacity.  Miniature vehicles like the RAV4 or CX-5 were never under consideration.  The CX-9 drives like nothing in its class.  Very nicely controlled ride with not a lot of body roll in corners.  The turbo 4 makes crazy torque, to the point where wheelspin from a standing start with the FWD version is silly easy.  A bigger engine?  Why?  Easily the quickest vehicle I've ever daily'ed.  I'm getting almost 27 mpg in mostly highway driving.  Yes, it looks like virtually every other large SUV on the road today, but for me, it's how it drives, not how it looks, and the CX-9 drives very well.  Highly recommended.

accordionfolder
accordionfolder Dork
8/3/20 8:13 a.m.

You've not driven or ridden in a cx-9 if you think the cx-5 is a good replacement. I've owned a 2017 cx-5 AWD and traded it for the 2018 CX-9 AWD. It's a fantastic car, and a great tow machine ;) I also dusted a Challenger with a blacked out hood and blacked out fenders that tried to tailgate me through some twisties in it just the other day, very fun to drive for a seven seater.

There's a reason they're selling well in the US.

https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/why-is-mazdas-cx-9-suv-suddenly-selling-like-purell-11594397716

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
8/3/20 8:17 a.m.
1988RedT2 said:

I'm still enjoying our 2019 CX-9.  For me, it was another minivan or something with nearly as much carrying capacity.  Miniature vehicles like the RAV4 or CX-5 were never under consideration.  The CX-9 drives like nothing in its class.  Very nicely controlled ride with not a lot of body roll in corners.  The turbo 4 makes crazy torque, to the point where wheelspin from a standing start with the FWD version is silly easy.  A bigger engine?  Why?  Easily the quickest vehicle I've ever daily'ed.  I'm getting almost 27 mpg in mostly highway driving.  Yes, it looks like virtually every other large SUV on the road today, but for me, it's how it drives, not how it looks, and the CX-9 drives very well.  Highly recommended.

3500 lb rated tow capacity won't tow even a modest travel trailer with much margin. That's why we won't be looking at one next year to replace the Mazda 3. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
8/3/20 8:55 a.m.
z31maniac said:
1988RedT2 said:

I'm still enjoying our 2019 CX-9.  For me, it was another minivan or something with nearly as much carrying capacity.  Miniature vehicles like the RAV4 or CX-5 were never under consideration.  The CX-9 drives like nothing in its class.  Very nicely controlled ride with not a lot of body roll in corners.  The turbo 4 makes crazy torque, to the point where wheelspin from a standing start with the FWD version is silly easy.  A bigger engine?  Why?  Easily the quickest vehicle I've ever daily'ed.  I'm getting almost 27 mpg in mostly highway driving.  Yes, it looks like virtually every other large SUV on the road today, but for me, it's how it drives, not how it looks, and the CX-9 drives very well.  Highly recommended.

3500 lb rated tow capacity won't tow even a modest travel trailer with much margin. That's why we won't be looking at one next year to replace the Mazda 3. 

Understood, but I still maintain that Mazda got the CX-9 right.  I have a tow pig.  I don't tow frequently.  I don't want my primary vehicle to be compromised in the areas of comfort and fuel economy in order to accommodate the rare need to tow.

Vigo (Forum Supporter)
Vigo (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
8/3/20 9:31 a.m.

Good to hear it's a great drive. I've been impressed with a lot of things Mazda has done in the last 5 years or so, but their current design language works a lot better on some things than others. It looks ok here but it also looks like they're trying to hide a 3-row inside a 2-row. I mean, when manufacturers started disguising their minivans as 3-row crossovers i was semi ok with it as long as the new look was bringing something and the 3rd row was... dignified. There are lots of really good looking well proportioned 3-rows with acceptable 3rd row room. This design looks like it's trying to disguise its utility, like it needs to be hidden or downplayed to be attractive and until we break physics there are going to be side-effects of that.

I just bought a 73 full size wagon that has rear quarter windows at least 4 feet long. I'm not suggesting modern design should emulate it in very many ways, but you know what you see when you're sitting in the 3rd row? EVERYTHING. I dont think i could fit my head through the CX-9 quarter glass.  I'm just bothered by 3-row designs that seem like 'compliance' efforts. 

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 MegaDork
8/3/20 9:42 a.m.

In reply to Vigo (Forum Supporter) :

I don't disagree with your points.  For us, the room was sufficient, and the CX-9 had enough good things going for it for us to overlook the limitations of the third row.  We don't use it often, but it's there if we need it.

Edit:  I mean, people justify cramming their family into 2-door coupes.  This is surely no worse than that.  Instead of shoving 4 people into a 2-door car, you're shoving 6 (or 7) people into a 4-door car. laugh

z31maniac
z31maniac MegaDork
8/3/20 9:43 a.m.
1988RedT2 said:
z31maniac said:
1988RedT2 said:

I'm still enjoying our 2019 CX-9.  For me, it was another minivan or something with nearly as much carrying capacity.  Miniature vehicles like the RAV4 or CX-5 were never under consideration.  The CX-9 drives like nothing in its class.  Very nicely controlled ride with not a lot of body roll in corners.  The turbo 4 makes crazy torque, to the point where wheelspin from a standing start with the FWD version is silly easy.  A bigger engine?  Why?  Easily the quickest vehicle I've ever daily'ed.  I'm getting almost 27 mpg in mostly highway driving.  Yes, it looks like virtually every other large SUV on the road today, but for me, it's how it drives, not how it looks, and the CX-9 drives very well.  Highly recommended.

3500 lb rated tow capacity won't tow even a modest travel trailer with much margin. That's why we won't be looking at one next year to replace the Mazda 3. 

Understood, but I still maintain that Mazda got the CX-9 right.  I have a tow pig.  I don't tow frequently.  I don't want my primary vehicle to be compromised in the areas of comfort and fuel economy in order to accommodate the rare need to tow.

Yeah, I realize it's a very specific set of things we are going to try to accomplish with one vehicle. 

Not a full-size, able to tow a small travel trailer (we are looking at ones in the 2500lb range empty) with a nice margin, be able to tow a car trailer/Miata here in the Plains occasionally without it being a white-knuckle affair, and still a relatively nice place to spend time since my girlfriend will be using it as her DD.

Without dropping $50k large on a loaded Explorer/4Runner or something.

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