During the postwar years, the ubiquitous three-row station wagon roamed highways ferrying families, boats, and campers. Those machines are extinct; a new breed of crossovers has taken their place. One is the all-wheel-drive Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring, which offers seven-passenger seating, a comfortable ride and coach-class trim.
New for 2010 is Mazda's Nagare (flow)-inspired exterior and interior. You see it in its fascia that looks like it ran into a George Nelson-designed midcentury office chair.
Mazda's CUV rolls easily due to its pleasant 273-hp, V6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission with sport-shift mode. This combo fares better than Ford's Edge, which shares a similar platform but isn't as carefully finished. For instance, the Mazda's under dashboard space is enclosed, whereas the Ford exposes sharp brackets and wiring harnesses. Expect about 15 mpg overall during cold weather. The EPA says, 15 city and 21 highway.
A CX-9's interior looks nice, but its sculpted from hard plastic--simulating wood, metal and fabric. Door panels, however, are nicely trimmed. A hard, front center console intrudes. The back seat, which slides forward for third-row access, isn't first-class seating. Its bottom is too low and the floor too high.
Pilots command a fairly nimble vehicle due to suppressed body sway and good steering feel. This is offset by long stopping distances and the CX-9's tendency to slide sideways despite AWD, stability control and antilock brakes. The Grand Touring's 20-inch performance tires aren't winter friendly.
Mazda aids navigation with an effective blind-spot monitoring system. The appropriate side-view mirror's warning icon illuminates, when there's another vehicle alongside the CX-9. Should you signal a lane change into the problematic area, an audible beep provides an additional alert. There's also a rear-view camera, but no distance markings.
At nearly $41,000, one expects an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a trip computer with mpg readout. Both are missing. The navigation system's screen washes out and there were occasional guidance errors. Moreover, some navigation tasks require too much button punching. Another quibble: automatic climate control and wipers botched windshield clearing. No complaints about the rear lid's buttons; the self-opening and closing hatch is handy.
Despite this CUV's long exterior, rear cargo space is relatively small due to sloping, thick rear pillars and ceiling-mounted shoulder belt. Yet like a good shuttle, one can haul seven adults provided seats and head restraints are locked in their upright positions.