Mazda CX-9 Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
2012 CUV Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks
When other automakers can't seem to bend the laws of physics, somehow it seems that Mazda can. It manages to crunch down something larger to a nice workable platform without losing the essence of what the vehicle is all about -- like it has with the new junior-sized Mazda5 minivan. Conversely, it also has learned to be expansive without losing fun or agility in the process. The 2012 Mazda CX-9 is an example of the latter we're discussing here.
Expecting the CX-9 to retain the capability and self-described "Zoom Zoom" personality of the Mazda vehicle lineup shouldn't be a surprise. Like other crossovers, it is built like a car rather than the old way of sport utility construction on top of a ladder-like frame. With the sliding door Mazda5 getting a lion's share of company attention this year, the CX-9 gets a new date change but nothing extraordinary in terms of updates for 2012.
So why are we talking about a vehicle that debuted four years ago and doesn't have the obligatory list of model year changes designed to make it appear to be freshened?
How about credentials to start with? As Mazda's second crossover to enter the fickle American automotive landscape following the smaller CX-7, it brought with it full-size spaciousness in a player imbued with a desire to sprint. Its initial appearance on the market brought it multiple truck of the year and sport utility of the year accolades for styling, performance and interior room.
Here was a utility vehicle big enough to hold seven without scrunching riders into awkward positions or forcing someone to take an elbow in the ribs on a long trip. It had these gorgeous, sensuous lines that could make one reach for the wallet to buy one before all its attributes were explained. And it loved the roads -- curved ones through mountain passes, long straight-aways, congested inner city avenues, manicured boulevards in uppity suburban communities.
If ever there was a driver's crossover, this was the one. In fact, it has been so tantalizing in its performance, it still has normally disdainful auto writers gushing about it, after long-term leases should have moved into second ownership ranks. Some praise cited in a glowing Motor Trend Magazine tribute that the CX-9, years after it should have been on the shelf in terms of new car stories, got pretty thick.
So what's underneath all this sheet metal allure? How about a 273 horsepower six with six-speed automatic (in Grand Touring guise) earning a 16/22 MPG rating that beats the heck out of whatever's in its dust. In the $40K range, the CX-9 comes in a squeak under the seven-seat competition that has evolved in the interim.
If anything should be updated in the CX-9, it would have to be the wave of electronics that's been flooding the automotive world yearly or even on a monthly basis. Having Bluetooth connectivity is nice, but won't hack it for the truly techno crowd. And that kind of attention can cost lots of money in the automotive development world, although it is transferable.
So here's our bottom line: We think the CX-9 is in the unique position of not only being a survivalist in the brutal battle for automotive one-upmanship, but has never relinquished its claim at the top of the heap. Now if Mazda would just enable the Wi-Fi...
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