by Frank A. Aukofer
You might come up short with a big family, but the 2019 Mazda CX-9 works smartly for a couple of couples on a cross-state jaunt of hundreds of miles and many hours behind the wheel.
Of course, that’s if you fold down the third-row seat to stash the luggage. If your couples came with a couple of kids to sit in that third row, there wouldn’t be room for but a few suitcases or carry-ons.
Such are the compromises inherent in the tested CX-9 Signature, Mazda’s top-of-the-line three-row crossover sport utility vehicle.
Though it has those three rows of seats for seven-passenger accommodations, it is smaller inside than similar brands. It has 135 cubic feet of space for passengers with just 14 cubic feet for cargo behind the third row — not enough with kids exported back there.
Fold that third row, as that couple of couples did for a trip across Wisconsin to the Green Bay Packers shrine at Lambeau Field, and you realize an ample 38 cubic feet of space for the baggage to carry home Wisconsin-only Spotted Cow beer, and green and gold clothing and artifacts from the Packers Pro Shop.
Now that we’ve established that the CX-9 can be useful for hauling half a dozen grade-school kids to soccer practice but would require a top carrier for a family beach outing, fairness demands an assessment of other attributes.
It turns out there are many, starting with the inescapable conclusion that this is what colleagues at the enthusiast magazines like to anoint as a driver’s car. The chassis is stiff, the electric power steering precise and responsive, the independent suspension system compliant, the turbo engine powerful and the six-speed automatic transmission unobtrusive.
About the only gripe heard on the trip came from one of the drivers, a large and muscular male who said the cockpit width at thigh level was uncomfortably narrow for his chunky legs. This reviewer had no problem.
The power train starts with a touch of a pushbutton to wake up the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is turbocharged to deliver 227 hp and the surge of 310 lb-ft of torque, the twisting force that pins the spine against the seatback when you punch the pedal when the light changes.
That’s with Mazda’s recommendation to use regular 87-octane gasoline. If you are the sort who values a bit of extra punch, dump in premium fuel and you’ll get 250 hp, though the torque rating doesn’t change.
Either way, your zero-to-60 mph acceleration time will come up either slightly north or south of seven seconds, according to independent tests. Though there are any number of cars out there that could beat you in a drag race, that’s more than respectable for a crossover that measures 16 feet 7 inches long and weighs 4,383 lbs.
Moreover, the CX-9 manages the sprint effortlessly. The Mazda engineers have used their talents to wipe out any hint of the dreaded turbo lag, that hesitation that causes some turbo-engine cars to hiccup before they belch their power. City/highway/combined fuel economy is respectable at 20/26/23 mpg.
Though front-wheel drive is standard, the tested Signature model came with all-wheel drive, useful for areas with nasty weather. But if you don’t expect to battle snowstorms or visit ski areas you can operate nicely with the front-drive and save some money.
Mazda, the Japanese manufacturer that has given us exciting cars like the MX-5 Miata and the Mazda3 hatchback, has been on a campaign to upgrade its vehicles to premium and perhaps luxury status. It shows on the CX-9 Signature, with features a cut above the ordinary and a bottom-line sticker of $46,660.
Full safety equipment includes adaptive cruise control, brake assist, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking assist.
Inside, there’s three-zone automatic climate control, motorized glass sunroof to put wind in and sun on the hair, aluminum and wood trim, perforated leather upholstery with heated front seats, power driver’s seat with lumbar support, 12-speaker Bose audio system, an eight-inch touch screen that displays navigation, SXM satellite radio, HD radio, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth streaming audio, and apps for Pandora, Stitcher and Aha internet radio.
Exterior features, in addition to the attractive sheet metal, include 20-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires, rain-sensing windshield wipers with windshield de-icer, power rear tailgate, heated and powered outside rear-view mirrors, and aluminum roof rails.
Model: 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder; 227 hp, 310 lb-ft torque.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.
Overall length: 16 feet 7 inches.
Height: 5 feet 8 inches.
EPA passenger/cargo volume: 135/14 cubic feet.
Weight: 4,383 pounds.
EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 20/26/23 mpg.
Base price, including destination charge: $46,360.
Price as tested: $46,660.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.