The story of this 2008 Mazda CX-9 really begins with the introduction of the 2007 Mazda CX-7. This crossover with its turbocharged four-cylinder engine offered practical yet compact dimensions, with the sporty personality of a car. It arrived at a time when the price of oil was on the rise and consumers demanded fuel economy. And yet it didn't have much sales impact, as these same consumers refused to give up their seven-passenger SUVs.
A larger version of the CX-7 arrived months later to fill this family-size niche with a third row and new name: the CX-9. This would be a full-size example of Mazda attributes, a genuine seven-passenger package that would be enjoyable to drive. Could this be the payoff to the crossover concept we'd been waiting for? Could Mazda finally build a vehicle that could become a mainstream success, instead of just an artistic one? Or would sheer size snuff out the corporate soul of a sports car?
So we got a 2008 Mazda CX-9 Touring.
Why We Bought It
Our first drive of the 2007 Mazda CX-9 left us intrigued. The SUV was nimble, generated 263 horsepower from its 3.5-liter engine and offered plenty of utility. So we scheduled one for a full test. We were already thinking about a long-term test when we learned the 2008 CX-9 would receive an all-new 273-hp 3.7-liter V6.
There was another reason for the addition of a CX-9. A month earlier we had welcomed a Buick Enclave to the fold of long-term test vehicles. It wasn't coincidence that the two vehicles were loaded up similarly. Nor was it that we had a Hyundai Veracruz lined up to arrive a month later. A side-by-side-by-side comparison of the three over a 12-month stretch was the only way to get a true gauge of not only the way they stood up to each other but also the range of possibilities for tuning a crossover.
We couldn't pass up the opportunity to add the 2008 Mazda CX-9 to our fleet. Many of us travel with rugrats of varying ages and attention spans, so it's no wonder three-row SUVs rank among the most popular vehicles in our fleet. And a three-row SUV that's still fun to drive is just what we're looking for. We picked up the phone and ordered a CX-9 for the long-term fleet.
Comparisons between the Mazda CX-9 and Buick Enclave began right away. The differences in ride quality and compliance over the bumps proved to be the most frequent comparison made between the Mazda and Buick.
Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig wrote, "I drove the Mazda up to Monterey last weekend. The CX-9's handling impresses me more than the engine. It's fun to fling the big crossover around corners. I can't say the same about our Enclave. Then again, the Enclave wouldn't have crashed so hard over all those cracks in the freeway on the way home. There are most certainly trade-offs between the two."
Senior Automotive Editor Brent Romans recounted a seven-day, 900-mile stint in the Mazda with, "The CX-9 has been a great vehicle to have. It had plenty of room for my wife, 8-month-old daughter and our associated luggage. The driver seat is comfortable and supportive, and I've been able to dial in a perfect driving position thanks to its tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel. Visibility is decent for a large crossover and road noise is within acceptable limits. If there's a complaint, it would be that the ride is too firm for some rougher stretches of the highway."
Inside the cabin we found the 2008 Mazda CX-9 suitable for most situations. It offered just enough comfort and just enough storage. We used its drivability as an excuse to forgive most of its shortcomings. But sometimes it just didn't offer enough.
Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds noted, "I narrowed my choices for our twice-yearly road trip to Oregon to the CX-9 or the Enclave. We will be loaded down with luggage and gifts for 10 relations during our 2,000-mile round trip. And Santa advises me that some of them are bulky. While the Mazda's cargo capacity would work for my crew 51 weeks out of the year, the Enclave is just bigger inside. And this is a time when I need space. The Buick's 66 versus 44 cubic feet in the Mazda are too much to ignore."
Durability is a focus of all long-term tests. Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot asked after one evening in the Mazda, "So why is it that every time I'm in the back of the CX-9 that I knock the rear-seat climate control temperature knob onto the floor? I didn't think much of this the first time I did it a few months back, but now it seems to happen every time I'm back there. And I'm not having a party, I swear. Anyhow, the knob spent most of the weekend rolling around on the floor. Luckily, it snaps back into place easily."
A scan of the Mazda's logbook following Jacquot's repair shows a particularly incriminating entry. An unnamed editor wrote, "Despite my daughter's best efforts to adjust the rear HVAC knobs with her feet from the child's seat, they didn't fall off once."
Mechanical problems were nonexistent during our term with the 2008 Mazda CX-9. Dealer visits were limited to those prescribed by the maintenance schedule. Appointments every 7,500 miles averaging $65 each were the extent of our time in the service bay.
Much to the credit of the Mazda's rearview camera, the SUV never saw the body shop. If only the display size wasn't limited to the corner of the rearview mirror, there might have been fewer close calls.
Total Body Repair Costs: None
Total Routine Maintenance Costs (over 12 months): $194.45
Additional Maintenance Costs: None
Warranty Repairs: None
Non-Warranty Repairs: None
Scheduled Dealer Visits: 3
Unscheduled Dealer Visits: None
Days Out of Service: None
Breakdowns Stranding Driver: None.
Performance and Fuel Economy
All vehicles on the long-term test blog spend two days at the track. One day at the start of the loan, and one at the end. The 2008 Mazda CX-9 was no exception.
Preliminary tests at 1,000 miles were identical to those posted by the CX-9 near the 25,000-mile mark. It needed 7.4 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop, and completed the quarter-mile in 15.9 seconds at 89.3 mph. The last Toyota Highlander we tested was 0.4 second slower to 60 mph but crossed the quarter-mile light a step quicker, 15.6 seconds at 86.9 mph. Our most recent Honda Pilot test showed it to be considerably slower, requiring 9.7 seconds to reach 60 mph and 17.2 seconds to cover the quarter-mile at 81.3 mph. The Enclave needed 7.9 seconds to reach 60 mph and 16.2 seconds to cover a quarter-mile at 86.2 mph.
Our shortest documented stop from 60 mph in the long-term Mazda measured 129 feet. Brake pedal feel was firm and consistent throughout testing, with only a small amount of fade creeping in over time. For comparison, the Highlander and Pilot stopped in 131 and 149 feet, respectively.
Around the skid pad the CX-9 generated 0.79g of lateral force, limited by its stability control system and its P245/60R18 Bridgestone Duelers. Its quickest pass through the slalom at 59.6 mph is on par with the most nimble in its class. Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton noted following the tests, "The Mazda's good yaw response and lively steering is ultimately snubbed by a non-defeat [stability control]. Still, when [stability control] intervenes, it's not overzealous. It simply corrects for a millisecond and releases."
Fuel economy remained consistent over the life of the 2008 Mazda CX-9. We averaged a shade over 18 mpg. Our most efficient tank registered 23 mpg, though we achieved at least 20 mpg each time we hit the highway. A recorded 12 mpg during the stop-and-go slog of L.A. traffic led to our least impressive fill-up.
Best Fuel Economy: 23.0 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 12.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy: 18.2 mpg
The CX-9 rolled into our garage with an MSRP of $35,065. We added 23,589 miles to the odometer and left it in the hands of Edmunds' TMV® Calculator. The depreciation of 28 percent was considerable. Our comparably equipped long-term Buick Enclave depreciated only 23 percent after 24,000 miles.
True Market Value at service end: $25,237
Depreciation: $9,828 or 28 percent of original MSRP
Final Odometer Reading: 23,589
Long-distance trips with the family were the most common assignments for our long-term Mazda. A 2,000-mile haul here, a 1,000-mile jaunt there. Its capacity for cargo, whether people or luggage, delivered just the right amount of utility for our needs without being too large or unwieldy to drive with any sense of enjoyment.
From a durability standpoint, the CX-9 proved invincible. There weren't any reasons for the Mazda to see a dealer beyond routine scheduled maintenance. Five years ago, this kind of reliability from a Mazda would be big news. But the company seems to be quietly making a move toward the levels of quality we've come to expect from the likes of Honda and Toyota. If our CX-9 is a sign of the future, it is a sign of good things to come for Mazda.
Our 2008 Mazda CX-9 was among the most popular vehicles in the fleet over the past 12 months. It is one we'd recommend to our friends, and one we'll miss.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.