2012 Mazda CX-9 GT Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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While it used to be that soccer moms and busy families contented themselves to ride around in plebeian minivans, over the past few years the trend has shifted towards well-equipped crossovers. Case in point: The Mazda CX-9. Introduced into North America in 2007 along with its smaller CX-7 sibling, the CX-9 replaced the MPV minivan, which had been Mazda's biggest family vehicle for nearly 20 years (the MPV is now offered only in Asia). Where the mid-size CX-7 offers seating for five, the full-size CX-9 offers seating for seven and enough cargo room for most adventures.

Based on the same CD3 platform as the Ford Edge, the CX-9 is nevertheless a completely different vehicle: For one thing it is longer, as the platform was stretched to accommodate more passengers, and Mazda also takes an entirely different approach to styling, opting for a smoother, more car-like appearance than many of its crossover competitors, with a swept front end and tapered roofline. This approach has advantages and disadvantages: On the plus side, it means the CX-9 avoids visual bulk, and looks smaller than it really is; on the minus side the tapering roofline limits cargo and headroom in the back.

Under the hood the CX-9 gets a 3.7-litre V6 engine that delivers 273 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. During my week with the CX-9, I found the engine to be a refined and willing performer, although a bit thirsty around town, and the transmission gets points for its smooth, unobtrusive operation.

Inside the CX-9, Mazda has created a luxurious ambience, with generous use of soft-touch materials, three-zone climate control, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity, auto-dimming rearview mirror, power driver's seat, leather-wrapped steering wheel, piano black trim, six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with auxiliary input, and more. On top of all this kit the GT trim adds a power moonroof, leather seating with power passenger's seat and driver's side memory, woodgrain trim (instead of the piano black trim), intelligent key system, and upgraded 10-speaker Bose audio with satellite radio, audio display screen and Bluetooth audio connectivity (though no USB connection). Available options fitted on the test car included a $2,675 navigation system and a $1,520 rear entertainment system (the rear entertainment system carries the additional cost that it deletes the moonroof, presumably because the two items occupy the same space in the vehicle).

The first two rows of seating in the CX-9 both offer comfortable adult-size seats, and even the third row offers decent space. Granted it's a little difficult to clamber in back there, and headroom is a bit tight for anyone over about 5'10", but the third-row is no afterthought: As long as the second-row seats aren't all the way back there's good legroom, and there's plenty of hip and shoulder room. Behind the third row there's enough cargo space for several school backpacks or a week's worth of groceries, and with the third row folded there's cargo room galore. My one complaint is that the rear hatch doesn't swing up high enough when open: At 5'11" I found the hatch corners came perilously close to my forehead, and if the CX-9 was parked on any sort of incline I had to be very careful to duck if I didn't want to bash myself.

On the road, the CX-9 behaves very well for a 2,068-kg (4,559-lb) people hauler. Mazda is serious about imbuing each of its vehicles with driving excitement, and the CX-9 delivers with a fairly taut suspension and crisp, accurate steering. Driven with a touch of restraint, as a people-hauler should be, the CX-9 feels responsive and nicely buttoned-down in the corners. Push the CX-9 hard, however, and there's simply no hiding its weight: the front tires succumb to the forces of physics fairly early on, and the promise of lively handling dissolves predictably into copious understeer.

My GT test car came with standard all-wheel drive (only the base GS is front-wheel drive), and I was able to test the system out during a drive up a local ski hill in slick, snowy conditions. Despite being equipped with highway-oriented all-season tires the CX-9 delivered fairly surefooted traction, but I was disappointed that the traction control system can't really be turned off (it can be temporarily disabled below 15 km/h, but it automatically switches back on above that). Mazda's approach in this regard is probably the safest strategy for drivers who aren't used to low-traction driving, but for drivers experienced at "steering with the throttle" it's a real frustration not being able to turn off the nannies and assume command.

Where the CX-9 really comes into its own is on the highway - it's quiet and comfortable over the long haul, the suspension tuning is just right for sweeping highway curves, and the highway fuel economy is pretty good for a large seven-passenger crossover (rated city/hwy fuel economy figures are 12.8 / 9.0 L/100km).

At a base starting price of $36,395 plus $1,795 delivery charges, and the AWD GT starting at $45,595, the CX-9 goes head-to-head against competitors such as the Chevrolet Traverse, Ford Explorer or Flex, GMC Acadia, Toyota Highlander and Honda Pilot. For those who anticipate only very occasional need for the CX-9's seven-seat passenger capacity, smaller vehicles such as Mazda's own five-seat CX-7 or six-seat Mazda5 offer up a more nimble and genuinely sporty driving experience for less money. But if seven-passenger seating is a necessity, the CX-9 offers one of the sportiest rides available, without compromising passenger comfort and luxury.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Mazda, 2012, CX-9, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999,

Organizations: Mazda

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