With seating for seven, Mazda CX-9 is sportiest in its class
By Derek Price
When the Mazda CX-9 was introduced in 2007, it pushed the boundaries of what a full-size crossover vehicle could do.
Big but nimble, roomy but light on its feet, the CX-9 was unique in the fact that it had three rows of seats and felt zippy from the driver's seat. It was a practical family car that just didn't drive like one.
Six years later, the 2013 CX-9 remains uniquely sporty in this class.
And that's just weird.
Considering how fast the crossover market has been morphing — it's been the fastest growing, quickest changing and most competitive category of cars for years now, after all — the CX-9 ought to feel long in the tooth. It ought to have a long list of competitors trying to knock it off its sporty pedestal, but it doesn't.
The CX-9 is the biggest and most expensive vehicle in Mazda's lineup, carrying a starting price just shy of $30,000, but it shares the same easy-to-love spirit with Mazda's smaller cars.
Aside from some very expensive crossovers from Porsche and BMW, the CX-9 is still the only crossover that feels like it really, truly is designed for the driver to have fun in corners. It lacks the power of those German monsters, but it's nearly as enjoyable because of its firm, beautifully tuned suspension.
Unfortunately, that suspension can turn into a downside if you look at it a different way.
The ride is harsher and rougher than many of its competitors. It's not a problem on the highway, where its ride becomes surprisingly glassy, but the bumps and potholes are more noticeable in the CX-9 than in its squishier competitors at low speeds.
Its 273-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 is impressive not just because of its raw power but also because of how quickly and effortlessly it's delivered. It sounds like a sports car, not an SUV, under hard acceleration, and the fast response is an added plus for the driving experience.
The biggest change for 2013 is a redesigned front end. It looks more car-like now, with narrow, slanted headlights and aggressive curves that fit with Mazda's new KODO design language.
Mazda says KODO is about the "soul of motion," and that's easy to see. Its surface has a flowing, fluid-like shape that seems like a wave frozen in time, a subtle but good-looking styling treatment.
Its interior feels surprisingly solid and well-built, even more so than the Honda and Toyota crossovers it competes with. And it's almost minivan-like in its versatility, with easy access to the third-row seats by pulling one lever.
Space is generous, even in the back seat, and its 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space is similar to large sedans. Fold both the second- and third-row seats down, and cargo volume increases to a whopping 100.7 cubic feet.
One interior improvement for 2013 is the addition of a 5.8-inch digital display on the dash. It's standard on all trim levels and helps you control the high-tech features, including a new system that can read text messages from your phone and display them on the digital screen.
As a whole, the CX-9 remains one of a kind. If you're looking for a vehicle that is as practical for families as it is enjoyable for drivers, it should be at the top of your list for a test drive.
(Derek Price is a newspaper editor and freelance writer living in Texas.)
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