Mazda CX-9 Review

William C Montgomery
by William C Montgomery
mazda cx 9 review

I’ve spent countless hours rolling down serpentine highways through the deserts and mountains of the West’s big sky country. Hundreds of times my knuckles have whitened, pupils dilated and pulse quickened as I got up my gumption to pass a velocity-challenged vehicle. In my younger years, this TED (Time Exposed to Danger) was delivered courtesy of a wheezing four-banger struggling to crank out double-digit horse power. This week I put Mazda’s modern incarnation of the family hauler, the CX-9 Grand Touring AWD, to the test. Yup, it’s déjà vu all over again.

“If the bland, cookie-cutter styling of other Crossover SUVs doesn’t suit your taste, feast your eyes on the Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring.” Contrary to Mazda’s marketing misegos, there’s a new cookie-cutter shape in town. Viewed in profile, only a learned pistonhead could distinguish the CX-9 from the host of other “sporty” CUVs; what with their pointy proboscises, apostrophe-shaped headlight clusters, steeply raked windshields, blackened B and C-pillars, oversized bling-bling wheels and fastback-styled sloping rear hatch. If the CX-9 didn’t have a dinner plate-sized boot badge, you'd easily mistake it for any number of transplanted cute-utes.

Of course, it IS a lot edgier than the Ford Edge, its sister-under-the-skin. And there’s a reason all CUVs look alike; the buyer has spoken.

Once ensconced, the CX-9 coddles today's blended families with three rows of comfortable, supportive seating. Second row legroom eclipses the Enclave’s, and the CX-9’s third row is both accessible and roomy enough for junior team members. As for larger folks, the rearmost leg and head room is, in MythBusters parlance, plausible. As a two-plus-three seater carting recidivist members of LPA (Light Packers Anonymous), skid-addling with 3500 lbs. of Ski-Doology, the CX-9’s a peach.

Aside from the too-far-forward door-mounted window switches, the CX-9’s controls are an ergonomic Zen garden. Normally, we’re amused– and not in a good way– by cowled gauges in anything other than an old Alfa or new Miata. But the CX-9’s designers carefully blended sports car cues with oversized, Volvo-esque minimalism, creating a handsome, tasteful atmos. Details have been sweated, from sensible buttonology to indirect blue lighting.

Mazda’s mavens left no stone unturned in the family pleasing techno-bauble department. But you gotta pay to play. The CX-9’s obligatory iPod-ready rear seat DVD system– complete with 11-speaker surround sound, videogame hook-ups and wireless headphones– will set you back $2560. And that’s not all. You’ve got to cough up another $2500 for the nav system and power hatch. Ouch.

For 2008, the CX-9 gets a 3.7-liter engine. The all-new six-cylinder mill puts out 273hp and stumps-up 270 ft.-lbs. of torque. In front wheel-drive configuration, Mazda’s full-sized CUV now jogs from zero to sixty in an entirely acceptable eight-ish seconds. While the sound blatting-out the CX-9’s twin pipes under hard acceleration is nowhere near as addictive as the Infiniti FX' moaning motor, the Mazda's mechanical mellifluousness is appropriately zoomy.

Yes, well, our tester's all wheel-drive system added heft (up to 4633 lbs.) and subtracted speed. I’d be surprised if a Colorado-compliant CX-9 made it from rest to sixty in less than ten seconds. Torque, schmorque; two-lane passing maneuvers still elicit sufficient butt puckering to press coal into diamonds. The CX-9’s intelligent six-speed transmission doesn’t help matters; it’s either a very slow learner or fundamentally dim-witted. But the steering does; it’s perfectly weighted and centers nicely.

According to the Mazda website, “the CX-9 delivers a driving experience like no other SUV.” Anyone who’s attempted to fling one of these lumbering behemoths down a country road knows the copywriters set the handling bar limbo low. Relatively speaking, the CX-9 is competent corner carver; the big rig stays flat. Lean and pitch motions are well controlled. But gravity (inertia?) sucks. A two-and-a-quarter ton trucklette that’s 16’8” long, 5’8” tall and 6’4” wide ain’t gonna rewrite the rules of physics (just ask Porsche).

On the positive side, ignore the advertising come-on, cool your jets and all’s well that ends well. The CX-9’s dynamics strike a satisfying compromise between perky and plush, delivering a well-refined driving experience. And accelerative challenged kiddie schleppers can cool their jets safe in the knowledge that Mazda’s deployed their safety knowledge throughout, including a full complement of Nannies, airbags aplenty and the government’s highest side and frontal impact ratings.

Although SUV refugees can get into a CX-9 for around $30k, the mpg “savings” involved are marginal (FWD EPA 16/22). And it’s easy enough to option-up to 40 large. For a Mazda? Considering the fact that sliding behind the wheel of a minivan emasculates the domesticated North American Homo sapiens male faster than a ranch hand de-testicularizing a calf, the CX-9 has got to be the pistonhead’s sprog hauler alternative of choice. As long as you’re willing to wait your turn on the turnpike, you’re good to go.

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  • Mav Mav on Sep 15, 2008

    I was excited to check this baby out after reading the review. When I got to the dealership, this CUV looked good from he outside. INSIDE? --TERRIBLE! The second row (main) back seat was ridiculously low to the floor. I am a mere 5'7" and sitting in the back seat, with my feet comfortably on the floor had the knees of my short legs popped up to chest level. It felt like many of those crammed-in third row seats! This has nothing to do with foot space; there is plenty. It has to do with the seat sitting so low to the floor! So, it should be no surprise that the third-row seats felt just he same as the wider second row seats. Then there is the cockpit. Yes, I mean the driver's seat. But if you simply see this area in person, you will notice it really is a cockpit! The driver is surrounded up do his chest or higher on all sides. That is, the center column (where the gear shift of this automatic resides) feels about has high as as the low edge of the window. Thus, you get a cramped feeling of a fighter jet's cockpit. Better seat to floor distance (and lack of crammed driver's area) can be found in the Toyota Highlander and the GMC Acadia, not to mention better gas mileage in both.

  • Dragonphire Dragonphire on Sep 30, 2008

    Despite popular belief most (adults) folks cant really fit inside the third row of the GMC unless the second row is pushed way forward. Then the space in the second row is very limited. I am only six foot even and I felt fine in the second row of the CX9 no knees to the chest like you are stating. I dont fit well in the third at all but its about the same as the GM quadruplets. Honestly if you want something light and airy feeling on the inside buy a Flex. It has a higher grade interior than any of the current crop of CUV's and the second row space is limousine like. As for me I am buying the CX9. I dont really want to see myself coming and going like the Highlander.

  • Canam23 A fine car, but I still preferred the Mazda 6, very pretty and zoom zoom!
  • Jrhurren As a (non-auto) safety professional, I have serious reservations that humans can stay attentive at scale with partial automation. Our brains naturally offload tasks and, when faced with mostly-reliable technology, happily start paying attention to something else (eg texting while driving). My prediction is that these technologies will not reduce traffic fatalities until we get to Level 5.
  • SilverCoupe Do the real cars self-dent when hit by the virtual ones?
  • SCE to AUX From the SAE: Level 3: "When the feature requests, you must drive."The timing of that request will be the subject of lawsuits. Too little warning, and this is just a Level 2 system wearing nicer clothes.Pretty car, though.
  • Analoggrotto So, who has the digital Tourettes?