Take Two: 2008 Mazda CX-9

February 18, 2008
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It’s the North American truck of the year, but there’s very little trucklike about the Mazda CX-9, a vehicle we’ve driven several times and admired, and had in the driveway again for a week recently.

We last drove the CX-9 late in 2007 as the 2008 models were just appearing, and got into a wee bit of controversy for claiming it appealed to a certain category of hot mamas. But the overall verdict was in Mazda’s favor: “With either drivetrain, the CX-9 hustles through a turn like no minivan ever did. It feels much smaller than it really is; the weight doesn't lurch around oafishly; traction and stability control sweat hard to keep the tires planted. The suspension's definitely up to the job of maintaining a fast pace, and so is the drivetrain, including the standard six-speed automatic,” Eric Peters said.

We’re still in agreement, even though the sometimes loopy North American Car/Truck of the Year jurors also picked Chevy’s Malibu over the superior Honda Accord as they were knighting the CX-9.

There’s plenty to like about the big Mazda crossover, even if it feels odd at first to drive a Mazda that won’t let you touch the trunklid from the driver seat (I owned a Miata for years, like many car writers). But it’s a nearly perfect people carrier, even without the sliding side doors that are hallmarks of the category.

For 2008, the CX-9 gets the 273-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 engine spun off from Ford’s 3.5-liter V-6. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission. Fuel economy of 16/22 mpg is nothing to be extremely proud of, but the CX-9’s a big vehicle.

The proof? We bought a 47-inch LCD TV at Sam’s -- sort of a peace dividend to ourselves after ridding ourselves of a bunch of heavy crap sitting in the garage. I got there and worried a lot that the TV’s bulk wouldn’t fit easily in the CX-9, though in a similar Buick Enclave another flat-screen television sat fine. Surprise - it slid easily into the CX-9’s hold, with even more room on the sides than in the Enclave.

The CX-9’s cabin isn’t just roomy, it’s very upscale. The interior is one of our favorites in all of Crossover Land, with its vertical application of wood trim cribbed from the Land Rover drawing boards. In the British ute it’s used like post-and-lintel construction, while in the Mazda it’s closer to Gothic ribs that buttress the cockpit. It’s stylish, and it’s anchored and aided by seats that are getting near Volvo standards of comfort. And those controversial Moms from reviews prior will take comfort in the CX-9’s five-star ratings for crash all around, and four stars for rollover resistance.

The size will give you pause--as will the $39,920 price tag for our front-drive model with moonroof, 10-speaker Bose audio, towing package, navigation system and rearview camera. All-wheel drive pushes the CX-9 firmly into the $40,000 range, but with GM’s big crossovers playing in the same neighborhood, no doubt Mazda’s just pleased to have a place on the block.

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