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Mazda's largest crossover SUV is still stylish, fun to drive, and a great value

MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD may be the best looking crossover on the market, and the Signature version

The 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD may be the most successful of a recent trend in three-row crossovers — affordable manufacturers competing against luxury companies by offering high-end versions of their models. Though not as sophisticated as the vehicles produced by the established luxury companies, they are nice enough that even wealthier consumers will think twice about buying the more expensive ones.

This is especially true when sitting in the front seats of the Signature edition of the 2019 CX-9. The design is so restrained, it's almost minimalistic. The interior materials seem too refined for a manufacturer that mostly sells affordable family vehicles. The leather is sumptuous, the wood trim is obviously real, and even the plastics are expensive-looking. Yet our fully-loaded test version cost under $48,000, which is less than you'd pay for the base model of many three-row luxury crossovers.

MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The interior of the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD is refined and has a suprisingly upscale feel for its price.

Of course there is more — much more — to the current version of the CX-9 than its interior. As every automotive reviewer has noted, the exterior styling is breathtaking for a people hauler, taut and swoopy at the same time, with a tastefully proportioned front grill, fluid side lines, and a rear end highlighted by sharply-angled tail lights. It will never grow old or look out of date.

The same is true of the entire Mazda line these days, including the three crossovers that includes the subcompact CX-3 and compact CX-5. They each look like different-sized versions of one another.

MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The console mounted rotary knob controls the infotainment system in the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD. The switch to the left activates the Sport mode.

Mazda only offers one engine in the CX-9, a turbocharged inline 2.5-liter four that produces 227 horsepower and is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. That might sounds like much compared to competitors with more powerful V6 engines, but the Mazda engine is surprisingly punchy, especially when set in the Sport mode that increases throttle response.

But handling is really the CX-9's strong suit. It feels light and responsive in all situations, thanks in part to the standard G-Vectoring Control that aids with cornering. Compared to the CX-9, most over three-row crossovers feel like lumbering beasts.

The CX-9 is not as large some other three-row crossovers, with the smaller size most apparent in the slightly cramped last row and cargo space behind it. There is plenty of room in the first two rows, however, although the front bucket seats are a little narrow and there is no captain's chair option for the second row.

MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The second and third rows in the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD can be configured to carry up to seven passengers or a lot of cargo.

Some reviewers have said the infotainment system is not as easy to use as those in some competitors, although we did not have any trouble operating the screen with the console-mounted rotary knob. That may be because we've tested so many Mazda's that use the same system and have gotten used to it.

But those are small quibbles given the many positive features of the 2019 Mazda CX-9, especially the Signature version for those wanting a luxury ride at a very reasonable price. If that sounds like you, take an extended test drive before making a final decision.

MAZDA NORTH AMERICAN OPERATIONS - The standard turbocharged 2.5-liter inline four cylinder engine provides all the power the 2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD needs.

2019 Mazda CX-9 Signature AWD

Base price: $32,280

Price as tested: $47,285

Style: Midsize, three row crossover

Engine: Turbocharged 2.5-liter 4 (227 hp, 310 lbs-ft)

Transmission: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode

Drive modes: Normal and Sport

EPA fuel economy: 20/26

Length: 199 inches

Weight: 4,166 to 4,383

Final assembly: Hiroshima, Japan

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