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2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature Review: Bowing Out Gracefully

2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature | Photo: D.Heyman
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Dan Heyman
This ‘non-performance’ three-row SUV continues to deliver a positive driving experience
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Profile
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Profile | Photo: D.Heyman

•    Auto123 reviews the 2023 Mazda CX-9, still with us even as the CX-90 enters the Mazda lineup.

•    The Signature trim brings the CX-9 into premium territory.

With the market debut of the 2024 CX-90 crossover imminent – in fact we’ve already test-driven it - let’s not forget that the newbie owes much to the CX-9. It was that model, after all, that represented Mazda’s first foray – way back in 2007 -- into what has become one of the busiest segments in the passenger vehicle world. 

2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Three-quarters rear
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Three-quarters rear | Photo: D.Heyman

The exterior
While matte exterior paints – especially grey tints -- have become quite popular, it remains a somewhat specialized shade and I’m not sure it works on the massive body panels of a three-row SUV. It’s fine on the Mazda3 Sport hatchback but creates a different impression on the CX-9 - like Mazda is trying a little too hard. 

Which is why the Soul Red Crystal Metallic finish on my tester is a unique and classy look. Mazda has been refining the tint for a while, to the point where they now lay it on even thicker than before and it looks incredibly rich and upmarket as a result. I love it, and I wouldn’t have my CX-9 – or, for that matter, my CX-50, my Mazda3, my MX-5 etc. – any other way.

Strong points

  • The red finish is decadent
  • Good stance
  • Subtly aggressive headlight design

Weak points

  • Wheels could use a two-toned design
  • Panels could use a few creases
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Interior
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Interior | Photo: D.Heyman

The interior
Continuing on the theme of colours, my tester’s Pure White interior is just the right amount of classy and cool. There is a darker Deep Chestnut brown option, but that’s the extent of it. Seems the Nappa leather that comes standard on the Signature trim is a pricey piece of kit, and adding too many tints of it probably wouldn’t have been great business. Still, not having a black or charcoal of any kind is a strange choice. Know that the more “downmarket” Kuro version comes standard with a Garnet Red interior as its only choice. 

The cabin looks nice and even with the flowing lines and somewhat aggressive roofline, it’s roomy inside the CX-9. Front passengers get 1,041 mm of legroom and 1,019 mm of headroom with the moonroof, while second-row passengers get a generous 1,001 mm of legroom and 978 mm of headroom. 

The door openings are such that it’s easy to get in and out of the CX-9, though I did strike my knee on the centre console a few times during my test. Once in, I found the driver’s seating position to be right on; the 10-way power adjustable seat is very comfortable. 

2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - 3rd row seating
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - 3rd row seating | Photo: D.Heyman

On the Signature model, second-row captain’s chairs are your only choice and the big centre console between them is great for comfort, storage and placing cups. Those seats are also heated and passengers there get their own climate controls. That’s about as far as the bonuses go for the second row, however - there’s not rear seat entertainment system available. That’s not a complete surprise as the CX-9 – even in Signature form – is more luxury-lite, and it’s usually higher-end luxury vehicles that get this feature. 

I think I was even more impressed with the third row of seating. There’s room for two back there and with the captain’s chairs in the middle, access is not a struggle even for taller, larger folks. Once in, the seating area suits adults just fine for shorter drives and it’s perfect for the kids. There are cupholders and storage bins on either side, too, as well as two of the six USB ports found inside. 

All this points to a third row that’s meant to be used pretty regularly. But you can also drop those seats to the floor, providing 1,082 litres of cargo space; folding all the seats increases that to 2,017 litres. There’s also some underfloor storage at the very back, so even if the third row is up, you get a little extra space for your wares. There’s more than enough room for a family of four going on holiday, that’s for sure. 

The Signature trim comes fully equipped with heated front- and second-row seats, ventilated front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as well as wireless charging. Note, however, that while the CX-9 now gets Mazda’s latest infotainment system, it has lost wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in the transition. Otherwise, you get a larger 10.25-inch display, a faster OS and a new interface. 

2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Front
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Front | Photo: D.Heyman

The new system isn’t the flashiest in the segment; Mazda continues to lag behind when it comes to their native infotainment interface. In addition to the somewhat tame graphics, the fact that every time you want to change a radio station you have to press a number of buttons is annoying. You do get good 12-speaker Bose audio, though, as well as three-zone climate control and heated steering wheel. There is very little more that I’d ask for from my three-row SUV. 

Strong points

  • Top-quality materials (Nappa leather)
  • Good overall cargo space
  • Usable, easy-to-access third row

Weak points

  • Infotainment still lags behind competition
  • Gets a little loud inside
  • No panoramic sunroof option
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Steering wheel
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Steering wheel | Photo: D.Heyman

The drive
Power comes from Mazda’s very good turbocharged 4-cylinder that puts out 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium fuel, fed to the wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.

The CX-9 is no featherweight, tipping the scales at just under 2,000 kg, but this powerplant makes short work of highway entry ramps and passing manoeuvres. Frankly it delivers a great balance between engine and transmission, and I didn’t miss having a larger, naturally aspirated V6 as is so often the case with vehicles of this type.

It took Mazda a little while to get on the turbo train, but obviously they weren’t twiddling their thumbs and they’ve managed to deliver a smooth powertrain with low turbo lag and a pleasingly flat torque curve. Peak torque arrives at just 2,000 RPM so there’s always power on tap and you don’t need a trick 8-plus gear count to get the most out of it. 

There is a toggle switch to activate Sport mode, but I only used it a handful of times – if that – because it just doesn’t do all that much. Sure, it lets the revs hang for a little longer and maybe the throttle response is increased, but while that does mean you’re using more fuel, I’m not sure the payoff in terms of dynamics is there to justify it. 

Specifications sheet of 2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature

2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Rear
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Rear | Photo: D.Heyman

Acceleration and highway speeds are nice and all, but the CX-9 remains a Mazda and the manufacturer’s “zoom zoom” tagline isn’t lost on this sizeable three-row SUV. The (surprisingly small) steering wheel is responsive and immediate, and well-tuned dampers mean body roll is minimal. It all combines to make for a large three-row SUV that drives more like its smaller CX-5 two-row sibling, which I can confirm since I drove the latest CX-5 not long after my week with the CX-9. 

It's not all perfect when it comes to the dynamics, and the shortcomings revolve mainly around the brakes. Put simply, it just requires too much pedal pressure to get the stopping power you want and they are perilously low on feel. They almost feel like they’re too small for the CX-9, but I found the same issue in the CX-5, which is smaller and lighter than this SUV. 

Strong points

  • Smooth turbo power
  • Handles like a much smaller vehicle
  • Direct, well-weighted steering

Weak points

  • A little thirsty
  • Brakes could be stronger, have more feel
  • Sport mode doesn’t do all that much
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Badging
2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Badging | Photo: D.Heyman

The final word
Perhaps I shouldn’t be spending so much time discussing the drive characteristics of a non-performance three-row SUV, but the CX-9 really does have the goods to justify that angle. It also has the space and interior features that most SUV buyers need, so you’ve got a great mix of two worlds here.

It is starting to feel its age, though. As luxurious as the interior bits are, the styling is not quite as flared or brash as something you might see from the Toyota Highlander or Mitsubishi Outlander – which is not something I thought I’d ever say when it comes to Mazda. If that’s an issue for you, then perhaps waiting for the CX-90 Is the way to go. If not, with the CX-9 you’re still getting a crossover with some good exterior styling, high-quality interior and great performance, all for an almost bargain price. 

Some of your questions about the 2023 Mazda CX-9 Signature :

How does the Signature differ from the Kuro Edition?
The Kuro is more of a styling package. It adds special exterior colour and interior colour schemes, and that’s about it. No Nappa leather, no second-row captain’s chairs or special quilting on seats. The Signature also gets special grille illumination the Kuro does not.

Will the CX-9 live on after the CX-90 arrives?
It will not. The CX-90 is effectively replacing the CX-9 as Mazda’s entrant into the three-row crossover segment.

The competition

Buick Enclave
Chevrolet Traverse
Ford Explorer
GMC Acadia
Honda Pilot
Hyundai Palisade
Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Kia Telluride
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Pathfinder
Subaru Ascent
Toyota Highlander
Volkswagen Atlas

EVALUATION

77%
Design
7.5/10
Performance
8/10
Interior Space
8.5/10
Tech and Safety
7/10
Fuel Economy
7/10
Value
8/10
Photos:D.Heyman
2024 Mazda CX-9 pictures
Dan Heyman
Dan Heyman
Automotive expert
  • Over 12 years' experience as an automotive journalist
  • More than 70 test drives in the past year
  • Participation in over 150 new vehicle launches in the presence of the brand's technical specialists