Mazda proved that a functional utility vehicle can still have aero style and a sporty spirit when it created the CX-9. On the outside it has an athletic, wind-cheating, gofaster design, yet clever use of space on the inside makes it a practical people mover.
The CX-9 is the biggest and most expensive Mazda you can buy in Canada. A mid-sized utility vehicle, the CX-9 has seats for up to seven people, and the lavishly equipped high-end versions also give Mazda a foothold in the luxury vehicle market.
The 2012 edition basically returns unchanged from last year and it's offered in two trim levels: GS and GT. Apart from a base front-drive GS edition all other versions of the Mazda CX-9 come with all-wheel-drive.
Power comes from a robust 3.7-litre 24-valve V6 engine, which can deliver 273 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4250 rpm. That's an upgrade in size and power compared to the 3.5-litre V6 in the original CX-9 and the newer engine also provides better fuel economy.
A six-speed automatic with a manual-shift mode feature is the only transmission offered and it's mated with the Active Torque-Split all-wheeldrive system. During normal dry road driving, this system sends 100 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels to provide best fuel economy. An electronically controlled centre coupling can divert up to 50 per cent to the rear wheels depending on road conditions and other factors.
Standard features of note include a three-zone climate control system, remote keyless entry, rain sensing windshield wipers, a tilt & telescopic steering wheel, an eight-way power adjustable driver's seat, anti-lock brakes, stability control and roll stability control.
Moving up to GT adds 20-inch aluminium wheels (18-inch standard) and tires, Xenon (HID) headlights, fog lights, side turn signals on the outside mirrors, interior wood grain finish, poweradjustable passenger seats, leather upholstery with heated front seats and driver's seat position memory function.
The GS trim can be upgraded with a Luxury package ($2,395) that includes a power moon roof and leather upholstery. A Navigation package ($2,675) with a power liftgate is available on the GT edition and you can also add a rear DVD entertainment system ($1,520). The Mazda CX-9 also has an impressive 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs) towing capability.
A steeply raked windshield, high belt line and teardrop shape make CX-9 one of the sportiest looking wagons around. Big 18-inch wheels look good, but the 20inchers on the GT really look sharp. The CX-9 and smaller CX-7 follow a similar sporty styling theme and can be difficult to distinguish, unless you see them side-by-side. Longer, taller, wider, the CX-9 is based on a different mid-sized chassis, which originally underpinned the Mazda6.
Overall, Mazda has done an excellent job on the interior. Opting for the GT version gets you into wood and leather and heated front seats with power adjustments. Also included is an indirect lighting package that really adds that luxuryclass final touch.
The CX-9's extra long (2,875mm) wheelbase allows good second row seat legroom. This seat also slides on a track system and moves easily, plus there's a clever single lever activation lever on the right-side seat to access the third-row of seats.
The ride can be bumpy when you're in the last row, but it's still handy to have and more comfortable than expected. Sliding the second row seat forward a notch or two also helps greatly with leg room in the rear.
Third-row seats were incorporated in the original CX-9 design plans, so it enjoys some inherent safety benefits. Side curtain air bags extend all the way back and they are also an integral part of its roll-protection system. The CX-9 also comes with Dynamic Stability Control, anti-lock brakes and traction control.
The CX-9 is equipped with Brake Override, a system that Toyota now fits in every vehicle after its unexplained acceleration debacle. It prioritizes the brake pedal over the accelerator pedal if both are engaged simultaneously, so always allowing the vehicle to be brought to a safe stop. Activation of this system is also recorded in the electronic Powertrain Control Module (PCM).
The driving position in the CX-9 is car-like and a treat, super comfortable with easy to use controls and lots of seat adjustments. A stout steering wheel with height and telescopic adjustments is another confidence-builder for the driver and it provides a nice, positive centering action on the highway.
The 3.7-litre V6 is smooth running and an exceptionally quiet engine. Acceleration is brisk considering its size and weight, and it can go from 0 to 100 km/hour in about eight seconds. That's faster than most in the utility sector, however, its city driven fuel consumption is on the high side.
The six-speed automatic has a gated lever action with a manual shift mode. Opposite to convention, up-shifts are a rearward movement of the shift lever and downshifts are forward. While different it's in-sync with body movement when accelerating or slowing down.
The rear view camera in my test CX-9 came in handy as rear vision in vehicles like this can be an issue. The side mirrors are a good size, but the high back window can sometimes make it hard to judge how close you are to low objects while backing up.
The Mazda CX-9 is a good looking, cleverly conceived and a well executed multiuse vehicle with style, room and zoom.