I’ll admit it: I’ve always been a luxury car kinda girl. I think it started in high school when I would swoon over the shiny new BMWs and Benzs some of my closest friends got as their first cars. Yes, I realize these are pretty ridiculous vehicles for 16-year-olds to be driving, but North Miami Beach, FL has never shied away from being over-the-top. My first car was a 1997 Saturn SC2 — basically as far away from luxury as you can get — but when I was old enough to afford something a bit nicer, I went straight for the ultimate midsize luxury SUV: a Lexus RX 350. As the long-time owner of a Lexus SUV (not to mention the managing editor of an automotive publication that requires me to test lots of luxury cars on a regular basis), I feel like I have a solid sense of the characteristics of a true luxury vehicle. So when we recently added a 2018 Mazda CX-9 Signature to our editorial test fleet — an SUV from a brand that the average consumer would likely not consider to be luxury — I was blown away by just how luxurious it felt in every way.
There’s some evidence that Mazda is trying to position itself as a "premium" brand — sitting somewhere above the mainstream brands like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Kia, but not quite at the level of BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Lexus. I’d say Buick is sitting pretty in this place as an entry point to the luxury market without the exorbitant price tag. Can Mazda sit there too?
There are lots of elements that differentiate a luxury car — or brand — from non-luxury. Things like craftsmanship, quality of materials, standard features, driving dynamics, warranty and dealership experience, to name a few. My Lexus RX 350 has all of those and then some … but honestly, the Mazda CX-9 has most of them too, at a lower price point when you compare the top trim levels of each model. So is a Lexus badge worth $8-10K more?
Looking for Luxury
The answer to that question really depends on your needs and wants. For some, a Mazda will never have the cache of a Lexus, and that’s enough for those people to spend the extra money. Things like warranty and dealership experience are places where Mazda will need to put in some serious work to be part of the luxury consideration set. But most importantly, a brand is made up of all of the cars in its lineup — one luxurious trim level on one vehicle can’t possibly change the overall status of a brand.
A few years ago, we spent a year with the 2014 Mazda6 midsize sedan, and our entire team was thoroughly impressed with the car. It definitely felt like a more premium vehicle, from its gorgeous exterior styling to its upscale interior and impressive features. The 2018 version goes on sale this month and offers a Signature trim, which I have no doubt will be just as luxurious as our current long-term CX-9. But Mazda also has several lower-priced cars in its lineup, like the Mazda3 sedan and Mazda CX-3 and CX-5 SUVs, plus the iconic MX-5 Miata — does it make sense to offer luxury versions of these cars? That’s going to be the challenge as they try to move out of the mainstream arena and into the premium marketplace.
I can tell you this: I’ve spent the past few weeks driving the 2018 Mazda CX-9 around Atlanta, with car seats in the second row and occasionally a few extra passengers in the third row, and this luxury-loving girl is all about it. The CX-9 is indisputably attractive — I absolutely love walking up to it in the midst of a crowded parking lot. The seats are comfortable, the leather is supple, the layout of the center stack is well thought out and the technology is intuitive. Driving the CX-9 is fun, and safety features are plentiful. Luxury, premium, mainstream … this is a car I could see myself owning, whatever you want to call it. Find a Mazda CX-9 for sale
Check out our 2018 Mazda CX-9 New Car Review