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Heels on Wheels: 2012 Mazda CX-9 Review

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2012 Mazda CX-9

By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

Despite its busty size, the Mazda CX-9 is agile, quick and light – an odd feeling for a three-row crossover with seating for seven. Another welcoming but hard-to-find quality is the rather well-crafted upscale interior put forth from a more modest brand.

I drove a 2012 Mazda CX-9 with the 273-horsepower 3.7-liter engine, all-wheel drive and six-speed Sport automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Logic for manual gear control. Available in three trims – Sport, Touring and Grand Touring – my Grand Touring trim came with the following standard features: leather-trimmed upholstery; heated front seats; an eight-way power driver’s seat; keyless start; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; Bluetooth connectivity; six-speaker audio system; three-zone climate control; twenty-inch alloy wheels; fog lights; stainless steel exhaust outlet; and a roof spoiler. Price starts at $33,735. My test drive also came with the optional $400 power liftgate, a $1,665 navigation system, and a $3,055 rear entertainment system featuring a nine-inch screen DVD player, an eleven-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system and Sirius Radio.

For 2012, the Mazda CX-9 has not changed. Competitors are frequent with the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave and Kia Sorento being the most like-minded in shape, performance and price.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: Having driven several different trims and models over the years, one can easily mistake the more modest Sport trim for the Grand Touring due to the fine quality of materials used inside the CX-9’s cabin. The center console layout is very classy and ergonomically supportive, with illuminated digital readouts at the instrument panel. The seating structure is another huge plus – snug for the driver, spacious for the second row occupants, with full-sized bodies actually enjoying the third row. Yet I would like to see more options become standards on the Grand Touring trim, such as the power liftgate or the upgraded Bose audio system. Although expensive, the impressive optional rear entertainment system will keep your kids sedated on those long drives.

Reliability & Safety Factor: The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the CX-9 ratings of “Good” in frontal offset and side impact crash testing, but just “Marginal” in roof strength tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds the CX-9 earns 4-Stars in rollover but has not rated the utility vehicle for other categories. An Advanced Airbag System; Anti-Lock Brakes with EBD; Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control; and Roll Stability Control are all standards.

Cost Issues: The Sport trim begins at $29,725; the Touring at $31,645; and the Grand Touring at $33,735. The top-of-the-line Kia Sorento SX trim with a 3.5-liter engine, navigation system, ten-speaker Infinity audio system and all-wheel drive comes in at $34,850. Prices haven’t elevated drastically over the years, either.

Activity & Performance Ability: Far from sluggish, the CX-9 has feather-light mobility and well-crafted road manners. Acceleration is forceful, but always contained. The brakes follow up with the same cadence characteristics by using a leveled lean at complete stops verses a shocking stall. The Blind Spot Monitoring System that is standard on the Grand Touring only is another big bonus for a ride this size. Alerting the driver with a digital image of a car in the side view mirrors to improve passing safety, a simple “beep” follows if you hit the blinker in attempt to pass. For busy moms with a full brood, this extra system combats numerous driving distractions that can lead to accidents.

The Green Concern: Like most V6 engines, the CX-9’s 3.7-liter engine is thirsty at 16 miles-per-gallon city and 22 highway for a combined 19 with all-wheel drive.

Nimble road manners, sporty styling and a classy cabin create a mid-size crossover with enough attributes able to outweigh more expensive nameplates. We’d like to see Mazda’s much-coddled CX-9 take on some more standard features like a liftgate and upgraded audio system with the next model to keep the value competitive.

2012 Katrina Ramser

EDITOR'S NOTE: I couldn't agree more with Katrina's assesment of the CX-9. I was given one to evaluate for a week last year and I was throughly impressed. My wife owns a 2010 RX 450h which we both love, so a comparison was easy and the Mazda was able to hold its own or surpass the Lexus in ride, space and amenities falling short in the hybrids 28 MPG, all at a cost of $10-$15,000 less, and the Mazda offers a 7 passenger make sure you add the CX-9 to your short list.