Car Review: Mazda CX-9 -Kiplinger

DRIVE TIME


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.

Advertisement

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.



More From Our Car Buyer's Guide


You can get valuable updates like Drive Time from Kiplinger sent directly to your e-mail. Simply enter your e-mail address and click "sign up."

More Sponsored Links


DISCUSS

Permission to post your comment is assumed when you submit it. The name you provide will be used to identify your post, and NOT your e-mail address. We reserve the right to excerpt or edit any posted comments for clarity, appropriateness, civility, and relevance to the topic.
View our full privacy policy


Advertisement

Market Update

Advertisement

Featured Videos From Kiplinger