2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring FWD Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Mazda CX-9


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring FWD

Do you want sport with your utility, as in an engaging driving experience in a midsize crossover? Meaning something more than merely a transportation appliance? Then check out Mazda's CX-9. Offering seating for up to seven people, the CX-9 has been around since 2007 and gets its most major makeover yet for 2013. New front styling is the most obvious difference, but there are changes inside as well that improve passenger comfort and convenience with no decrease in the CX-9's sporty character. To use a line right off the proverbial silver platter, the Mazda CX-9 gives you room with your zoom-zoom.

Trim levels are the familiar Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. In all, power is from a 3.7-liter, 273-horsepower V6, driving the front or, optionally, all four wheels. Like nearly all crossovers, the CX-9's unibody structure features fully-independent suspension, but here it's in a pleasant sport-touring state of tune, capable of being enjoyably driven even on the backroads -- and just as capable of avoiding trouble. (The driver has to be up to that, too…)

Standard equipment levels are high, even in the Sport, with 18-inch alloy wheels, three-zone automatic climate control, power windows, mirrors, and door locks, a tilt- and telescope-adjustable steering wheel with cruise and audio controls, and full suite of safety equipment found in all. A 5.8-inch color multi-information display screen is now found at the top of the center stack. Streaming Bluetooth® audio, USB input, and HD radio are new to all models this year. The Touring gets leather seating surfaces for the front and outboard second-row positions, the blind-spot monitoring system, a rear backup camera, and backup sensors, and the Grand Touring adds 20-inch alloy wheels, memory outside mirrors that automatically tilt down in reverse, a power liftgate, LED running lights, and fancier interior trim. Touring and Grand Touring have an available "Technology Package" with a 10-speaker Bose® Centerpoint® audio system, navigation system with real-time traffic, and other amenities depending on trim level. Grand Touring models also can have a rear-seat entertainment package and a towing prep package which increases towing ability from 2000 to 3500 pounds (and is standard with all-wheel drive). So there is a CX-9 for every midsize crossover need or desire.

What differentiates the CX-9 from its competition? After a week with a front-drive Grand Touring with the technology and towing packages, I'd say road manners and style. It's long, low for the genre, and relatively narrow, so highway stability is excellent, as is legroom -- even in the rear rows. It doesn't overflow a standard parking space but there is enough width in the second row for three medium-sized adults, and, depending on adjustments and passenger size, plenty of leg and head room for all, in all three rows. Steering response and feel put it near the head of the class in those categories. With good manners, plenty of room, and plenty of zoom but a relatively modest appetite for regular unleaded, the Mazda CX-9 is at the top of the upper middle-class upper-midsize crossover class.

APPEARANCE: There are no trucks in the CX-9's ancestry. Take a Mazda6 wagon (which we don't get here, so use your imagination) in a CAD system, stretch it, make it a touch more muscular-looking, and you'd have something very much like the CX-9. The front restyle, with a large, rounded five-point grille with dark horizontal slats flanked by cat's-eye headlamps, is far more cohesive than earlier styling. The long hood and swept-back windshield establish sporty proportions, which are further emphasized by strategically-placed character lines, large wheels and tires filling the wheel arches, and the long, aerodynamically-tapering passenger cabin. Plastic undertrays and air deflectors are not offroad skid plates, they're there for underbody air management just like in a race car. And consequent improved stability and fuel economy, and noise reduction. Chrome trim around the side windows, and on the Grand Touring's door handles, hints at luxury. A small visor spoiler tops the rear panel, which has new taillights this year.

COMFORT: Space and grace are found inside. Interior design is in the contemporary luxury idiom, clean, uncluttered, and simple. At Grand Touring level, all of the expected luxury amenities are present -- proximity lock/unlock for the doors, power liftgate, power front seats (heated) and of course power windows, mirrors, and door locks. Keyless start/stop is by a rotary switch on the steering column. Instrumentation is complete and brightly backlit; secondary information of the trip computer variety is at the top of the center stack. Front seat comfort is very good. With all important parameters power-adjustable on the driver's side plus the (manual) tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, all drivers can find their perfect driving position. Given the large expanse and rake of the windshield, there is some glare, sometimes, but it's never objectionable or obscuring. The second row contoured bench is split 60/40. Each part is manually-adjustable, about five inches fore and aft, and can fold flat. Two adults easily fit in first-class comfort, and the flat floor makes the center position useable. The second-row sections slide forward easily for access to the 50/50-split, two-place third row. Headroom is good for anyone under 5-8, 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. To improve interior space, the space-saver spare is mounted outside under the rear.

SAFETY: CX-9 passengers are surrounded 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 reduce the possibility of rollovers. Dual front, front-seat side, and full-length side curtain airbags are standard in all models. The Blind Spot Monitoring System uses small cameras and software to check the areas to the sides of the vehicle, especially in the hard-to-see area between easy visibility in the inside mirror and outside mirrors. When there is something in those spots, even a motorcycle, lights in the shape of cars on the outside mirrors will switch on to alert the driver.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The platform in the CX-9's ancestry belongs to the Mazda6 sedan, "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 lighter than its 4300 plus-pound weight on the road. If you want sport with considerable utility and seven-passenger capacity, there are few other choices.

PERFORMANCE: There haven't been any changes to the CX-9's drivetrain since the 3.7-liter engine debuted in 2008. No worries, no changes needed. The 3.7-liter, 24-valve, dual overhead cam aluminum alloy V6 makes 273 horsepower at 6250 rpm, with torque peaking at 270 lb-ft at 4250 rpm -- and plenty below that, for effortless acceleration from any speed. Merges into fast traffic from short on-ramps present no difficulty. The six-speed automatic shifts quickly and well, and copious midrange torque means that recourse to manual mode is never really a necessity, only entertainment. Strong four-wheel vented disc brakes make is stop quickly and securely. Fuel economy is mid-pack for the large-midsize class, at (in FWD form) 17 mpg city, 24 highway, and just a fraction over 18 overall for my week.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda CX-9 continues to offer comfort, versatility, and interior space with powerful performance and a new look.

SPECIFICATIONS
2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring FWD


Base Price			$ 34,785
Price As Tested			$ 38,115
Engine Type			DOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6
Engine Size			3.7 liters / 227 cu. in.
Horsepower			273 @ 6250 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			270 @ 4250 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		113.2 in. / 200.6 in.
Curb Weight			4317 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.8
Fuel Capacity			20.1 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P245/50R20 102V
				 Bridgestone Dueler H/L 400 m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / vented disc, ABS
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		17 / 24 / 18
0 to 60 mph				est 7.8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
GT Tech Package -- includes:
  Bose® Audio with speakers, Sirius® satellite radio with
  4-month subscription, full-color touchscreen navigation
  system, power moonroof				$ 2,435
Towing prep package -- includes:
  revised engine control module, heavy-duty transmission
  cooler and radiator fan, 3500 pound capacity		$   100
Destination charge					$   795

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