By Mark Maynard
For those who absolutely will not drive a minivan, the seven-passenger crossover is the most-efficient alternative. And among the choices is Mazda’s CX-9, which gives a large and deluxe family experience.
After going on sale in 2007, the Mazda CX-9 crossover was immediately named the 2008 North American Truck of the Year by a jury of 45 automotive journalists. Three years later, this seven-passenger minivan alternative has been given an exterior and interior face-lift, added options and reinforced safety features.
The CX-9 is sold in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring models. Pricing ranges from $29,385 to $33,395; add all-wheel-drive for $1,400. The midrange, front-wheel-drive Touring test vehicle was $34,327 with options. All models include air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, trip computer, cruise control, six air bags, Bluetooth phone connection and black or beige interior colors.
CX-9 scores 24 out of 25 possible stars in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations crash testing, including four stars for rollover. No truck, crossover or sport-utility vehicle has yet earned five stars for rollover resistance.
I liked driving the Touring model for its ever-ready power, smoothness over a variety of road surfaces and how quiet it is at 65 mph. Its 37.4-foot turning circle is surprising lithe for a vehicle with a long wheelbase. Steering force is light but precise, braking is confident and the suspension is compliant, not over exaggerated for a “zoom-zoom” reputation.
The sunroof — part of 10-speaker Bose audio upgrade with Sirius satellite radio — can be enjoyed wide open at freeway speeds; most such roof openings invoke annoying or painful wind buffeting. The moonroof package is $2,255, but to get it requires also selecting the power liftgate for $617. And to add the rearview camera, $665, it also includes the moonroof/liftgate upgrades, but the grouping will not cause buyer’s remorse and will help create a vehicle that is staged to grow with the family.
Updates include the Mazda-themed “Nagare” design treatment of flowing lines, outside and inside. The distinctive treatment is becoming the signature of Mazda. The lines have bold impact but are harmless enough to ergonomics and sightlines. Taller drivers may have to duck and swivel when sliding into the front seats. And the fixed, forward-angle of the front headrests can be awkward for some, too.
The interior received such adjustments as higher-density seat fabric, more chrome, piano-black inserts, a split-lid cover to the nicely padded center console and a slightly different leather treatment, which has a luxury-class appearance. It is the highest quality leather Mazda uses on any vehicle in the world.
The cabin styling is contemporary and clean without gimmicks. There is no confusion to the arrangement of driver controls, setting fan speeds or adjusting the audio.
Even with tall people in the front seats, the second row has adult legroom and foot-room, but a grab handle at the second-door pillar might help climbing aboard. The center position has a head restraint and the flat floor allows good foot space. Or fold the center seatback for a wide, padded armrest that provides the comfort of captain’s chairs to those in the door-side seats.
The second row has some fore-aft adjustment to make room for people or cargo in the third row. The seats fold and slide easily for access. The back row is raised and has adult-class width and some legroom for those who are flexible.
From the cargo area, the third-row seats fold easily with a tug on the release strap, which also makes it easy to pull the seatbacks into position. There is good grocery space behind the third row, and folding the seats creates a broad flat area.
There are several shapes and styling statements for this class of crossover. It is possible to pay more for seven seats, but you don’t get more than what Mazda puts into the CX-9.
2010 Mazda CX-9 Touring
Body style: seven-passenger, front- crossover
Engine: aluminum, 273-horsepower, DOHC V-6
Transmission: six-speed automatic with manual mode
EPA fuel economy estimates: 16 mpg city, 22 highway (15/21 AWD); 87 octane recommended
Cargo space: 17.2 cubic feet to 48.3 third row folded
Front head/leg/shoulder room: 39.6 plus moonroof/40.9/59.4 inches
Second-row head/leg/shoulder room: 39/39.8/58.7 inches
Third-row head/leg/shoulder room: 35.4/32.4/56.9 inches
Length/wheelbase: 200.2/113.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,330 pounds (AWD 4,546)
Tow capacity: 3,500 pounds, with prep package
Standard equipment includes: air conditioning, power windows, power door locks with remote keyless entry, trip computer, cruise control, six air bags, Bluetooth phone connection, leather-trimmed seats (front and second rows), eight-way power adjustable driver seat, heated front seats, lighted and locking glove box, three 12-volt outlets, 18-inch alloy wheels
Safety features include: six air bags (including three-row side curtains), roll stability control, traction and stability controls, active headrests, four-wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake-force distribution
Touring base price: $31,305, including $750 freight charge; price as tested $34,327
Options on test vehicle: moonroof/Bose audio, $2,255; power liftgate, $617; rear bumper step plate, $150
Mazda and the CX-9 are part of the Ford Motor Co. family. CX-9 shares some structural elements with the smaller CX-7, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. But part sharing is more selective after that.
The CX-9 and Edge share a very similar rear suspension, but with tuning differences. The 3.7-liter V-6 in CX-9 and Edge was jointly developed, with Ford taking the lead. But Mazda’s engine is built in Japan while Ford’s is from Lima, Ohio. The six-speed automatic transmissions are completely different. The CX-9 uses a Mazda-specific box, but Ford’s box is from a joint venture with General Motors. The CX-9 has a manual mode while Ford doesn’t.
“Different vehicles for different customers,” a Mazda spokesman said.
Mark Maynard is driving in cyberspace at Mark.Maynard@uniontrib.com.
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