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Car Review: Mazda CX-9

Learning to love a big crossover

By Frederic Fane Wolfer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Sticker price for Grand Touring AWD: $35,290
Dealer cost: $32,676
Horsepower: 273
MPG: 15 city, 21 highway
3-yr Resale value: 57% 5-yr: 42%
Cargo space: 48 cu. ft.

Highs: Good moves on the road; amenities abound.
Lows: Big and heavy; pricey when equipped with all its options.

As I make my way into downtown Washington, D.C., it strikes me that the vehicle I’m driving is weird. The Mazda CX-9 is neither car nor truck, neither minivan nor SUV. It’s a large, car-based tall wagon thing -- a seven-passenger crossover.

That’s not to say the CX-9 is uniquely weird. Plenty of hard-to-categorize crossover things now roam our nation’s streets, blocking the view ahead and crowding shopping-mall parking spaces. For some, transportation such as the CX-9 makes perfect sense. But for someone like me (not a fan of SUVs or trucks), it feels awkward and takes some getting used to.

Did I mention that it’s big? Mazda lists its height at just over 68 inches and its total curb weight at 4,546 pounds. But the inside of the 2008 Grand Touring all-wheel-drive model I’m testing is a nice place to be. it comes well equipped. It’s leather-lined and has a goodly number of luxury and convenience items, including heated power front seats and three-zone automatic climate control.


The crossover I’m driving also has a DVD-based navigation system (with a touch-screen display), a highly useful backup camera, a moonroof, a 277-watt, ten-speaker sound system, Sirius satellite radio and a towing package (which allows you to tow up to 3,500 pounds). The base sticker price for the beast (including delivery) is $35,250, but the options boost the price to $40,465. (Kiplinger's awarded Best in Class honors to the more affordable CX-9 Sport, which starts at $30,035.)

Driving it

On the open road, the CX-9 drives much better than most SUVs and minivans -- nice ride, well-controlled body motions for its size, although steering is a little touchy. The proportions seem to shrink as you become accustomed to the CX-9. Steering it around a fast curve provides a quick reminder that you’re piloting a large vehicle, but overall, the thing is fairly nimble.

The 2008 CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. (Last year’s CX-9 had a less potent 3.5-liter V6.) The engine is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that offers a "manumatic" mode for shifting through the gears yourself. The combination works well, providing good acceleration -- zero to 60 miles per hour in about 7.5 seconds -- and smooth shifts. And for its size, the CX-9 gets decent gas mileage: 15 miles per gallon in the city, 21 on the highway for my all-wheel-drive version (front-wheel-drive CX-9s are lighter and rated for 16 mpg city, 22 highway).

A sense of security

You certainly feel safe behind the wheel. My CX-9 has front and side-impact airbags, side-curtain airbags for all three rows of seats, stability- and traction-control systems, and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock. (A blind-spot monitoring system is a $200 option.) As you travel the highways, the Mazda imparts a feeling of above-it-all aloofness from the traffic around you that adds to the sense of security. Before too long it has me rethinking my dislike for SUVs.


When I arrive at my underground parking garage, however, the CX-9 again feels big -- huge, even -- as I drive down the ramps and wind my way past the other cars. It seems as if parking is going to be a project. And backing in to my space is . . . a piece of cake, thanks to the optional backup camera. Now I’m beginning to think I could actually live with one of these things.

In fact, the CX-9’s appeal becomes stronger day by day. Its second-row seats are roomy, and they slide fore and aft to provide easy access to the third row (and the kids don’t seem to mind sitting back there). The touch-screen navigation system in the dash is easy to figure out and use, which is a welcome change from other systems I’ve run across.

Though large, the CX-9 is stylish and has elicited nothing but admiring comments from family, friends and one stranger. Nobody looks twice at a minivan. Maybe it's not so weird after all.

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