Thursday, June 16, 2011

2011 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD Review

2011 Mazda CX-9


  • Spacious interior for 7 passengers + luggage
  • Sliding second row seats that recline
  • Standard equipment list longer than Snoop Dog’s rap sheet
  • Exterior is too similar to the less expensive CX-7
  • Interior materials and designs are boring
  • The nav screen is hard to read in sunlight
  • Improved MPG, but not stellar
I always thought the pair of Mazda crossover SUVs, the CX-7 and CX-9, to be some of the most handsome ones on the market when they were introduced back in 2006 as 2007 models. Even in today’s crowded crossover SUV market, the Mazdas are still lookers although the styling is getting a little long in the tooth. While the larger CX-9 shares styling cues with the CX-7, it shares almost nothing else with its smaller sibling. The CX-9 is based on the same platform and shares the same 3.7 liter V6 engine as the Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX, an example of the long-term partnership between Ford and Mazda, which continues even after Ford reduced its stake in the Japanese car maker back in 2008.

2011 Mazda CX-9
Driving Impressions
On paper the CX-9 looks like an exciting ride. A 3.7 liter V6 engine with 273 HP and 270 lb.-ft. of torque, 6-speed sport automatic transmission, and an active torque split all-wheel drive system set some high expectations. Once behind the wheel though, those expectations fell flat. The CX-9 feels sluggish. It feels heavy. Don’t get me wrong, the 3.7 liter is producing significant torque and horsepower, but the CX-9 definitely doesn’t feel like it provides a lot of zoom-zoom, as Mazda likes to say. The power eventually comes on after some hesitation once you really sink your right foot into the floor, but the response is not something you should be happy with. On the freeway, this is even more pronounced, as I accelerated on the onramp to merge with moving traffic. The CX-9 handled rather well for a vehicle this size, however, and steering feel was decently heavy at highway speeds. At highway speeds, the CX-9 feels very stable. You still get the feeling that this is a big vehicle, however.
As I mentioned, the CX-9 is still a pretty slick looker after all these years. It received the Mazda shield-shaped corporate grille in 2010 but overall appearance has not evolved much at all since the original version in 2007. The 20-inch wheels on the Grand Touring edition are massive and look great on the CX-9, but they also make the ride quality a bit rough.
2011 Mazda CX-9
Although this is a 7-passenger crossover SUV, it doesn’t have that elongated look the full-size SUVs like the Suburban do. Even the other 7-passenger crossovers like the Chevy Traverse look a bit awkward with a long body. Mazda designers managed to hide the size well on the CX-9 with a strategically-placed C pillar and the CX-9 doesn’t appear much longer than the CX-7, which only seats 5.
Its styling is too similar to that of the CX-7, however, and with the competition growing denser in the full-size crossover segment, Mazda would benefit from more aggressive and distinctive styling.

2011 Mazda CX-9
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The CX-9 has a long list of standard equipment that one expects on a $40,000 crossover vehicle nowadays, from heated front seats and side mirrors to steering wheel mounted controls. The 8-way power driver seat and Bluetooth® are also standard. Also standard are some not-so-common features, like the separate rear seat climate control unit with top and bottom vents, a nice touch rarely seen on a sub-$40,000 vehicle.
Keyless entry and start button is also standard, as is leather trimmed seats. The seats are comfortable and firm, and the second row seats slide back and forth to give more legroom to the third row seats. Even with the third row seats up, there is still decent luggage room in the back. It is quite easy to slide the second row seats forward to access the third row, with a huge lever on the side of the second row seats and there’s another lever to fold them flat for more cargo room.
2011 Mazda CX-9 front bucket seats are power adjustable
Our tester has the optional moonroof/Bose 10-speaker package, rounding out a nice long list of amenities. The interior materials feel a bit cheap on a $40,000 car, however, and the design and layout looks just like any other Mazda. But this is the top-of-the-line Mazda. The one major complaint I have about the interior is the angle of the navigation screen. It is slanted at an angle that makes it impossible to read in direct sunlight. The funny thing is that there is a tilt option to adjust the screen, but it tilts it in the wrong direction, making it even harder to read.
The CX-9 base Sport trim starts at $29k and has the same 3.7 liter V6 and has FWD. The mileage is slightly better at 17 city/24 highway, while the AWD version gets 16/22. The tester is a Grand Touring edition with AWD and the optional features MSRPs at an even $40,000. These prices are in the same range as the CX-9’s major competitors such as the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, the Chevy Traverse, and the Hyundai Veracruz. The Mazda is the best looker of the bunch, but the styling is starting to feel stale.
Mazda CX-9 navigation system
More Stylish Than a Minivan
If you need a 7-passenger vehicle but don’t want to the bulk and poor fuel efficiency of a full-size SUV, and you hate to be seen driving around a minivan, then a mid- to full-size crossover SUV is your best bet. You don’t get as much storage room as the full-size SUV and you don’t get the convenience of power sliding doors on the minivan, but at least you look more stylish. And if style is important to you, then the Mazda CX-9 should definitely be on the top of your consideration set.

RATING 4.5 4.0 4.0 4.5 4.5 4.0 4.25/B+


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