Mazda crossovers offer style and performance

Mazda crossovers offer style and performance

Mazda CX-9

To some, “stylish family crossover” is a contradiction of terms. Not Mazda. It has created two stylish crossover SUVs, the CX-7 and CX-9.

This week’s test vehicle is the larger CX-9, which easily seats seven in its three rows of seats, but a few other large crossovers will do that. The CX-9 stands out from the growing herd with a stylish body and equally stylish, comfortable and luxurious interior. Plus, it has a bit of an attitude.

Does all that come cheap? No. But like a loaded minivan, the CX-9 delivers what larger families need – and want – in a streamlined form.

[![Mazda CX-9 exterior 1](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-exterior-1.png "Mazda CX-9 exterior 1")](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-exterior-1.png)Mazda has created two stylish crossover SUVs, the CX-7 and CX-9.
The silver test vehicle was the top-level Grand Touring AWD, which starts at $34,535, but there are two lower levels. The base Sport model with front-wheel drive begins at $29,135. Moving up to AWD bumps that to $30,525. There’s also a slightly more upscale Touring level between the Sport and GT models.

All come with Mazda’s muscular 3.7-liter V6 delivering 273 horsepower in a strong, smooth fashion, lending a luxury feel to the crossover. Aiding that is a six-speed Sport automatic that shifts seamlessly and puts power to the pavement with an all-wheel-drive system that automatically engages.

The CX-9 definitely is more of a driver-oriented hauler than others that can carry seven passengers. Its steering is responsive and the crossover corners well and feels lighter than its 4,546 pounds. There’s no wallowing in turns or bouncing over bumps. Ride tends toward the sporty side, firm but not severe.

There’s independent suspension up front and a multilink setup in back, plus stability and traction control are standard. Brakes are four-wheel ventilated discs with ABS.

The Mazda also takes regular unleaded and I got an impressive (for a big crossover) 18.6 mpg in a near-even mix of city and highway driving. The EPA rates the AWD version at 16 mpg city and 22 highway. Front-drive models earn a 17 mpg city, 24 highway rating.

The CX-9’s interior is both spacious and impressive; the tested Grand Touring offered black leather seats with two-speed heating for the front row. The stylish black dash features vertical dark fake wood trim by the doors and edging along the center stack while there’s matte silver horizontal trim on the doors and along the console. Overhead is a gray roof liner.

Everything looks good and controls are easy to see and read, with the buttons, although numerous, logically laid out for simple use.

There is keyless start, but you still turn an ignition switch instead of pushing a button, which is fine. I also like that the power mirror controls are up high on the driver’s door instead of down on the armrest. Mazda also includes a wheel that rotates to three settings for your headlight aim, a rarity, but a good idea so you can lower your beams in busy settings and raise them for better night vision in rural areas.

Mazda’s leather seats are fairly flat and comfortable, the flatter bottom making it easier to slide in and out. But the seat backs are well contoured to keep you in place and well supported on a long haul or at speed on twisting roads. A power lumbar also is standard for the driver and CX-9 has three memory settings for the driver’s seat.

[![Mazda CX-9 exterior 2](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-exterior-2.png "Mazda CX-9 exterior 2")](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-exterior-2.png)Head and legroom are good in all rows and adults didn't complain about sitting in the third row.
Head and legroom are good in all rows and adults didn’t complain about sitting in the third row. There are rear heat controls, and the third row seats easily fold down to create more cargo room. However, the second row seats were hard to slide back into their standard positions after loading a third row passenger.

While on the tail, let’s mention the power hatch, a $400 option. I used to think this a frivolous option, but I’ve grown to like this feature, especially when loading a couple suitcases or boxes. It’s nice to trigger the hatch as you approach the vehicle.

The test crossover added a $1,685 navigation system with real-time traffic information. Seems a bit much at that price, but that may depend on the amount of driving you do in highly congested areas. I’d also save money by not adding the $2,255 moon roof and Bose stereo package, not that there’s anything wrong with them. They just seem like a big expense.

However, I like the rearview camera, a great safety item, and the blind-spot warning system that is standard on this upscale CX-9.

[![Mazda CX-9 interior](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-interior.png "Mazda CX-9 interior")](http://buyersguide.carsoup.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/Mazda-CX-9-interior.png)The CX-9's interior is both spacious and impressive.
Still, there are a few flaws in this otherwise attractive and comfortable interior. The tilt/telescope steering wheel is manually adjusted, not what’d I’d expect at this price, and the main gauges look a bit garish at night with blue rings behind orange numbers. Maybe if you’re a big Denver Broncos fan you’d enjoy it.

I also find the outside rearview mirrors too large, sometimes combining with the A pillar to block your side view as you pull into a parking space.

In its base or mid-trim levels, the CX-9 remains attractive. But I didn’t care for the final sticker price of nearly $40,000 with the GT. At those lower levels you still get a good ride and handling, plus the powerful V6. You can even end up with AWD and be in the low-$30,000 neighborhood. But no matter the price, you get the slickest looking crossover around.


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