This week I bring you the upscale and stylish 2021 Mazda CX-9, a three-row crossover that’s 2016 redesign brought accolades for its near-luxury interiors and handling. After spending a week behind the wheel of the top-of-the-line Signature trim, I can attest that Mazda’s flagship SUV still delivers those attributes, five years later. Yet, at the same time I can’t help but feel the aging CX-9 isn’t quite keeping up with newer similarly priced newer entries on the market. (A redesign could be coming soon.)
My Snowflake White Pearl ($395) review vehicle rides on new 20-inch brilliant silver finish aluminum alloy wheels. (The high wheel arches make me wish for larger wheels.) LED headlights are flanked by a Titanium Gray Metallic finish front grille. The Signature is equipped also with adaptive front lighting, as well as LED daytime running lights, fog lights and combo LED tail lights. The Signature features chrome front, side and rear lower body molding, along with heated power and folding side mirrors. Larger bright finish dual tailpipes and a body-colored roof spoiler round out the rear, topped off by aluminum roof rails in Satin Chrome and a standard power moonroof.
The CX-9’s Signature’s Deep Chestnut Nappa leather interior impresses when you open the door. Its roomy, multi-toned interior is made up of soft-touch materials, real Santos Rosewood inlays and aluminum trim. Updates to the 2021 CX-9 interior include new Nappa leather quilting and piping on the first- and second-row Captain’s Chair seats. You’ll also find new patterned aluminum on the dash, door panels and handle bezels.
The CX-9’s Nappa leather seats are comfortable, but on the narrow and firmer side. The 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat offers power lumbar and two-position memory. The heated driver’s seat and steering wheel provided excellent warmth during December’s chill. The 6-way power passenger seat, along with the 2nd-row Captain’s Chairs, is heated as well. Both front row seats are also ventilated.
The CX-9’s leather-wrapped steering wheel offers various driver controls, along with paddle shifters. The gauge cluster isn’t fully digital like some competitors, but offers some cool features, including Traffic Sign recognition. A red line on the speedometer also denotes your speed limit.
Wood inlays frame a wide, glossy black center console. It houses a leather-wrapped gear shift knob, a toggle for sport and normal drive modes and beneath those, you’ll find the controls for the auto brake hold, electronic parking brake and the multimedia Mazda Connect system. The system runs on a new 10.25-inch multimedia display that jets up from the dash. It offers nice but aging graphics and mapping, and it’s easy to control with the center console controller. It’s also both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Voice recognition worked well when changing stations and music sounds great via the 12-speaker Bose sound system.
Of special note, in comparison to the 2019 CX-9 I reviewed, I’m now super impressed with the rearview camera’s quality and resolution, along with that of the 360 degree view system. It’s a major improvement and I now consider it among the best out there.
The CX-9 Signature comes with three-zone climate control, standard keyless entry and push-button start along with one touch up/down power windows, rain sensing variable intermittent wipers, intermittent rear wiper and windshield wiper de-icer Other technology includes a head-up display, wireless charger and six USB ports.
Second-row Captain's Chair passengers enjoy quite a comfortable space of their own, with a particularly nice large center armrest area, heated seats and sunshades. Slightly reclining 3rd-row seats can fit two adults. A power-folding option for the 50/50 split-folding 3rd-row seats is on my wish list. (If that’s important to you, check out the Hyundai Palisade.) The CX-9’s power liftgate with programmable height adjustment is terrific, operating quickly and smoothly, but it reveals less cargo space than in some of its competitors.
I’m a fan of Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5 Turbo engine which provides excellent acceleration. In the CX-9 it delivers 227-horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (up to 250-horses and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel.) Power felt terrific off the line and on the highway. The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with sport mode and has standard G-Vectoring Control Plus.
The CX-9 is additionally certainly considered one of the best-handling SUVs in its class. Its sportier handling makes it perfect if you’re looking for something that’s practical, yet still engaging to drive. It feels confident on the road thanks to Mazda’s i-Activ all-wheel drive with off-road traction assist. It’s easy to maneuver for an SUV its size and provides a quiet ride. It also provides a lot of ride height and good visibility.
The CX-9 is equipped with Mazda’s i-Activsense safety system. In my experience, I haven’t found it as intuitive (easy to learn to use) as other driver assist systems out there. i-Activsense includes Mazda Radar Cruise Control with stop and go function, Advanced Smart City Brake Support with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Warning with Lane-Keep Assist and Blind Spot Monitoring with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert. Additional active safety features on the Signature include Driver Attention Alert and front and rear parking sensors along with Rear Smart City Brake Support.
What You’ll Pay
My top-of-the-line Signature model, which slots above the Grand Touring, runs you $48,100 including the special paint color and destination charges.
The CX-9 is without a doubt a nice, near-luxury SUV with great looks, a nice interior and Mazda’s excellent handling. But it could use some tech updates to keep up with newer competitors.
2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
- What I liked most: Handling, Bose Stereo System, rear-view camera.
- What I would change: Driver Assistance System.
- MSRP: Base price $46,605, as equipped $48,100.
- Fuel Economy: 20 city/26 highway/23 combined.
- Official Color: Snowflake White Pearl ($395).
- Odometer reading when tested: 3,064 miles.
- Weight: 4,409 pounds.
- Spare Tire: Temporary spare.
- Length-Width-Height: 199.4” long/ 77.5 ”wide/ 69” high.
- Towing Capacity: 3,500 pounds.
- Fuel Tank Capacity: 19.5 gallons with filler on the driver’s side.
- 2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature in a few words: A polished, nice and great-handling SUV that’s one of the best in its class but could use some updates to keep it competitive.
- Final Assembly Location: Hiroshima, Japan.
- Manufacturers website: 2021 Mazda CX-9
- Warranty: 3-year, 36,000-mile overall warranty; 5-year, 60,000-mile powertrain protection.