Mazda's CX-9 can be more than a little deceiving. Get caught up in the driving experience—as you actually can in the somewhat nimble-feeling CX-9—and you might actually think you're driving a tall but reasonably compact wagon.
That is, until you look back from the front seat at the spacious three-row interior or assess from the outside that yes, this really is a large vehicle.
For 2010, the CX-9 gets a few minor design improvements, but inside or out, you'd probably have to park the '09 and '10 side by side to notice the differences. At the front, the CX-9 gets a little more brightwork to frame its grille, lower grille and foglamps, while the detailing of the headlamp lenses has changed a bit. Altogether the result is a slightly upward grin that hints of the Mazda3's controversial front-end look. In back there's a new strip of chrome, a smoother back bumper cover, and different taillamp lenses, but it's otherwise virtually identical to the 2009. Inside, there's a sportier steering-wheel design that better matches the one used in newer Mazdas, plus new seating surfaces, a new double-lid design for the center console, and piano-black accents.
Overall, we appreciate the rakish yet very functional design of the CX-9—especially its sleek, crisply styled snout, which completely eschews the rugged styling cues that some other makers of large and mid-size crossover vehicles are holding on to. Inside, although the CX-9's driving position is just as high up as in other vehicles, the more cockpit-style instrument panel and smaller-diameter steering wheel can make you think you're in something lower and leaner.
The 2010 Mazda CX-9 doesn't at all disappoint in the driving experience. It handles with surprising alacrity and whether moving fast down a twisty road or swerving quickly around an obstacle, it has excellent body control. Power steering boost is strong, with little if any actual feel of the road, and although the steering is light it feels responsive and precise while still being settled on center. Brakes feel firm and capable, but brake hard and you're met with a considerable amount of nosedive.
That last observation underlines a point; although the CX-9 rides quite firmly yet smoothly, there's an underlying softness in the suspension if you really push it—likely to keep the handling safe for such a heavy vehicle. So although you might feel zoom-zoom, you might not actually be moving the CX-9 much faster than the competition.