Break this car apart.
Take today's test car, the 2007 Mazda CX-9, and look at it from just behind the front wheel, forward to the grille. You might think it is a sleek sedan, such as an Acura TL. Examine it from the rear tire backward and you might imagine it's a high performance SUV, such as the Porsche Cayenne. And if you focus only on the center it resembles a modern minivan, like the Dodge Grand Caravan.
The CX-9, and its smaller garage-mate, the CX-7, may be the boldest examples of the modern crossover vehicle: they carry families the way minivans can, haul gear in a safer and less costly manner than SUVs, and offer the performance and handling of a solid family sedan.
Our first CX experience came in the "7" as we climbed the snaking hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. We deemed it a box of a sports car -- not hulking, but nimble and quick
The CX-9 also is nimble and quick despite the added size. In fact, it is easy to forget you are at the wheel of a vehicle that will carry seven people (including adults in the third row of seats). Large back doors make access to the rear quarters easy, aided by a middle row of seats that slides comfortably forward. Somehow Mazda has managed to rake the seats backward at a comfortable angle, even while preserving decent rear cargo space. And if you don't need the third row, it folds completely flat. If even more space is needed, the middle row folds nearly flat.
Head and leg room in all three rows is generous, and all occupants are protected by standard air bags: front and front side, and curtain bags for all three rows.
The interior, with moderately bolstered front bucket seats, features a central control pod, with an optional navigation system that is intuitive and ergonomic. No squinting to read small buttons, and no pinching to twist small knobs. All the controls are handy and big, whether for climate, audio, or other functions. A gracefully sloped, two-tone, textured dash is accented at each end by faux wood trim. The same trim is reflected again as the vertical framework for the central control pod.
A traction control system, antilock brakes that sense an emergency, and an anti roll system are standard, as well. These are key features to look for on a car, particularly when you are likely to be carrying your entire family.
Our Grand Touring all-wheel-drive model also had such standard fare as leather-trimmed seats in the first two rows, heated front seats, power windows, fog lamps and LED tail lamps, a shift knob and steering wheel wrapped in leather, Bluetooth hands-free communication, anti theft alarm, heated power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, three-zone automatic climate control, and an AM/FM/CD sound system with six speakers.
The CX-9 also comes in Sport and Touring models, in front- and all-wheel drive. Base prices range from about $29,000 to $34,000. All are powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 263 horsepower, which felt even more powerful once the rpms were up. The engine produces 249 lb.-ft. of torque for tugging up hills and hauling heavy loads. The transmission is a smooth six-speed automatic with a manual option that involves simply a forward-backward click selection for up and down.
On the road, the CX-9 felt more like a stable and sporty sedan than a people and cargo hauler. It wasn't as snappy as the smaller, lighter CX-7, with its turbocharged, inline four-cylinder engine, but was ready to pass on the highway or accelerate from an entrance ramp. Another plus: it runs on 87 octane gas.
This is the largest vehicle Mazda has made, but it is more nimble than some of the company's earlier models.
Royal Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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|Scott Burgess||The Detroit Newspapers||January 31, 2007|
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