Full 2008 Mazda CX-9 Review
What's New for 2008
An all-new model last year, the Mazda CX-9 cruises into 2008 with a heavily revised engine that increases output by 10 horsepower and 21 pound-feet of torque. A blind-spot warning system also debuts on the Grand Touring trim level.
Making a great thing even better is a wonderful thing indeed -- like adding Al Pacino to the Ocean's 11 cast or plugging Alex Rodriguez into the Yankees lineup. After only one year in production, the 2008 Mazda CX-9 can now be included on that "great things made better" list along with Al, A-Rod and Diet Coke with lemon.
Last year's CX-9 featured a 263-hp, 3.5-liter V6 that we described as having "strong pull through the midrange, as well as impressive smoothness and a sporty sound when the whip is cracked." It also brought the CX-9 from zero to 60 mph in a tidy 7.7 seconds, which was very quick for its class. In other words, this was an engine that didn't need to be replaced. Mazda did it anyway. The 2008 CX-9 features a bored-out version of the "old" engine shared with the Ford Edge and other Ford family products, resulting in a 3.7-liter displacement, 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. The new engine, and its transmission, is also now built in Japan rather than in the United States.
Aside from its engine, the CX-9 remains the same. It still boasts a very spacious interior, including a third-row seat that is legitimately habitable for adults, with relatively easy ingress and egress made possible by a fold-and-slide second row. That interior is also elegantly tailored in any of the three trim levels, with an attractive dash design, high feature content and excellent materials. Best of all, the CX-9 sets itself apart with superb handling that makes this 4,500-pound sport-utility feel like a much smaller vehicle. Just because this is the largest vehicle Mazda has ever produced doesn't mean it lacks that zoom-zoom attitude.
The seven-passenger midsize crossover segment is expanding faster than Donald Trump's ego. An all-new Toyota Highlander and forthcoming all-new Honda Pilot should make things harder for the 2008 Mazda CX-9, which already has been greeted with three formidable opponents from GM's Buick, GMC and Saturn divisions. Yet this Mazda's ability to meld real utility, sharp good looks, excellent quality and a fun-to-drive personality make it a very tough package to beat.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda CX-9 is a seven-passenger large crossover SUV that's available in three trim levels. The entry-level Sport comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, and a CD player with an auxiliary audio jack. The mid-line Touring version adds two-tone leather seating, heated/powered front seats, Bluetooth and heated sideview mirrors. The top-of-the-line Grand Touring adds 20-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, a blind-spot warning system, rain-sensing wipers, keyless ignition, memory driver seat presets, wood cabin accents and special blue cabin illumination.
Options include a power driver seat (Sport), an upgraded surround-sound Bose audio system, a sunroof, a rearview camera (with its display mounted in the rearview mirror), a six-disc CD changer, satellite radio and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. The Assistance Package bundles a navigation system, a rearview camera (integrated into the nav screen) and a power rear hatch. In the Touring model, this package includes keyless ignition.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2008 Mazda CX-9 is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, while all trim levels can be equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive. When equipped with the optional towing package, the CX-9 can tow a modest 3,500 pounds. EPA fuel economy for the 2008 front-wheel-drive model is about average for this segment, with a 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway rating. The all-wheel-drive CX-9 gets 1 mpg less.
All 2008 CX-9 trim levels come standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control with a rollover sensor, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. A blind-spot warning system is standard on the Grand Touring. In National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing, the CX-9 did very well, scoring five out of five stars in all front and side crash tests. Similarly, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the CX-9 its top rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashworthiness.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2008 CX-9 offers one of, if not the best, interiors in its class in terms of styling, ergonomics, quality and space. Fitted with two-tone leather, metal-look accents and either piano black or tasteful wood trim, the CX-9 is a very stylish take on a very user-friendly environment. Controls are easy to use and materials quality is top-notch. The highlight of the cabin, however, is the roomy two-passenger third-row seat, which is well-shaped and roomy enough for a 6-footer. Access to that third row is eased by large rear door openings (which can be troublesome in tight parking lots, though) and the fold-and-slide second row. If you're not prepared to go the minivan route, the CX-9 is one of the few crossovers that is legitimately a useful seven-passenger alternative.
With the third row in place, there are 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space available, which expands to 47.5 cubes with it folded flat. Maximum capacity is a massive 100.7 cubic feet. In its segment, these impressive numbers trail only the Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia and Saturn Outlook triplets.
We never had any complaints about the "old" V6's performance, so 10 additional horses should only increase our affection for the 2008 Mazda CX-9. Like other large crossovers, this big Mazda is at home on a long interstate cruise, but it betters its seven-passenger brethren by being able to tackle twisty roads as well. The CX-9 feels buttoned-down and lighter than it really is thanks to the sport-tuned suspension and low-profile tires. The steering is precise and direct, if a bit light on-center. Ride comfort is generally well-damped, though the 20-inch wheels on the Grand Touring trim transmit some chop when driven over the expansion joints of concrete highways. If Michigan's Interstate 69 or any freeway around Los Angeles is a part of your daily commute, you may want to consider one of the other trims or fitting smaller rims to your Grand Touring.
Read our Mazda CX-9 Long-Term 20,000-Mile Test