2007 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD Review
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
Crossovers seem to be the vehicle du jour, replacing the truck-based SUVs of the 1990s. With their emphasis on comfort, practicality, and utility this is understandable. With car-like construction, independent suspension, and V6 instead of V8 power, the larger crossovers work well for buyers' real-world purposes of hauling people and/or cargo in various combinations across the urban and suburban landscape, and using a little less fuel than a traditional SUV while doing so.
But most crossovers, and especially those of the larger, seven-passenger variety, don't rate high on the fun-to-drive scale. While this won't matter to a large number of potential buyers - probably the majority, who are just looking for roomy transportation - it will be off-putting to people for whom driving is an end in itself, not merely something to be endured between points A and B.
Enter the Mazda CX-9. Designed specifically for the American market, it combines Mazda "zoom-zoom" with room. Large but not huge, its design and space utilization allow it to hold up to seven real humans, mostly adult, in comfort, something not always possible in "seven-passenger" SUVs and crossovers. It also is remarkably light on its feet, providing a driving experience that is more like what is expected from a sports sedan than a passenger-hauler, and its 3.5-liter, 263-horsepower V6 gives it energetic performance with reasonable fuel economy considering its size. It's a very well-balanced vehicle.
There are three trim levels in the CX-9 lineup, Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. All share the 3.5-liter V6 matched to a six-speed automatic and a very sporting suspension tuning that does not compromise comfort. All may be specified as front- or, optionally, all-wheel drive. All are equipped with three-row seating, and easy access to the third row. Standard equipment levels are high, and commensurate with pricing, which currently varies from just under $30,000 for a front-drive Sport to closer to $40,000 for a fully-optioned AWD Grand Touring.
My week with a moderately-equipped CX-9 Grand Touring AWD was marked by needs to transport both people and stuff. Good timing! The people were still friends afterwards, and when I needed to transport a couple of bicycles, no problem and no disassembly required as with the second and third rows folded flat there is no shortage of space. The CX-9 scored high on looks, too, with many positive comments. Best of all, it was actually a car to be driven, as opposed to merely operated. Space and sport are not necessarily mutually exclusive.
APPEARANCE: Looking for the "rugged offroad look"? Look elsewhere! Like the smaller CX-7, the CX-9's lines say "sport" far more than "sport utility", with a familiar Mazda face thanks to the five-sided grille and angular hood and fender styling. Although longer and larger than the CX-7, the -9's elegant, gracile lines make it look nearly the same size, and much smaller than it actually is. Befitting its more luxurious, grown-up nature, the -9's fenders are reduced from the muscular, RX-8-inspired look of the -7, and its passenger cabin slopes less toward the rear. Euro-style chrome trim around the windows, and, on the Grand Touring, on the door handles and liftgate, adds to its luxury ambiance, while the sleek lines and large wheels and tires say "sport".
COMFORT: Inside the CX-9 is quite possibly the best interior to ever come from Mazda. But it offers far more than merely elegant style - there is all of the comfort, space, and versatility expected in a premium crossover. The premium look is enhanced in the Grand Touring by two-tone leather seating and metal-and-wood-look trim. In front are wonderful, well-bolstered sports seats that would not be out of place in a sports sedan, both power adjustable in the Grand Touring. The second row contoured bench is split 60/40. Each part is manually-adjustable fore and aft, about five inches, and can fold flat. Two adults easily fit in first-class comfort, and the flat floor makes the center position useable if all three occupants are not too wide. The second-row sections slide forward easily for access to the 50/50-split, two-place third row. Headroom is good for all but NBA draft choices, legroom back there depends on the second-row position; if it's not all the way back, seven adults can fit in reasonable comfort - and there is still more luggage space behind the third row than is found in many sedan trunks. Folding the third and/or second rows only increases cargo space to cavernous levels. Back up front, the driver gets a leather-wrapped, manually tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with phone, auxiliary audio, and cruise controls. Instruments are backlit in a sporty red, and protected from glare for good visibility. Useful storage spaces abound, and the center console has an audio mini-jack for an MP3 player and one of several power points. Options in my test vehicle included the comprehensive "Rear Seat Entertainment" package, with a rear DVD player and screen, 11-speaker Bose audio system, and in-dash /6-CD changer, and Sirius satellite radio.
SAFETY: The CX-9's structure surrounds the passengers with a strong central safety cage and protective structures designed for controlled deformation. Four-wheel ventilated disc brakes with antilock, traction control, and dynamic stability control (DSC) improve active safety. The Roll Stability Control system works with the DSC system to less the possibility of rollovers. Dual front, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard in all models.
RIDE AND HANDLING: Automotive genealogy lesson: the platform in the CX-9's ancestry belongs to the Mazda6 sedan, and "platform" in this case meaning lower unibody stampings, and basic suspension design and mounting points. It's stretched and otherwise modified considerably for the CX-9, and serves admirably. The unibody structure is strong and rigid, and the fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension is tuned in the manner of a European sports sedan - firm, for minimal body roll and stability when cornering, but damped correctly to ensure a high level of ride comfort. The steering effort is spot-on, neither too light nor too heavy. The CX-9 is a pleasure to drive, and feels much lighter than its 4500-pound weight (in AWD Grand Touring trim) on the road. If you want sport with considerable utility, there are few other choices.
(Parenthetical aside, and obvious question: Mazda and Ford have a long history of cooperation. Is the CX-9 merely a Ford Edge with a Mazda badge? Answer: No! They are related - the Mazda6 begat the Ford Fusion, which (stretched and heavily modified) begat the Edge. So yes, there are undoubtedly parts that look similar, and may even interchange. But the CX-9 has a longer wheelbase and somewhat different upper structure than the Edge. Badge engineering not spoken here!)
PERFORMANCE: The Ford connection shows up in the engine compartment, which is filled with the blue oval's newest powerplant. No complaints, the 3.5-liter aluminum alloy unit is perfectly suited to the task at hand. Dual overhead cams with variable cam phasing and electronic throttle control mean refined, quiet operation and a broad spread of useful power. Even with a high 10.3:1 compression ratio, it runs on 87-octane regular unleaded. A six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode makes the best use of the 263 horsepower (at 6250 rpm) and 249 lb-ft of torque (at 4500 rpm) available. Response in automatic is very good, but the engine likes to rev freely and manual shifting can add performance and enjoyment on the right road. Passing, merging, and hills are never problems. The "Active Torque Split" all-wheel drive system, also used in the CX-7 and Mazdaspeed6, uses a variety of electronic sensors linked with control modules to dynamically vary the front/rear torque split up to 50/50 to take maximum advantage of available traction while still having familiar front-wheel drive characteristics.
CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda CX-9 combines zoom-zoom with room.
2007 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD Base Price $ 33,875 Price As Tested $ 37,460 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 Engine Size 3.5 liters / 213 cu. in. Horsepower 263 @ 6250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 249 @ 4500 rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Wheelbase / Length 113.2 in. / 199.8 in. Curb Weight 4546 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 17.3 Fuel Capacity n/a gal. Fuel Requirement 87-octane regular unleaded gasoline Tires P245/50 VR20 Bridgestone Dueler Brakes, front/rear vented disc all around, twin-piston front and single-piston rear calipers Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multilink Drivetrain transverse front engine, all-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 16 / 22 / 16 0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec Towing capacity 2000, or 3500 with towing package OPTIONS AND CHARGES Rear seat entertainment package - includes: 296-watt, 11-speaker Bose audio system, 9-inch DVD screen above second row, in-dash 6-CD changer, 115-volt power outlet $ 2,560 Sirius Satellite Radio $ 430 Destination charge $ 595