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2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: The Fun Mobile

Automobile logo Automobile 1/23/2020 Billy Rehbock

We auto journalists spend hundreds of hours behind the wheel of dozens of cars every year, but we don't always have a chance to review a car from the back seat. When Mazda offered to drive us from the west side of Los Angeles to the USC vs. UCLA game downtown, we jumped on the opportunity to enjoy the brand's largest car in a different way.

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The CX-9 in question, optioned at the top-trim Signature level, and equipped with all-wheel drive, came equipped with the new optional captain's chairs, which offer rear-seat passengers a more luxurious and spacious environment compared to the usual bench seating. Despite their independence, the captain's chairs are manually adjustable rather than electric, but they are heated and cooled. On the way to the game, we found we were able to slide back and get comfortable, with plenty of leg room to stretch out for the cross-town jaunt—a time-consuming exercise, as those familiar with Los Angeles will know.

After the game, the comfortable rear seats were a welcome reprieve from the stadium seating at the Coliseum. The crossover's ride height offers easy ingress and egress to the rear seats, with none of the awkward body repositioning that sometimes accompanies getting in and out of a minivan. For the trip home, Mazda's chauffeur turned the keys over to us so we could spend some in the driver's seat.

a car parked in a parking lot © Billy Rehbock

As far as three-row haulers go, the CX-9 is a handsome thing. Mazda's Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint is brilliant under the light and the crossover's crisp, swooping lines catch the sun in just the right way. While it sports a fairly large grille, the designers seem to have gotten it right—I didn't even notice how large it is until I reviewed the photos. The CX-9's 20-inch wheels have a nice luster to them and appear to be the perfect size to compliment the vehicle's tall, long, and slightly wagon-like proportions. The LED front and rear lighting provide the finishing touches on a decidedly premium exterior.

It's not often we choose to, but when we're forced to drive a crossover, an offering from Mazda is usually one of our first picks. Our long-term CX-5, for example, was a highly enjoyable daily driver. Similarly, the CX-9 offers most of the nimbleness of its smaller sibling in a more substantial package. Steering feel is fantastic for a vehicle in this class, and in real-world driving, understeer is as relevant as a meteor strike—perhaps less so.

The CX-9 comes equipped with Mazda's turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. The powerplant offers plenty of grunt for everyday livability, developing 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque when fed premium fuel (numbers drop to 227/310, respectively, on regular unleaded). Our test car came equipped with all-wheel drive, and it scooted off the line with the enthusiasm of a tall hot hatch. It revs happily and is more than eager to accompany the driver on spirited runs through the curvier roads that slither along California's coast.

a car parked on the side of a road: 2020 MAZDA CX 9 Signature AWD front three quarter © Billy Rehbock 2020 MAZDA CX 9 Signature AWD front three quarter

If we had to point out a weak point in what is otherwise a fantastic vehicle, the six-speed transmission is the first thing that comes to mind. Compared to many of the newer 'boxes on the market, shifts seem just a bit slow. However, anticipates gearchanges pretty accurately and it's not so eager to upshift that it disrupts pleasurable driving.

Interior appointments blur the line between premium and full-on luxury. Our tester had soft, white leather in the first and second rows, or "Parchment Nappa" according to Mazda. The front seats are both heated and ventilated, with the driver's chair offering two-position memory settings. Mazda includes three-zone climate control as well. Bose's 12-speaker system rounds out the well-specified cabin.

Mazda's tech in this car is top-notch for its class. As always, the 360-degree parking camera is a welcome addition. It's easy to see what's in the surrounds on the sharp 9-inch infotainment screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are also standard on the CX-9 Signature trim. Mazda provides a comprehensive suite of safety gear as well, including blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and a rear cross traffic alert system.

a car parked in front of a mirror posing for the camera © Billy Rehbock

In all, the CX-9 offers a compelling package for its price tag. The Signature trim level equipped with all-wheel drive comes out to $47,160, with all of the equipment discussed above as standard. The only two extras optioned on our test car were a cargo mat for $100 and the gorgeous Soul Red Crystal Metallic paint for $595. In total, this example of the three-row crossover costs $47,855, after delivery.

Research the Mazda CX-9 | Find a Mazda CX-9 near you

Whether we were being chauffeured or chauffeuring others, the CX-9 Signature All-Wheel Drive conveyed us in style and with impeccable manners. Because of the captain's chairs, I figure the target buyer for the CX-9 is probably some combination of empty nesters who have a need for driving around their fellow empty nester friends, parents with older kids, or socially active younger adults. It's a bit pricey for new families, but for the families it fits, this Mazda would be a fun companion.

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2020 Mazda CX-9 Update: Specs, Price, Release Date + More

22020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD Specifications
ON SALENow
PRICE$47,160/47855 (base/as tested)
ENGINE2,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION6-speed automatic
LAYOUT4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, AWD Crossover
EPA MILEAGE20/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H199.4 x 77.5 x 69 in
WHEELBASE115.3 in
WEIGHT4388 lb
0-60 MPH7.2 (Est.) sec
TOP SPEED128 (Est.) mph
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