2009 Mazda CX-9

Mazda makes the seven-seater sporty and sporty-looking

2009 Mazda CX-9

Ahhhh… now this is more like it. Having spent the previous week in Mazda’s all-too-sporty CX-7 I slid my behind into the leather-wrapped seats of my CX-9 Grand Touring tester, which seemed like a blissful oasis by comparison.

FAST FACTS

1. Only one engine is offered, a 3.7-liter V6 engine with 273hp and 270 ft-lbs of torque.

2. The CX-9 is a 7-seater, with a 3rd row that is actually useable.

3. Front-wheel drive models get 16/22 mpg (city /highway) with AWD models rating 15/21 mpg.

4. Cargo room being the 3rd row is 17.2 cubic feet, and expands to 48.2 cu.-ft. with the 3rd row seats folded.

For starters the CX-9 Grand Touring (and Touring model) comes well equipped with leather seats, a power 8-way driver’s seat with lumbar support and heat and a 4-way power passenger seat with heat. The GT model also gets a 3-way seat memory, Homelink, some silver interior accents, Mazda’s Blind Spot Monitoring system, Keyless Entry and Start System, as well as wood grain accents – which we’d rather do without as so very few companies, apart from the Jaguars and Bentleys of the world, get it right. Still, I was surprise how well the wood worked in this cabin.

These items come on top of the standard equipment for all CX-9 trim levels, which includes A/C, power windows and locks, cruise control and a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio controls.

But there’s more to the CX-9 than just listing options, it’s actually a big step up from the 7 – and not just in size. The interior materials and buttons are of a higher quality and even the gauges have a luxury-feel with a brushed faux-metal background to the numbers on the speedometer and tachometer. And the leather actually smells like genuine leather.

As for the smart key system, it is convenient, allowing a driver to lock and unlock the car using little rubber buttons on the door handles, so long as the credit card-sized smart key is close at hand. Still, it would be nice to have a push-button ignition rather than the little plastic tab.

The Blind Spot Monitoring system can be helpful but is often too sensitive. I liked that the little symbol would light up on the side mirrors to alert me that there was a vehicle in my blind spot, but often when I signaled moving from a right lane to a center lane on the highway it would begin to beep – as it picks up the cars in the far left lane. And when you move into that far left lane, it often picks up the center divider.

My GT tester came with two option packs, the reasonably priced $2,300 Navigation Pack, which not only includes a navigation system, but also a back up camera, Bluetooth connectivity and a power rear liftgate. The other option pack was the Rear Entertainment System pack, but I’ll get to that later.

The driving feel is noticeably more truck-like than the CX-7, but is still sporty thanks in part to a fully independent suspension both front and rear and the use of some 20-inch wheels with 245/50/20 tires. (Sport and Touring models come standard with 18s).

There’s more body lean than the CX-7, but the larger 9 is also significantly more capable at soaking up bumps in the road.

273 HP V6 ENGINE DOESN’T FEEL ALL THAT POWERFUL

Power for the CX-9 is generated by a 3.7-liter V6 engine with 273hp at 6250 rpm and 270 ft-lbs of torque at 4250 rpm. Much like the CX-7, the 9 feels somewhat underpowered – an optional V8 for top line models would be ideal, but that would no doubt significantly diminish the vehicle’s fuel-economy rating.

The somewhat sluggish feel might have something to do with the 4,550-lb curb weight and the power-robbing AWD system in our tester. (Front wheel drive models will experience less power loss through the drivetrain and weigh 200 lbs less).

The issue, however, might just be with the transmission and pedal setup. The CX-9 has what you might call “progressive” pedals, which provide response exponentially as you apply more pressure. A linear pedal setup would definitely change this and would be more in keeping with Mazda’s “Zoom-Zoom” philosophy.

The way the vehicle is set up, the first half of the gas pedal does very little, and trying to get the 6-speed transmission to drop down a gear requires a forceful drop-kick.

The same can be said of the brakes, which don’t inspire much confidence as the top half of the peddle does almost nothing – although they are still very good regardless of how they feel.

The pedal setup and transmission settings do make the CX-9 very smooth and the tendency to stay in a higher gear will certainly help in the fuel-economy department.

On that note, the 3.7-liter V6 delivers a rating of 15/21 mpg (city/highway) with AWD and front wheel drive models rate slightly higher with 16/22 mpg.

One factor that should be pointed out, however, is that you won’t have to shell out for premium fuel. (The CX-7 on the other hand recommends but doesn’t require premium).

A REAL THIRD ROW AND CARGO ROOM TO BOOT

When it comes to passenger and cargo room this crossover rates highly, offering seven seats and a 3rd row that actually provides rear space with the 2nd row moved up slightly. It might not fit the linebackers on your son’s high school football team, but there’s definitely room for a pair of soccer moms.

Getting into the 3rd row is made easy thanks to a second row seat that just folds up and slides forward with one touch.

Second and third row passengers are also well-served thanks to a third climate control port located in the back of the front seat center armrest. The cabin also comes with 8 cup holders and 3 12v outlets.

There are some nice option packages to be had with a $2,760 Rear Entertainment system package that includes a roof-mounted 9-inch LCD screen so rear passengers can watch DVDs, as well as an 11-speaker, 296-watt Bose audio system with a 6-moth Sirius Satellite radio subscription and a 115 volt outlet for powering laptops or charging mobile devices.

Unfortunately, however, if you opt for this package you can’t get a sunroof.

Cargo space behind the rear seat is decent with 17.2 cubic feet. Knock down the 3rd row seats and that number expands to 48.4 cubic feet. Take things a step further and drop the 2nd row and the total cargo space is a massive 100.7 cu.-ft.

As for the tow rating, it’s a piddly, 2,000 lbs for FWD models, but can be upgraded to 3,500 lbs with an option pack (which comes standard on AWD models).

FIRST RATE SAFETY

No one buys a vehicle like this without researching the safety details and while we invite you to keep reading this paragraph, you could just skip to the next one and trust our opinion that the CX-9 gets top safety marks. It has six airbags, including side-curtain bags for all three rows. Add to this ABS with brake fore distribution and, more importantly, the CX-9 comes with Mazda’s (aka Ford’s) Roll Stability Control system, an integrated traction and stability control system that prevents accidents and rollovers. It also received a five star rating for front and side impact crashes from the NHTSA and the highest rating of “good” from the IIHS for front and side impact crashes.

SPORTY STYLE STANDS OUT IN A CROWD

The CX-9 is a fine looking vehicle but not nearly as captivating as it’s CX-7 sibling. It’s noticeably more SUV-like in appearance but does share a sporting flare. The GT models are easily the best looking of the bunch thanks to the 20-inch wheels and Xenon headlights, although Touring and GT models both get side mirrors with built-in indicators, as well as chrome door handles and all models get LED taillights. Our tester also came with an impressive high quality Crystal White Pearl Mica paint job.

As for the price, it ranges anywhere from $30,490 to $38,635 ($37,195 to $44,795 CDN) including the $670 destination fee. As tested, our model topped out at $41,135 ($52,964 CDN).

THE VERDICT

With a luxury interior this big Mazda is a near-luxury SUV and when fully loaded has a price to match. The engine could use a bit more power, although output is fine for this class of vehicle. (Perhaps, as we already mentioned, it just needs a more aggressive throttle).

It might not be a bargain per say, but the CX-9 is priced competitively in its segment stacking up against vehicles like the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Veracruz and the General Motors variants like the GMC Acadia, Chevy Traverse and Saturn Outlook – all of which (with the exception of perhaps the Hyundai) look much more truck-like. So if you’re looking for a less traditional seven-seater – that can actually seat seven with room left over for groceries – the Mazda CX-9 is one of few options.

PLUS

Reasonably priced options A 7-seater that actually seats seven Luxurious interior on Touring and Grand Touring models

MINUS

Less than responsive pedals An optional V8 would be nice Blind Spot Monitoring too sensitive

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