Test Drive: 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature

Mazda has a knack for punching above its weight on the design front. No matter which product you look at in their line-up, there’s something to like. Their interiors in particular are pretty special. The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is no different. In fact, it’s downright stunning.

A stunning example of how design and attention to detail can elevate a vehicle.

Even the head-up display, which is replete with vivid colours and a blind-spot monitor, is a visual treat. The Nappa leather, rosewood-trimmed centre console panel, and LED interior lighting all befit a larger price tag than the one attached to this CX-9.

At $52,295 as-tested, the three-row CX-9 is a startling value. Accustomed to being taken aback by the climbing prices of modern SUVs, I found myself double-checking this number. Especially given how well-featured Mazda’s flagship SUV is. This Signature gets Brake Support collision mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist, automatic LED headlights, and radar cruise control with stop-and-go.

It also has Mazda’s brake-based G-Vectoring control and i-ACTIV AWD, which help keep the 20-inch wheels aligned in the appropriate direction on the road. The CX-9 feels composed and well-damped, and drives with accuracy even in torrid conditions. Road comfort is suitable for the class and great for the price point.

“Dynamic” turbo engine mixes power, efficiency

The 2.5L four-cylinder is force-fed by a “Dynamic Pressure Turbo” – a device which is a lot like a normal turbo in every way, only it has “Dynamic Pressure” in the name. It also has variable openings in the exhaust headers that feed the turbo. At low rpm the passageway into the turbo is smaller, which speeds up the gases and helps spool up the turbo faster. That, coupled with a 4-3-1 pathway from the cylinder head to the turbo itself, also helps smooth out the speed and pulsing of the gas flowing toward the turbine. Which is important because magic. Or something.

What you get is a 2.5L four-cylinder turbo with up to 250 hp if you use proper fuel, and 227 hp if you use the cheap stuff. You also get 310 lb-ft of torque from a low 2,000 rpm. This is a good engine, but it’s in a big car, and it does get harsh high in the rev range. For most duties it is fine, but big-speed highway overtakes will wake up your sleeping partner, and they will be grumpy with you.

On the fuel economy front, the CX-9 is also better than expected. Official ratings of 11.5/8.9/10.4 L/100 km city/highway/combined gel well with my experience. After mostly city driving in horrible winter weather I landed on 12 L/100 km for the week. Given the size of the rig, the filthy weather and the weight of my right foot, that’s a decent number.

I picked this car up during one of Toronto’s late-season cold snaps and found the CX-9 to have some issues with the weather. Specifically, the fuel economy meter had a hard time calibrating itself and read erratically before the car warmed up. Also, I noticed some driveline shudder under braking, as if the gearbox was having a hard time coaxing itself down into the lower gears.

Comfort in all three rows

I was, however, grateful for the heated seats that could be left switched to “on” so they were always ready at start-up, and the effective, toasty-warm steering wheel. That one was sadly not always on, but I never forgot to hit the button.

The second-row seats of this Signature trim slide fore and aft, and the third-row seats recline to improve room for actual adults. I found headroom back there reasonable, and once I slid the centre row forward slightly, had good kneeroom as well. It’ll work in a pinch to carry adults in all three rows, though you’d want to hope they have no luggage, as doing so limits cargo capacity to a narrow 407 L.

Third-row occupants need to be careful too, as Mazda has left some vulnerable electrical cables poking out from behind the second row. I’d hate to the person who triggers an issue by kicking out a wire.

While the head-up display is cool and the graphics have plenty of cool elements, Mazda’s infotainment system is now dated. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are missing, and basic functions, like skipping stations (not favourites) take too many inputs of the control puck. That puck is at least ergonomically placed, but Mazda is missing the last 20 percent of execution to make this system what it should and could be.

Were those infotainment issues and the cabling at the back fixed, there’s nothing that would turn away a more well-heeled shopper from this SUV. Mazda’s styling and interior quality – at least in the front row – is top-notch. Ride comfort is great for the class and while GM’s recent offerings have quieter cabins, wind/road noise is within acceptable limits.

The CX-9 is a stunning example of how design and attention to detail can elevate a vehicle. Its charm is backed up by road manners and drive-ability that would be acceptable on a much more expensive three-row SUV.

2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Engine Displacement: 2.5L
Engine Cylinders: I4
Peak Horsepower: 227 hp @ 5,000 rpm (250 @ 5,000 with premium fuel)
Peak Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm
Fuel Economy: 11.5/8.9/10.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb
Cargo Space: 407 / 1,082 / 2,017 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row
2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature
Base Price $50,100
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,895
Price as Tested $52,395
Optional Equipment $300 – Machine-gun metallic paint $300
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 8.0
9 Styling
8 Powertrain
8 Quality
8 Comfort
8 Practicality
7 Drivability
7 Usability/Ergonomics
8 Fuel Economy
8 Features
9 Value