Now in its fourth year on the road, the 2010 Mazda CX-9
finds itself with more competitors compared to its 2007 debut model year. Since then, rivals including the Ford Flex and Chevrolet Traverse (among others) have joined the parade of lean-looking, car-based, crossovers with three rows of seats. These newbies have stolen sales thunder away from the once dominant minivan segment. Car-based crossovers sales have been moving forward in a climate where year-to-year auto sales have been dramatically stuck in reverse.
The seven-seat CX-9's self-described mid-size designation is a bit misleading. At 200.2 inches in length, it has the girth of a full-size cup of coffee. By contrast, a mid-size Toyota Highlander SUV measures 188.4 inches. Since the get-go, CX-9 has included three rows of seats standard. It's the largest vehicle in Mazda's lineup and built exclusively for the North American market. For those wishing for a Mazda crossover seating five, try the similarly styled, scaled down CX-7 crossover with a turbocharged four cylinder.
Returning in 2010 are three CX-9 trim levels (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) and its sole powertrain (a staple since 2008), a Mazda-inspired, naturally aspirated, 3.7-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with variable valve timing pumping out 273 horses. It's joined at the hip with a standard six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard while Mazda's seamless active torque all-wheel-drive is optional in all trims. This all-wheel drive system senses slippage, directing power to the rear wheels and operating automatically with no driver input. It's worthy of consideration for Chicago's four-season environment.
The automatic transmission includes a 'shiftronic' feature allowing manual changing of forward gears without a foot clutch. This nuance is home in sport sedans or lighter-weight coupes, but in a 4,500-pound, tall-standing crossover, it's not quite as thrilling. That said, Mazda's CX-9 rates as one of the most nimble and fun to drive large dimension crossovers on the road today.
Tweaks for 2010 include a redesigned climate control system for rear rows and two-stage heated seats (standard in Touring and Grand Touring trims.) Outside, head lamps, tail lamps and side view mirrors have been redesigned. One new exterior color shade is available (Dolphin Gray).
Active head restraints have been added to a competent list of standard safety features including traction control, antilock brakes, front air bags, side curtain air bags coveting all three rows, front seat side impact airbags and front and rear crumple zones. A useful blind spot warning system comes standard only in Grand Touring. When a vehicle travels in the CX-9's side blind spot, an amber icon illuminates in the exterior side view mirror. This user-friendly feature would be even more impactful if standard across the board.
Our CX-9 tester had a two-tone, black and beige dash with dark wood trim flanking the center stack and on the doors. Cloth seating is standard in Sport while leatherette seating is the norm in Touring and Grand Touring. Leatherette models now boast enhanced stitching for 2010. Fabric seating in sport trims have been upgraded also. Side bolsters, part of very comfortable front buckets, keeps back ends planted during quick maneuvers. Getting into front seats requires a step down, not a jump up motion. The tilt and telescoping steering column is manually adjustable; a power option would be nice.
The user-friendly dashboard layout is appreciated, as is the spacious interior. The CX-9's generous length provides ample leg room and head clearance is decent, too. One does not feel cramped in the least. The Grand Touring is the sole CX-9 trim to feature a keyless start system. As long as the key fob is on a person inside the vehicle, the engine turns over with the twist of a steering column knob.
The foot-operated parking brake in the driver's foot well opens up the area between front bucket seats (where a hand-operated brake would be found) for a large storage bin with a dual opening vertically opposed top (both hinged on the outside) and side-by-side cup holders. Single holders are molded into each side door. Power window operations on the driver's door rest at a 45-degree angle. The glove box is rather diminutive compared to the girth of the CX-9. One aspect in need of repositioning is the latch unlocking the outside fuel tank door. Currently, it's on the floor to the left of the driver's seat. During the next redesign, Mazda would be wise to move it to the dashboard near the power lift gate door button.
When third-row access is needed, second row 60/40 split seats manually move forward on a floor track while seat backs tilt forward. A backrest side grab latch makes this a one-motion process. The aisle is wide enough to step and twist into the two-seat third row; and what a third row. Not only preteens, but their older siblings and even adults can sit in relative comfort. Mazda incorporates theatre style seating so the 50/50-split third row is slightly higher than the second. No captain's chairs are available in row two.
The deep set instrument panel includes four independent circles/semicircles with one dedicated to a large fuel gauge. Chrome accents have been added in 2010. A digital information window and secondary transmission indicator are part of the layout. In the center stack, dials below the sound system/navigation screen monitor temperature and fan speed while a toggle switch designates blower direction.
Mazda supplied an all-wheel drive Grand Touring with a $34,045 starting figure. With options including a power lift gate, nav. system and moonroof package, the bottom line ended at $39,265 with a $750 delivery charge. An entry front-wheel CX-9 Sport starts at $28,635. An entry level 2010 Chevrolet Traverse with front wheel drive starts at $29,224.
Mazda equips CX-9 with a generous array of standard equipment including steering-wheel mounted cruise control and secondary audio controls, three-zone air conditioning/climate control, CD player and Bluetooth connectivity capable of working in tandem with portable phones.
One aspect many of the newly introduced crossovers have over the CX-9 is slightly better fuel economy. Expect 15 miles per gallon city and 21 mpg highway with all-wheel drive and one mile better in both categories with two-wheel drive. Regular unleaded fuel is recommended. The 2010 Chevrolet Traverse with its 3.6-liter V-6 boasts 16 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg with all-wheel drive.
The hatch door, hinged at the top, opens up from the bottom and features a standard wiper. When open, head clearance is not as optimal when compared to rivals. Those 6 feet and over may have to duck when loading. A power rear latch is optional in Touring and Grand Touring. Split dual exhausts come standard. Eighteen-inch tires come standard in Sport and Touring while larger 20-inch varieties are a Grand Touring staple. All trims include front and rear stabilizer bars for a tempered riding experience.
The bold, narrow front honeycomb grille includes a chrome circular Mazda M logo front and center with a thick horizontal chrome streak running along the top. The largest proportion of the front belongs to the lower air dam. Narrow cat's eye headlamp housing flanks the grille and are built into side fenders. Tail lights are narrow and wrap to the sides. Larger, more aerodynamic side-view mirrors are still not as big as some others on the market. Rear side doors open wide enough to enter and exit with ease or to strap in an infant seat with little trouble. From the side, the high belt line adds more sheet metal with shorter length windows. Enough glass is in place to minimize driver blind spots.
At 4,500 pounds, CX-9 is carries substantial weight. Standard speed sensing variable assist helps maneuver this vehicle at lower speeds and the 3.7-liter engine provides more than enough oomph. It drives with the ease of a more diminutive vehicle. Braking is rigid so pedal travel is minimal and sensitive. With an optional towing package, CX-9 can move 3,500 pounds, enough for a small boat or snowmobiles. At highway speeds of 65 miles there is slight wind noise, but no tire slap from the 20-inch rubber. Highway driving is smooth and pleasurable. The engine's high torque curve provides pleasant acceleration and passing performance.
The CX-9 offers several option packages. Touring and Grand Touring have a moonroof/Sirius Satellite radio option as well as a package with 6-disc CD changer. A DVD in-dash navigation system is optional only in the high-grade Grand Touring and includes a backup camera display with a wider angle lens in 2010. A rear-seat 9-inch DVD entertainment package is available in Touring and Grand Trouring.
Mazda's CX-9 powertrain coverage is for five years or 60,000 miles (whichever comes first) while most other moving vehicle parts are covered for three years or 36,000 miles.
The success of large, car-based SUV crossovers (of which CX-9 was one of the first) has spawned worthy rivals of late. General Motors' now has four (Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and soon to retire Saturn Outlook) and Lincoln introduces the Ford Flex-based MKT in the 2010 model year. For those who enjoy a bit more spiriting driving characteristics with their big crossover, the Japan-built CX-9 is the click to pick and priced right.