An ingredient was missing.
Zoom, zoom is in Mazda’s DNA, and the CX-9 came up one zoom short when it bowed for 2007.
The 3.7-liter V-6 designed by Ford, but built by Mazda, wasn’t ready, so the crossover had to make do with the 3.5-liter V-6 designed and built by Ford.
Now the 3.7-liter that unleashes 273-horsepower, not to mention 270-foot-pounds of torque, has been hitched to the CX-9 in place of the 3.5-liter and its 263-h.p. and 249-ft.lb. It’s teamed with a smooth and quiet 6-speed automatic with manual mode.
Spirited motoring while able to haul seven in three seats — the Holy Grail of crossovers. Quick takeoffs with just a little exhaust rumble for the sound of performance. Cruising is whisper quiet.
While full of energy, the 3.7 is rated at 15 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway with all-wheel-drive, 1 m.p.g. less than an AWD Buick Enclave, though what CX-9 lacks in mileage it makes up for in muscle.
Environmentalists be warned: There’s no place to insert batteries for higher mileage.
Couple changes other than the engine. A power hatch lid is now available. Press the key fob to raise the lid as you approach with arms full, or press the button in the dash if you spot a package-laden family member approaching while you stay warm inside.
And to make the road a bit safer, there’s a blind spot monitor. When vehicles approach from behind on either side, a yellow light flashes in the sideview mirrors as a warning not to change lanes. If you use your turn signal to indicate a lane change when a vehicle is in your blind spot, the flashing light is accompanied by a series of beeps.
But the flashing yellow light is hardly an attention getter during daytime hours, and day or night, the many who don’t bother with the turn signals wouldn’t get the beep-beep-beep.
And, if you are going 65 m.p.h. and pull into a lane in which the guy in your blind spot is going 85 m.p.h., do you have time to say oops after the beep sounds? Never mind that you belong in the far right lane if you are in the center and getting passed on left and right sides.
But we digress, even if it’s only the thought that counts when you have to spend $200 for a system that’s hardly foolproof.
We tested the top-of-the-line CX-9 Grand Touring with AWD, which is like piloting a Mazda6 sedan that stands higher off the ground and has an extra row of seats.
Four-wheel independent suspension minimizes road harshness and eliminates chatter over tar marks. Though long, wide and shaped somewhat like a minivan, the CX-9 maneuvers into and out of tight places with serpent-like precision. No lean or sway. The 20-inch, low-profile radials are designed for enthusiastic driving.
The CX-9 operates in front-wheel-drive in normal conditions but engages all wheels during hard acceleration or when it detects one wheel about to slip.
To ensure optimum road manners under all conditions, stability and traction control with rollover sensing are standard. They will keep the vehicle on even keel or deploy the side-curtain bags spanning all three rows if the driver tries to defy the laws of physics.
Nice but not without some gripes. After roomy front- and second-row seats that are supportive and well cushioned, leg and melon room is tight in row three, where the small size of the cupholders hints at intended occupants.
Also, second-row seats slide 5 inches forward and the backs recline to create an all-too-narrow aisle to the third row.
Cargo room behind the third seat is skimpy. CX-9 might haul seven people, but not with their suitcases unless some are carried on laps. If driving five or fewer folks, the third row seat backs fold flat by pulling straps. Then cargo room is ample with a small compartment under the floor for hiding a few things.
One much-appreciated feature is the soothing blue mood lighting in the doors and overhead console, which also helps illuminate the cupholders at night. The blue back-lighting for the orange gauges gives them an easy-on-the-eyes lavender hue. And all control buttons, levers and dials have red lettering, also easy to see and use at night.
Base price is $34,655, which includes three-zone automatic climate control; power mirrors (heated)/windows/front seats (heated); rain-sensing wipers; Bluetooth hands-free phone; AM/FM/CD player with steering-wheel controls; three, 12-volt power outlets; keyless start; tilt and telescoping steering wheel; fog lamps; and auto-on headlamps.
Options included a package that teams power moonroof with a Bose sound system for $1,760, and a GT assist package at $2,500 with voice-activated navigation system, backup camera and the power hatchlid. A dealer-installed portable DVD system will be available early next year.
Kicking zoom up a notch at a time of high gas prices hasn’t hurt CX-9. The test vehicle sported a window decal that read “2008 Motor Trend Sport-Utility of the Year.”
And the CX-9 is one of three finalists for 2008 North American Truck of the Year selected by 50 automotive writers, including this scribe. It is up against the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and the aforementioned Enclave. Winners will be announced at the Detroit Auto Show Jan. 13.
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2008 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD
Fuel economy: 15 m.p.g. city/21 m.p.g. highway Price as tested: $39,785. Add $635 for freight.
THE STICKER $34,655 Base $2,500 GT assist package with voice-activated DVD navigation system, rearview camera and power hatchlid $1,760 Moonroof/Bose package with power moonroof, Bose sound system and in-dash CD changer $430 Sirius satellite radio $200 White-pearl paint $200 Blind-spot monitoring system $40 Cargo net Wheelbase: 113.2 inches Length: 199.8 inches Engine: 3.7-liter, 273-h.p. V-6 Transmission: 6-speed automatic
PLUSES Engine upgrade for more zoom. Power liftgate now standard. Blind-spot warning system a new option. Room, comfort, ride and handling plus three rows of seats. Goodies from Bluetooth hands-free phone to side-curtain air bags. AWD security.
MINUSES Limited cargo room behind third seat. Mileage rating. Blind-spot system sometimes blind.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Transportation. Contact him email@example.com.