Mazda has been moving upmarket over the past few years, positioning itself closer to something like Acura than Honda, for instance. One of the clearest signs of this is in the Signature trim levels that combine a large number of features with high-end materials. To see how successful the Signature trim is at turning a Mazda into a near-luxury vehicle, we spent some time in the biggest and most expensive example the company offers, the 2021 Mazda CX-9 Signature.
Although the interior accoutrements are the real appeal of the Signature, Mazda does sprinkle a little extra flash on the outside, too. The 2021 model has a new, unique grille design that especially stands out at night with a subtle line of LED lights around the lower edge of the grille. It picks up 20-inch wheels and bigger dual exhaust tips, too. They're nice little details that help it stand out without shouting about the fact that it's the fanciest version.
Stepping inside, you get mostly the same old CX-9 interior, but decorated with some really superb trimmings. The most impressive is the Santos Rosewood that surrounds the shifter and the window controls on the doors. They're fairly thick pieces of wood that have a beautiful, deep brown color and feel soft and smooth to the touch. Close behind is the addition of real aluminum trim along the dashboard and on the doors by the handles. Then there are the Nappa leather seats with quilted stitching and contrast piping.
The second row of seats also get some love. Captain's chairs are the only option, and they're split by a center console that houses storage and the heated seat controls. It gives the row a slightly more executive feel. The third-row seats are left untouched and continue to be more of an occasional-use feature. Adults can fit back there with reasonable legroom and comfort that's dinged by the fact that the seats are basically on the floor, resulting in an odd seating position.
Many of the standard CX-9 interior features also hold up well here. The climate controls in particular look clean and uncluttered and feel great with crisp action. The gauges and infotainment layout are minimalist and elegant. The latter is the latest version of Mazda's infotainment system, and it looks pleasant on the newly standard 10.25-inch screen. It's all fairly usable without too many menus and reasonably intuitive physical controls. You can read more about our infotainment thoughts in our most recent review.
Not all of the CX-9's interior features reach the luxury ambitions of the Signature's additions. There are quite a few plastics throughout. They're soft-touch and feel of high quality, but in greater quantities than you might find in a more traditional luxury brand such as Mercedes. Also, some of the interior features are more basic and limited than those aforementioned luxury cars. The ambient lighting is relegated to lamps in the door grab handles and under the dash, and only light up in a soft white hue. The gauge cluster's screen is also comparatively small and doesn't have as much customization and capability as other brands' examples.
The CX-9 Signature is solidly practical. Despite being one of the smaller three-row crossovers, it has usable space for all occupants. Surprisingly, the second row might be the best, as it has the most head, leg and knee room. The front is good, too, but knee room is a little tight with the center stack encroaching on space. And as previously mentioned, the third row is genuinely usable by adults, albeit not with an ideal position. Coming back to the front seats, they have fairly thick cushioning and decent lumbar support and bolsters. It would be nice if the seat base were a bit longer for more thigh support, but they're generally solid. There are 14.4 cubic feet behind the third row, 38.2 behind the second, and 71.2 with all the seats down. That's more room with all the seats up than the Kia Sorento or GMC Acadia, but less than either with the seats down.
To get into a CX-9 Signature, you'll need to plunk down $47,705. While that's not a small amount of money, it does come in lower or almost the same amount as the base examples of three-row luxury models. The new Infiniti QX60 starts at almost the exact same price as the CX-9 Signature; a difference of $170. The Cadillac XT6 comes in at just under $50,000, and the Lincoln Aviator starts over $50,000.
Overall, the CX-9 Signature isn't quite as luxurious as some of the really high-end crossovers, but it comes mighty close. And it does so for a discount, one that only gets bigger as you pile on options with fancier competitors, since the Signature is as decked out as a CX-9 can get. Add in the excellent steering, handling and ride quality that we didn't touch on here, and it's a great choice for someone looking for luxury without breaking the bank.
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