2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Bottom Line Review

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature - Bottom Line Review
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: enthusiast's nod for volume three-row crossover SUV pick is also the prestige connoisseur's pick

THREE SENSATIONS THEIR OWN: Each substance in the natural physical universe possesses it balance of look, feel and sound. In manufacturing those traits can be tailored to taste, but a "natural" equilibrium is often elusive.

OBTAINING HARMONY: In a quest to capture that distinctive balance, volume carmakers have made strides, previously dared only by luxury marques, in melding the same aesthetics which artists and craftsmen aspire to.

WABI-SABI + SHIZEN + KODO = premium Signature trim models at Mazda without the need for separate sub-branded showrooms. Mazda Signature line blends Japanese cultural aesthetics constituting a way of life, natural without pretense and simple unobtrusive beauty with their overarching design upwards sky bound design language.

It's been four years since sibling outlet ChicagoNow.com "Drive...He Said" drove the first Signature Mazda, a second generation 2016 CX-9 3-Row crossover, adorned with real aluminum accents, rosewood appliques and auburn leathers and blessed with Jinba Ittai driver-steed unison dynamics. Now it's time for a second go at a Mk.2  2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature whose mid-cycle is announced by an official Signature tail badge and a subtle host of KAIZEN (constant improvement).


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WHAT: 2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD 3- Row full size family crossover sports activity vehicle.

Power: transverse variable nozzle turbocharged 2.5L DOHC 16V DI gas I-4 = 250 hp/ 320 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm (latter +10 lb-ft vs. 2018 CX-9).

Drivetrain: 6-spd. torque converter planetary automatic transaxle + PTU to multi-plate wet clutch differential torque vectoring variable all-wheel drive.

NOTE: shorting the engine with 87 RON octane unleaded gasoline drops net horsepower to 227, while rated torque is unchanged.


  • +10 lb-ft engine torque
  • off-road traction ABS assist (AWD only)
  • suspension damping revision for improved compliance
  • available 2nd Row captain's chairs (std. on Signature)
  • standard i-ActiveSense driver assistance
  • 3rd row dual USB-A power ports
  • approach activated power liftgate (std. Signature)

WHAT (A) STYLING DIFFERENCE: the modular Skyactiv platform for 2nd Gen. Mazda CX-9 (TC) is shared with the Mazda 6 executive sedan and is the next size up in crossover vehicle hierarchy from  the (KF) CX-5 mid-size 2-row SAV.

The 2020 Mazda CX-9 is the good looking spitting image of its 2016 self. It stands curvaceously in contrast to the trend of overwrought boxy crossover SUV's. An elegant Coke-bottle fuselage is sharply raked above the tall beltline. On the assertive side there is an overhanging shark nose hood. Grand wheel arches. Corner vertical pseudo brake ducts. A dark lattice pentagonal grille makes a winged extension outward meeting the top of the wrap-around HID +LED DRL light assemblies.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

The Kammback rear liftgate is supported by muscularly flared rear quarter panels. Two-tone roof spoiler buttresses run up to liftgate side channels. A prominent chrome bar spans the entire mid liftgate. Tweezed rear wrap-around light housings envelope an amber center flasher housing. The lower liftgate hosts pentagonal creasing. A deep body color matched bumper cover is interrupted only by lower rear fascia cladding. Split dual chrome exhaust tips are included. Owner's of 2016-2018 CX-9's might notice the new Signature emblem on the rump.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

WHY: Three Row crossover SUV standard for sensuous, elegant, with a dynamic driving experience, rivaling the premiums.

WHEN: On-Sale (in the U.S.) since late Autumn 2019

WHERE: Mazda new vehicle dealers

WHERE MADE: Hiroshima, Japan

WHERE TO: transaxle to PTU to rear viscous multi-clutch differential all-wheel drive (standard on Signature, optional on other trims), e-varies front/ rear traction from 100/ 10% to 50/50%. The new ABS off-road traction feature is no differential lock, CX-9's should move more sure-footed in muddy grass berms.

HOW ROADWORTHY: Though not a celestial revver, with 10 new-found pound-feet the turbo gas DOHC I-4 banger exhibits a thoroughly usable power band. The Skyactiv 6-speed planetary torque converter transaxle is alert and livens things up with sport mode throttle blipping, even as the speedometer needle passes into triple digits. Some spicy powerplant sounds can be heard in the background, though mostly masked by the cabin serenity.

Mazda adjusted CX-9 suspension tuning for the 2019 model year. Damping rates are perceived to be less abrupt on rebound, with a tinge more dip in the corners. To the seat of the pants the new tuning dispatches jarring from bigger impacts, and renders a more relaxed experience. Progressive assist heft, albeit it with somewhat static winding, contributes to reduced fatigue. G-Vectoring power diminishment, first shifting mass forward into turns, mitigates understeer traits. The disc brakes pedal modulates effortlessly and seems rather fade resistant. The addition of thicker headliners and carpets along with laminated front glassware results in a chamber devoid of tedious powertrain and wind noise.

HOW FAR: 23 combined miles per gallon. 530 miles highway range using 91 RON unleaded gasoline.

HOW BIG/ LITTLE:  Tending towards the "Mid Size" end of the 3-Row crossover family SAV spectrum. The lack of a panorama roof allows for acceptable headroom. Signature trim's exclusive 2nd Row captain's chairs are unexpectedly spacious. Two 3rd Row positions knee-butt daddy average legs.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature 115.3" wheelbase = 5.4" < Buick Enclave, 1.1" > Hyundai Palisade

HOW USEFUL: Modest cargo culling competes with some two-row SUVs;  Flat folding 2nd Row tilting captain's chairs seatbacks w/ tilt and slide 3rd Row access; 50/50% split tilting and flat folding 3rd Row seat backs; Sub cargo floor storage; Mini-spare load floor cover hooked tether; Adjustable height power liftgate

PARTICULARLY USEFUL: +1 Clamshell aperture front and 2nd Row center armrest storage bins

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Not So Useful: -1 No approach liftgate release; Long reach to release 3rd Row seat back latches; Blind spots from shorter backlight + tall beltline; Lower center stack wireless device shelf lacks lid.

HOW SAFE: 9 airbags; IIHS Safety Pick + ; Rear camera w/ park grid; Blind Spot warning;  Rear cross traffic alert;  i-Activesense Level 1 driver autonomy: Full Adaptive cruise control, Full, Forward collision warning, Lane departure warning, Smart City brake, Traffic sign recognition; Auto high beam headlamps;  Rain sensing, windshield wipers; De-icing windshield wipers and 360° surround cameras view (exclusive to Grand Touring, Signature)

-1 LDW over-sensitive & Lane departure intervention = lane marker locating challenged; Stop sign is the only traffic sign recognized.

HOW PEOPLE FRIENDLY:   Signature = Mazda speak for bespoke cabin appointments. Rich materials rivaling luxury brands and precision produced switchgear are exquisite. Fortunately the minimalism in controls and finish beyond reproach can be found in lesser trims. +1 First and second row bucket seats deserve the recommendation of orthopedists.

Nappa leather seating, heated front & rear, evacuating ventilated front; 8-way driver / 6-way power seats w/ 2 driver memory settings; Signature exclusive heated leather steering wheel with spoke integrated tactile redundant controls; 7.0"-inch TFT virtual gauge cluster; Power folding side mirrors.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

-1 Limited telescoping helm; -1 Narrow & shallow seat cushions; -1 2nd Row outboard seat heat switches on center armrest rather than doors; -1 Prop rod for hood;

Cool Gizmo(s) Color Heads-Up Display includes lane array, traffic signage; Precision-machined center console Command infotainment dial-joystick w/ dedicated function switches; Illuminated front grille borders

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: Heads Up Display w/ traffic sign recognition
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD: Heads Up Display w/ traffic sign recognition

Details Done Right:   Folded tandem stitched simulated leather dashboard accents; Aluminum & genuine Santos Rosewood wood solids by luthier Fujigen span door panels, dash & center console; Center console tunnel padded in seat color matching synthetic hides; Machined aluminum climate control dials; Precision cut, tactile intuitive switchgear; Cabin 1st and 2nd row footwell and door accent lighting, w/ blue illumination ring around shifter console.

2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD
2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Nearly Non-Descript: -1 Coarse weave carpeting

HOW "APP" -LICABLE: Dash top 8.0" flat-panel capacitive touch LCD infotainment screen w/ remote Command rotary toggle dial; Native HDD GPS voice command / guidance Navigation; Voice command hands-free communications;  SMS with stored contacts photos; wired Android Auto + Apple CarPlay phone projection; 360 W, 12-speaker Bose Centerpoint 2.0 audio punchy without boom; USB x 6, 12V x 3 (including cargo area).

+/- Mazda implementation of Sirius Travellink supplants typical Movies application with Parking app filled with incomplete listings; The new infotainment menus available in the Mazda 3 / CX-30 not included.

-1 8.0" Lumpy dash top mount of 8.0" media screen. The new 8.8" display in the 2020 Mazda 3 does dashtop integration better.

HOW MUCH: $47,965 = 2020 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD price as tested.

WHAT'S MISSING: 115V AC outlet, 3rd Row climate vents; Panorama moonroof; Active parking assist; More streamlined media display.

ANY COMPETITION: Buick Enclave: +1  Size matters, simpler Intellilink infotainment; Hyundai Palisade: +1 cargo capacity, intuitive tri-pane infotainment.