2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD - Is this the right-size SUV for you?


Mazda used to make a full range of sedans, a cool sports car, and a pickup truck. Their tag line was 'Zoom Zoom.' Now like so many auto companies Mazda is a SUV or Crossover company. There are five SUVs (counting an electric), two versions of the Mazda 3 (a sedan and a hatchback), and two MX-5 Miatas. I recently drove the Mazda CX-9, the largest Mazda SUV.

Large in Mazda-speak is not Suburban huge but for Mazda it is big. It is 199.4" long (a Suburban is over two feet longer), and it weighs 4,409 lbs. Like I said, it's not humungous but put it next to a Miata for comparison and it seems huge.

There are basically two types of SUVs, those based on a car platform, and those based on a truck platform. I prefer the car based ones like the CX-9, they are usually much easier to get in and out.

White front seats

The test CX-9 was a top-of-the-line Signature version. If it wasn't for the white Napa leather trimmed seats (Who thinks up this stuff?) the interior would have been just about perfect. White seats just seems like a poor choice for family transportation. There are three rows of seats with room for six - two, two, and two. The rearmost seat really is either for kids or small, agile adults. 

White middle seats.

White rear seats and access.

Mazda also used to have a variety of engines but now it is four-cylinders all the time. The CX-9 gets a turbocharged, 2.5-liter four that produces either 227-hp on regular gas, or 250-hp on premium. In the CX-9 the power goes out through a 6-speed automatic transmission to all four wheels.

Despite its weight the CX-9 is capable of getting to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds. Fuel mileage is rated at 20-mpg in the city and 26-mpg on the highway. I saw 22.8-mpg on a trip with more city than highway driving.

I don't have a big family, there's just my wife and me, so I didn't load up the family and head out on a road trip. The two of us did go over the hill (the Altamont) on Interstate 580. It's too bad we didn't have a trip planned because the CX-9 was a good highway vehicle. It also was good around town - good visibility and easy to maneuver.

Some people may gripe that Mazda's touch screen is not a Jumbotron but I thought it was just fine. In fact the whole control system seemed well laid out. 

The driver's view.

With all streets up right.

There is ample storage in the CX-9; up to 71.2 cubic feet (84.9" from tailgate to the back of the front seats) with the 2nd and 3rd rows folded; 14.4 cubic feet with all the seats upright. The 'load-in' height (the height of the cargo area) is a reasonable 31.7".

With the rear seats folded down. 

Towing is limited to 3,500 lbs. but this is adequate for a small boat or camp trailer.

I don't know why auto makers persist in putting 'paddle shifters' on family vehicles. SUVs are not sports cars, they are family transportation. I would bet that a large majority of drivers never use the paddle shifters. Maybe if you have a full load (1,413 lbs.) you might want to select a lower gear going up a steep grade but there is a 'manual' option for the gear shift lever. Otherwise just let the automatic transmission do what it is designed to to - shift for you.

During my week with the CX-9 I saw a fair number of Mazda SUVs on the road. The only problem is I couldn't tell at a glance which model they were - the all look the same to me!

I didn't find anything to fault with the CX-9 other than the white seats. It drove well, the ride was comfortable, and it was fairly fuel efficient. The CX-9 isn't so big that you feel like you're driving a big truck yet you sit up relatively high so you have a good view of the road. 

Maybe the biggest hurdle any SUV has is the competition. I honestly can't think of a bad vehicle right now. So the choice often comes down to which brand you favor and cost.

The 2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD is not inexpensive, it starts at $48,460. The test version was $50,330. You can get a base Touring model starting at $38,750. If you're in the market for a SUV this size you should consider the Mazda CX-9.


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