The three-row crossover/SUV segment is wildly competitive. The ones which currently have folks in a frenzy the American market are the heavyweights like the Kia Telluride, Chevy Suburban, and Cadillac Escalade. Although, after spending a week with the 2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD, I feel like I’ve found the SUV that is “just right.”
Is the 2021 Mazda CX-9 a good car?
Yes. It really is. I didn’t do much research on this car before I spent my time with it. As a matter of fact, I have never driven a Mazda outside of a brief jaunt in an MX-5 Miata. To be honest, I wasn’t very excited to drive it either. I figured, like porridge, it would be boring, stodgy, and (unappetizing?) plastic. None of those things turned out to be true.
The 2021 CX-9 Signature is the top-trim level package. It comes with a whole host of gadgets and gizmos that make driving safer and easier. I feel like features like lane keep assist, automatic backup braking, and driver-attention monitoring is what the crossover segment is really about. If that is true, the CX-9 nails it. The Signature package comes with all those features as well as an updated grille and new wheels.
The 2021 CX-9 is a three-row SUV with some moves
The signature is more than just a three-row family hauler. Look, I’m not going to try and convince anyone that the CX-9 is a sports car or anything like that, but like the bear’s beds, it falls right between something unnecessarily sports and a mushy engined mom-mobile. It feels just right.
The Signature trim comes with paddle shifters to drive home the point that the CX-9 has a little scoot in its boot. However, these shifters, like just about any other attempt to make a normal car feel like a race car, are sloppy and as crisp as crackers dropped in soup. Once you click your “shifter,” the car thinks about it and, after much deliberation, give you the shift you asked for a while ago. They are dumb, but the rest is good.
The three-row Mazda can handle itself in the curves
The folks at Car and Driver are picking up what I’m putting down, “The steering, while not as communicative as other Mazdas, still imparts vigor that’s missing from other crossovers.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. The Mazda CX-9 is powered by a strange motor for the segment, a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 227 hp, at least burning regular fuel. If you top it off with premium fuel, the CX-9 can squeeze 250 hp out of the little 2.5-liter four-banger.
Although the CX-9 won’t win many drag races, the steering and suspension are tight and responsive enough to take a corner with some speed. This is where the CX-9 really comes into the Goldilocks zone. It’s not quite as big and roomy as many of its competitors, but because of this, it handles and drives like a car and not a lumbering school bus.
The size is far from small or cramped, though. The other side of the coin is, yeah, it may not be as quick and snappy as a Miata, but it seats seven people. The back row can be tight for adults, but for kids, it seems plenty appropriate. Also, the middle row seats are captain’s chairs giving the majority of riders a cushy and luxurious ride.
Not too hot and not too cold. Not too soft and not too hard. It’s just right
It’s a real pleasure to drive a car like this. Mazda has always been about giving you what you need and maybe a little extra from time to time, but it never goes over the top. The 2021 Mazda CX-9’s throttle is responsive but not fast; the steering is tight, but not heavy; the brakes are firm, but not grabby; the interior is plush but not fancy; the looks are sporty, but not aggressive. The 2021 Mazda CX-9 is just right.