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2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: A Fine Blend for Fun and Family

By Ted Orme

If you read my recent Street Dreams review of the 2017 Mazda CX-5 you know I’m a big fan of a brand I own. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that unfair to say, “That guy is in the bag for Mazda.” So here I go again, being as fair as I can, with another gushing review of the latest great Mazda: the 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD.

Like the 2017 Toyota Highlander SE AWD I recently reviewed, the CX-9 is a three-row midsize crossover SUV with the same pinched third row and cargo capacity shortcomings, which I countered by leaving the third row seat folded down in both models. But the difference in these two competitors boils down to one thing: the CX-9 is more fun to drive – a trait that endears Mazda to its loyal following across the line.

Granted, you’re not likely to be tempted to pull high “G’s” cornering what is basically a comfortable family wagon. But Mazda has fine-tuned the CX-9 for maximum performance to make this a vehicle you really want to drive.

Redesigned in 2016, the second generation CX-9 sharpened its focus on driving dynamism with lighter-weight construction, a solid chassis, firm yet refined suspension, and improved brake feel and performance.  For 2018, the CX-9 gets Mazda’s clever G-Vectoring Control, a system that reduces engine torque imperceptibly as the vehicle enters a corner to help improve steering and cornering stability.

Mazda also broke ranks with its competitors and ditched its V-6 engine in favor of a strong 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque, which matches or beats the power and response of most of the V-6 competitors while besting them in fuel economy.

Mated to an efficient six-speed automatic transmission, the front-wheel drive CX-9 gets a class leading EPA fuel economy rating of 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, 24mpg combined. The all-wheel drive CX-9 is rated 20/26/23, which, in the week I spent with the Signature AWD, was right on the average.

On a purely subjective note, I think the CX-9 is also the best looking mid-size crossover, with its “Kodo” design shark-nose front grille, long hood, steeply raked windshield, and fastback rear end with integrated rear spoiler. The top-of-the-line Signature gets some extra chrome on the side and the 20-inch wheels (18-inchers are standard on lower trims) to give it a decidedly sporty look but without the severe sculpts and gaping grills other makers have chosen to stand out.

This upmarket premium theme continues in the cabin, which is more important to most of us than exterior style in a bulbous crossover. What you’re treated to when you slide into the driver’s seat (and that’s one of the great things about crossovers: no stooping or climbing into a driver’s seat that is exactly butt high) is a surprisingly luxurious interior.

High-quality materials and near perfect fit-and-finish throughout complement an elegant design that makes you feel special. The top-trim Signature adds such goodies as Nappa leather-trimmed upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, power moonroof, killer Bose 12 speaker sound system, LED interior lighting, real aluminum trim, and genuine rosewood trim supplied by top Japanese guitar-maker Fujigen.

The eye-catching dashboard features heavily contoured areas with either a 7.0- or 8.0-inch popup touchscreen, as opposed to an integrated approach preferred by its competitors. The Signature also gets standard, nearly line-of-sight active driving display in the windshield to keep your eyes on the road.  All controls are within easy reach of the driver.

The new CX-9 comes in four trim levels (Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Signature) ranging in price from $33,000 to over $45,000, or, in other words, from high value to high zoot – your choice. But whatever trim level you choose I believe you will be getting the best mid-sized three row crossover currently available.

And it’s not just me singing the praises of the CX-9, which has collected a raft of awards and top marks from car mags and dot.com raters and bloggers for its terrific blend of driving fun, utility, comfort -- what one critic called “zoom-zoom and room-room.” 

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