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We test the Mazda CX-9

by Ali Arsham
Monday, March 19, 2012

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Mazda CX-9
Mazda introduced the CX-9 in 2007 as its large SUV.  Since then the CX-9 has remained an important part of Mazda’s line up.  Since the CX-9 has not changed all that much since 2007, we were curious to see how competitive the CX-9 is compared to its competition.  There is only one way to find out how the CX-9 stacks up and that is by taking one for a test and we found out a lot in the process.

The CX-9 looks small from the outside but that could fool you as it is very roomy on the inside.  While the CX-9’s 200 inch total length is actually 3 inches longer than a Ford Explorer, it looks smaller from the outside.  Riding on a 113.2-inch wheelbase, the CX-9 is one of the longer vehicles in the segment, providing easy access to its three rows of passenger seating.  There is ample room for adults in every seating position as well as sufficient cargo space to accommodate busy family schedules. 

What is great about the CX-9 is that it is engineered just like every other Mazda on the road and feels nimble.  While it is no Miata, the CX-9 feels amazingly small and light for such a big vehicle.  You never feel like you are driving a huge vehicle until you load up the family and their belongings.

Split 2nd-row seats
The 60/40-split second row comfortably seats three and offers approximately five inches of fore-and-aft travel as well as a reclining backrest.  In the 50/50-split third row, seating position and legroom are good for kids but most adults would not want to sit there for very long.  Entry into the third row also is not too bad with nearly 26 inches of access space between a folded second-row seat and the C-pillar.  The great thing is that even with occupants in the third row, the CX-9 provides 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space, which is more than many sedans.  Fold both the second and third row seats and you will have over 100 cubic feet of storage space.

We tried to load as much as we could into the Mazda and we were not able to fill it up.  Even large awkward sized objects seemed to fit easily into the CX-9.  The only issue was folding the second row seats was not as easy as some of the competition.  If the front seats are too far back, the headrests on the second row seats will be in the way and do not fold automatically. 

Driver's compartment
Once inside, the driver is greeted by a neatly organized combination of cylindrical shapes and blacked-out instruments on Mazda's familial T-shaped instrument panel design.  Brightly-edged gauges and indirect blue illumination set a mood of calm and cool.  Indirect lighting also is embedded in the ceiling for a warm glow. 

The 2012 CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that puts out only 10 more horsepower than the 2007 CX-9.  At 273 horsepower at 6,250 rpm the CX-9 is not exactly explosive off the line but it is quick enough to keep things interesting.  The 60-degree short-stroke V-6 is state-of-the-art throughout, and advanced features include a die-cast aluminum block with cast-in iron cylinder liners and aluminum cylinder heads for minimizing vehicle weight. 

The valve train includes chain-drive dual overhead camshafts for minimal maintenance, four valves-per-cylinder with direct acting bucket-type actuators and variable intake valve timing.  A 10.3:1 compression ratio maximizes engine efficiency and power output. 

The CX-9 utilizes an Aisin-supplied six-speed automatic transmission with a manual mode as standard equipment.  Broad ratios maximize flexibility by providing enthusiastic launching with quiet cruising speeds.  The top two gears are both overdrive ratios.  One interesting note about Mazda’s manual mode is that you pull on the lever for upshifts and push for downshifts.  That is the opposite of how everyone else does it but it is the natural feeling way and it is the way race cars are done. 

Front-wheel drive is standard with Mazda's Active Torque All-Wheel-Drive as an available option which our test car had.  This AWD system rapidly adjusts to changing traction needs by monitoring wheel slippage, steering angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration and available driveline torque. 

In normal driving situations, 100 percent of the driving torque is delivered to the front wheels.  During aggressive acceleration or when one front wheel is on the verge of slipping, a controlled percentage of the available torque is directed to the rear axle. 

The system works very well and you can launch off the line with barely a squeak from the tires as the computer routes the power to the wheels with the most grip.

The CX-9 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.  All models include air conditioning with pollen filter, three-zone automatic climate control, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, Bluetooth hands-free audio and phone connectivity and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. 

The Sport model adds 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels outfitted with P245/60R18 all-season tires.  Stepping up to the Touring model adds leather seat trim, an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat with power lumbar support, a power front passenger seat and auto off headlights. 

The top-of-the-line Grand Touring rolls in on 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels outfitted with 245/50-20 tires.  The Grand Touring model also adds rain-sensing windshield wipers, an anti-theft alarm system, exterior mirrors with turn indicators, a three-position memory driver's seat and Blind Spot Monitoring system. 

Optional on the Grand Touring and installed on our car were a rear seat entertainment system with a nine inch screen with 5.1 surround sound 11 speaker system and a terrific navigation system.  We should mention that despite having the top of the line audio system, the audio quality was not impressive for a luxury car and sounded just adequate.

Perhaps the best part of the CX-9 is that it starts out at only $29,725 for the Sport front wheel drive model.  Even our top of the line all-wheel drive Grand Touring lists for $35,125 and our test car with options came out to only $40,850.  For that price you get a well put together car that is amazingly fun to drive for such a big car and has lots of features.  It also has lots of room for seven people but unlike many other such SUVs does not feel huge from behind the wheel.

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