Mazda CX-9 - It Zooms with Room

Written By nyit on Saturday, April 9, 2011 | 3:28 AM

Smile, and the whole world smiles with you.
Drive a 2011 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring crossover SUV, and you might smile yourself as its grill grins back.

This tall station wagon was born in 2007, its aim to offer a sportier seven seat option to those looking at Chevrolet Traverses and Ford Flexes. And when a company known for its Zoom-Zoom, makes a bigger crossover, you have to hope sporty is part of its genetics, especially since the CX-7 midsize crossover has some in its make-up too.
With the midsize Mazda6 platform as the basis for both, let’s zoom ahead to the details of the CX-9.

· Mazda model – Make no mistake, the CX-9 is a pretty sleek crossover atop its long 113.2-inch wheelbase. But design-wise, the 2011 model doesn’t differ too much from the first-generation model that came out in 2007 except for a dramatically happy face. The main grill is a black honeycombed slit with winged company emblem dead center, flanked by upswept almond-shaped headlights that flow into the flat-edged flares framing 20-inch Bridgestone Dueller radials on new design 10-spoke alloy wheels. True to the soon-to-be-gone Nagare design of current Mazdas is the huge happy lower grill, its mouth bisected by a floating chrome bar atop more black honeycomb mesh. The chin-line gets a gentle black fascia flank by winglet air dams under almond-shaped faux side inlets with chrome-trimmed fog lights. The black trim circles the fender wheel wells and door sills before heading aft to circle the lower rear bumper with twin slim reflectors and trapezoidal chrome-tipped exhausts. Chrome trims the side windows, which taper as they heads aft over a gentle rear fender shoulder line. It is a lean, aggressive shape that looked very nice in white, the side mirrors a bit big but offering repeater turn signals.

· CX-9 seating – Again, not much has changed with the interior, and that’s fine. The two-tone brown over tan design gets glossy woodgrain plastic accents and some piano black. The dash top and hooded gauge binnacle done in a matte finish that looks rich, but it is hard plastic. Under that binnacle, a deep-set 140-mph speedometer and 8,000-rpm tach in the center, flanked by gas and temperature gauges, backlit in orange with cool blue accent lighting. The front bucket seats are done in tan leather with light brown accents and are comfortable and supportive, with eight-way power adjustments, power lumbar and three memory presets for the driver. A blue LED spotlight illuminated the center console. The dash center is framed in glossy faux wood and alloy silver plastic, and starts with a red LCD trip computer with dual zone temperature and vent mode displays, trip computer and audio system info. Under that, a tilt-adjustable LCD touch screen that handles navigation with traffic alert and the great 277-watt, 10-speaker Bose AM-FM-Sirius Satellite-six disc CD audio system. The simple three-dial climate control system had silky-smooth action, over a rubber mat storage nook with 12-volt outlet. The audio system only gets an MP3 audio input and second 12-volt power outlet in the center armrest storage compartment. The audio system also records and plays back music from a built-in hard drive. Traffic problems automatically pop up if you are in navigation mode, offering the ability to quickly reroute. The thick leather-clad rim of the tilt/telescope three-spoke steering wheel felt sporty enough, with cruise controls on the right and voice command, standard Bluetooth hands free phone and stereo on the left. The wide center console also had twin cupholders, while the glove box was decent in size. The back doors open very wide for access to a 60/40 split second row that can be moved fore and aft about 5 inches, with great leg and head room for six-footers when slid all the way back. The seat backs also recline, while sliding them forward to access the split bench seat in back requires only one grab of a handle. Two adults can live there for a short trip, if the folks in the middle row give up some leg room. The second and third row fold flat to reveal a huge cargo area under the power rear hatch. And even if all the seats are used, there’s still a decent 17.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the third row, and storage space under the rear cargo floor, part taken up by the sub-woofer. Other tech included a Blind Spot Monitor that flashed icons in the big side mirrors when something was hidden, beeping if you activated a turn signal. There are rain-sensing wipers and height-adjust headlights. The center LCD screen also became a rear-view video when reversing.

· Mazda movement – With its 3.7-liter DOHC, 24-valve V-6 with 273-hp, 23 more than when it was introduced, there was plenty of zoom in our CX-9. Using a smooth six-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted manually, the first version we tested three years ago hit 60-mph in 8.9 seconds. Our 1,900-mile-old 2011 model did it in 8.2 seconds, with some initial wheelspin and smooth shifts. The traction control can be shut off when needed, but returns to life again as you drive, for safety. All this zoom saw the CX-9 return about 20-mpg on regular.

Thanks to a stiff unibody platform with a low friction strut-type front suspension system and multilink rear suspension, the ride was supple and well-controlled, very sporty for a mid-size crossover. Turns are tackled well with minimal body roll, making for a fun and athletic-feeling vehicle that sits higher than a sports sedan, but comes close to one in feel. Push hard and understeer crops up in more aggressive turns, but it isn’t aggressive, just acceptable. The power steering had a nice feel if a bit light, while 12.6-inch front/12.8-inch rear disc brakes do the job without fade after hard use. The only concern – one morning, the traction/stability control icon lit for a few minutes, then went off and never blinked again.

· Mazda money – The base Mazda CX-9 Sport with front-wheel-drive and the V-6 starts at $29,135, while a top-of-the-line all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model starts at $34,535. Our front-wheel-drive Grand Sport was $33,145, with all above standard except: $200 pearl white paint; $160 rear step bumper; $400 power rear hatchback; $1,665 navigation with Real-Time Traffic; $2,255 for the moonroof/Bose audio system; and $100 for a towing package with transmission cooler. Final price - $38,710 with destination. Competitors with three rows and V-6s like the Ford Flex SEL start around $32,000, and have more people room and less horsepower, while the Chevrolet Traverse LTZ is about the same in price with a bit more power. We just tested a 230-hp V-6 all-wheel-drive Mitsubishi Outlander GT with three rows and great stereo, for just over $30,000. All three are nice to drive, look good and have lots of utility like a station wagon. But the Mazda drives with a bit more fun.

· Bottom line – While its basic design is almost four years old, the Mazda CX-9 does stand the test of time as far as looks, build quality and driveability. Yes, its $30,000-plus, but it has some luxury content for the price. Outside of an MDX, this is a fun crossover with room to spare.

Vehicle type – midsize 7-passenger crossover SUV
Base price - $33,145 ($38,710 as tested)
Engine type – DOHC, 24-valve V-6
Displacement – 3.7-liter
Horsepower (net) – 273 @ 6,250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) – 270 @ 4,250 rpm
Transmission – 6-speed automatic w/manual shift mode
Wheelbase – 113.2 inches
Overall length – 200.2 inches
Overall width – 76.2 inches
Height – 68 inches
Front headroom – 38.4 inches
Front legroom – 40.9 inches
Center headroom – 39 inches
Center legroom – 39.8 inches
Rear headroom – 35.4 inches
Rear legroom – 32.4 inches
Cargo capacity – 17.2 cu. ft./ 48.3 w/2nd row folded/100.7 w/ 2nd and 3rd row folded
Curb weight – 4,330 lbs.
Fuel capacity – 20.1 gallons
Mileage rating – 17-mpg city/24-mpg highway
Last word – It zooms with room

By Dan Scanlan - MyCarData

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