Full Test: 2007 Mazda CX-9

2007 Mazda CX-9 Road Test

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2007 Mazda CX-9 SUV

(3.5L V6 6-speed Automatic)

The modern alternative

Driving friends to the airport at the crack of dawn after a night of rain isn't exactly the ideal way to spend a Sunday morning, but if you must be the airport shuttle, you could do worse than to take the seven-seat 2007 Mazda CX-9.

Because after you drop off your lucky friends for their vacation in sunny paradise, you get to heat up the road with 263 horsepower as you zoom zoom the scenic route home.

Are you ready to rumble?
The prospect of hauling around seven people can be daunting, but the 2007 Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV has a roomy third row with seats that can hold actual adults. To be honest, the CX-9 is much more pleasant with only five people. But if you want to fill it up, Mazda's third row is more than merely a glorified rumble seat.

Mazda also tells us that the CX-9 has the largest pass-through to the third seat you can find, thanks to the third row's 32.4 inches of legroom, a second row that adjusts fore and aft by 5 inches for easy access, an easy-to-use latch that lets you slide past the second row into the back, and the CX-9's long 113.2-inch wheelbase.

Strong and smooth
For a big boy, the 4,284-pound Mazda CX-9 is surprisingly light on its feet. It's like the Jackie Gleason of crossover vehicles. Despite his girth, our favorite Honeymooner could skip the light fandango like nobody's business. And even with seven seats and a length of almost 200 inches, the CX-9 doesn't feel objectionably large or heavy on the road.

The Mazda CX-9's platform is related to that which lies beneath the five-passenger Ford Edge, but the comparison ends there. The CX-9 has both high style and deliberate athleticism, and the Ford Edge sadly wishes it had the exuberance and poise of the Mazda.

Mazda says the CX-9's functional competitors are the eight-seat Honda Pilot LX and the seven-seat Toyota Highlander V6, yet it also wishes to invoke the passionate spirit of vehicles like the turbocharged Acura RDX. Compared to the CX-9, the Pilot feels huge when you're behind the wheel, while the smooth but stylistically tired Highlander has cramped access to the third row. Meanwhile, the smaller RDX is bliss on wheels, offering both utility and driving enjoyment. The CX-9 takes the best traits of all three and wraps them up in one attractive package.

Creature features
We drove the front-wheel-drive CX-9 Sport, which is as basic as you can get in the CX-9 lineup yet comes with a full allotment of standard features, including a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode, antilock brakes, tilt-telescoping steering wheel with wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, and keyless entry.

Most important, the Sport model comes with smooth-riding 60-series tires on 18-inch wheels, which we've found is a far more road-friendly choice than the optional 50-series tires on 20-inch wheels.

Our test vehicle's optional equipment includes an eight-way power-adjustable driver seat, power moonroof and 10-speaker Bose audio system with an in-dash six-disc CD player. For all-weather driving, an all-wheel-drive version of the CX-9 is also available. There are swankier trim levels if you want to move up to leather and wood interior trim, but the mechanical package remains unchanged.

Bang zoom
This minivan supplanter's double-overhead-cam, 3.5-liter V6 engine pumps out 263 hp at 6,250 rpm with 249 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm.

This represents enough power to get this package to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds and then clock through the quarter-mile in 16.2 seconds at 87.2 mph. The CX-9 features a Japanese-built transmission that works with a smoothness utterly unlike that of the Ford Edge, changing gears crisply yet without any shift shock. It also kicks down quickly when you put your foot down. With plenty of gears, smooth shift action and fine throttle control, this transmission makes the V6 seem more powerful than it really is.

The CX-9's braking performance is about average for this class. The four-wheel discs stopped the 4,284-pound car from 60 mph in 136 feet, a stunning 20 feet shorter than our long-term 4,195-pound Ford Edge. Apparently Mazda uses a more aggressive brake-pad material than the dull Edge and it pays off. The brake pedal always feels reassuringly firm underfoot, yet the effort level never makes braking a chore, even in stop-and-go traffic.

The CX-9's dynamic safety net includes stability control, just as it should in a vehicle this size. The Mazda lets you have more fun than any of the other three-row sport-utilities, but the electronics remind you that you don't want to overdo it in a vehicle that makes it easy to forget it weighs more than 2 tons. Even so, the CX-9 made it through our 600-foot slalom in 7.0 seconds at 58.8 mph.

Mazda has gone to some lengths to make the CX-9 fun to drive, and it shows in its enthusiasm for the road. The carlike unibody feels torsionally rigid, and the four-wheel independent suspension is tuned for sporting responses, with minimal body roll and controlled ride motions. But the CX-9's stiff-legged response to those speed bumps in the supermarket parking lot isn't very kind to those sitting in the third row. And there's some road noise from the tires as well.

The steering is surprisingly responsive and the effort is weighted just right. A small, sporty steering wheel keeps you involved and adds to your hands-on enjoyment. And the standard tilt-telescoping feature makes sure that both the big and the small will feel comfortable behind the wheel.

In 'n out
The CX-9's long rear doors can be unmanageable in tight parking spots but contribute to the easy access to the second- and third-row seats.

With all rows in place, luggage capacity is 17.2 cubic feet, but those cubes are vertical, without much depth. Drop the 50/50-split third row, which you can easily do with one hand, and you get 48.4 cubic feet. Once you fold both the second- and third-row seats, cargo capacity expands to 100.7 cubic feet.

When it comes to interior storage, the CX-9 isn't lacking, but it isn't exceptional. We wished the center console had the deep storage compartment that you get in the smaller CX-7. We'll admit that Mazda is definitely going for a different audience here, not the laptop-carrying crowd it seeks for the CX-7.

The CX-9 does have up-to-the-minute features like a hot power point in the center storage area and an iPod jack. The power point in the center dash is not hot when the car is switched off, but the one in the center console is, so you can charge your phone or iPod when the car is parked.

People moving
So if you need the practicality of three rows but you just can't bring yourself to drive a minivan or a truck-based sport-utility, then the 2007 Mazda CX-9 could be the perfect car for you.

Yes, we can't help but think of the CX-9 as a car. It performs all the duties of a traditional seven-passenger minivan, only without the sliding doors and clumsy handling. At the same time, it has an interior space that can be reconfigured for people or cargo like a sport-utility, only without the terrible ride. And it drives as easily and intuitively as a car. It's even priced like a car, as the base price of our CX-9 Sport starts at $29,035 and it runs on regular fuel. The Mazda CX-9 is the definition of what you want in a crossover vehicle.

And when you finally get some time alone in the CX-9, its light and nimble personality is up to more spirited driving — you know, for when you want to kick it in the rumble seat.

The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.

Second Opinions:

Executive Editor Michael Jordan says:
As I've said way too many times before, the crossover is what the American car has become, an imaginatively packaged combination of people-moving minivan and cargo-carrying sport-utility that drives as friendly as a car. Car-based sport-utilities like this have been developing for a while now, and millions of people are taking to them. We've seen the data, and the crossover conversion is happening far faster than the sport-utility revolution of the 1990s. The sport-utility hasn't gone away; it's just morphed into a different package.

The Mazda CX-9 makes a pretty compelling case for what can be done with a crossover. It drives as easily as a car, and the combination of intuitive control feel, seamless power (thanks to the quality of the six-speed automatic) and an expansive field of vision will make you believe it's far smaller than it looks. At the same time, the CX-9 also is smaller than it looks, as there's less headroom than you might want in the second-row seats, not to mention the third row.

Although the CX-9 and the Ford Edge come from the same general family of mechanical components, the Mazda is amazingly better in every respect. Sharper steering response and more body control give you more confidence in your driving, while the interior design and materials are a noticeable step up the scale toward Lexus land. In fact, you could badge the Mazda CX-9 as a Lexus and people would wait in long lines to buy it.

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