2010 Mazda CX-9
2010 Mazda CX-9 Expert Review: Autoblog
If you keep up with the print mags, it would be easy to think that every journalist, PR flack and blogger loves Mazda's CX-9. Automobile Magazine made a spot for it on their All-Stars list, Motor Trend named it Sport Utility of the Year, Car & Driver thinks its one of the 5 Best Trucks of 2008, SEAMO crowned it their Family Car of the Year and USA TODAY even went as far as calling it "about perfect." We put 380 miles on the 7-seater in our best attempt to debunk the CX-9's mythical aura of SUV perfection and found most of the legend true.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
Approaching the CX-9, one of the first thing you notice is its size. "Damn, that's big!" was a common sentiment of our friends. It's true. From afar, the car's 20-inch wheels and narrow greenhouse give the impression of a smaller, sportier vehicle. But up close, you realize you're gonna need a step ladder to wash the middle of this thing's roof. Mazda dug deep into its bag of sports car styling to make the 16.5-foot-long CX-9 look svelte. As on the smaller CX-7, the CX-9's windshield is low and long, more like an Italian supercar than a suburban soccer mom's ride. Those huge alloys sit under bulging fenders and wrapped in semi-low-profile rubber. A chrome-surrounded row of side windows narrows to an angled rear hatch topped with the requisite spoiler. In back, jeweled taillights sit above the rear fascia inset with twin chromed tailpipes.
Inside the monstrous Mazda, it's easy to imagine the company's engineers studying hundreds of photos of luxury-car interiors, picking the best woodgrain trim from one and seat design and instrument layout from another. The end product looks great. The cream-colored (friends call it "Sand") leather seats are contrasted nicely by dark gray inserts. The chrome-edged, faux wood trim upgrades the cabin further and nicely ties in the brushed-aluminum door pulls. The seats electrically adjust eight ways, and at the push of a button toast your tush. Center stage on the CX-9's dashboard is the entertainment system, just what every couch needs for comfort completion.
Though the interior looks great, the design team should have been given actual examples of luxury cars to mimic rather than just photos. While Mazda used soft, buttery leather in the interior of the smaller CX-7, for the CX-9 it instead went with leather that almost exactly imitates the feel of high-grade vinyl. My wife complained more than once about sliding around in her seat because the leather offered no grip. (Keep reading to see why it wasn't because of enthusiastic driving.) And what exotic animal, exactly, are those oddly-textured gray inserts meant to imitate? Eel? Stingray? Opossum? To be fair, other than the seat covers feeling like a that of a bargain-bin office chair, they were easily adjustable and comfortable; just a little short of luxurious.
What was luxurious, though, was the amazing lack of outside noise, a feat at which the smaller CX-7 fails at miserably. If you're able to afford an SUV with a $39,920 sticker price, you've earned the right to be isolated from the noisy, nerve-rattling world of the common folk. Mazda apparently agrees, and has managed to make one seriously quiet interior. At night, the carpeted floors are also illuminated in a subtle blue glow and LEDs mounted above the center console shine down on the shifter and cupholders.
Then there are the electronics. Let's start with the positives. There's an auxiliary jack for your iPod (or whatever 3% marketshare-mp3-player you're using) coupled to a sweet-sounding 10-speaker Bose surround sound system. Packaged with the moonroof, it's almost worth the $1,760 charge. Our CX-9 Grand Touring also had the optional $2,500 GT Assist Package that includes a backup camera and electric open-and-close hatch. The camera's view, unfortunately, didn't help much when parallel parking, but we can see it reducing the risk of running over a careless kid. The dual-zone climate control was nice, and the auto-dimming mirror must have worked since we never noticed it not working.
Possibly the most valuable bit of electronics this Mazda sported was its $200 blind spot monitoring system. Using sensors on all four corners, it detects objects hiding in blind spots and alerts the driver with a lighted icon in the doors' mirrors. Signal a lane change with the icon lit, and the car beeps to get your attention. Unfortunately, that's a sound only courteous drivers will ever know. Hopefully one day such a system will be required on every car sold in the U.S., especially ones with blind spots as big this SUV.
Now on to the electronic negatives, and oh boy were there some negatives in the CX-9's gadgets. Starting at the slightly-annoying end we find the satellite radio interface. Why does Mazda insist on making owners choose their satrad stations by number instead of name? If someone pays $430(!) for a device that lets Sirius beam its programming into their car, why do they need to consult a book just to pick their broadcast? At least I can use the car's touch screen to systematically go through all 198 offerings, but I can do that with a portable $90 satrad unit.
Next on our list of high-tech annoyances for the CX-9 is its standard Bluetooth system. The voice-activated setup is a pretty simple process. And making calls is easy if there's no 2-year-old in the back seat screaming to talk to his grandmother. With even that little bit of noise, the car can't distinguish between an area code and, "Talk Gramma now!" The car then gets confused and calls Bangladesh instead. Theoretically, using your phone's contact list should make dialing easier, but we couldn't get it to work. We would have spent more time figuring it out, but during the few calls we could complete, the other party couldn't understand the conversation so we saw little point. On top of that, every time we got into the car, we had to go through the process of re-syncing the phone. Now that's annoying.
The worst, though, was the CX-9's navigation system. Apparently designed during the Cold War by Soviet engineers, it was clunky, slow and, well, often wrong. Setting a course from Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta began by entering a home address so the mapping program would know where to start. On several nav systems, that means just asking it to find its location to use as the starting point. The CX-9, however, refused to admit that the street on which it was parked exists. Out comes the owner's manual, which means the car has failed at intuitiveness. Apparently, despite having a built-in global positioning system receiver that costs $2,500, it's up to the driver to tell the car when it has moved from one of its GPS mapping zones into another. Now that's really annoying. But wait, there's more.
With the high-tech, high-dollar, low intelligence nav system informed of its location and destination, two routes were generated. One choice was a fairly straightforward 2.5-hour trip except for an odd turn that took us through industrial parks and residential areas. The second choice was just bizarre. For some reason, the CX-9 thought it might be nice to take a scenic drive on our way to Atlanta through Chattanooga of all places. That alternative would have taken us 118 miles out of our way.
We chose the primary route for obvious reasons, but for backup we had an iPhone with Google Maps loaded. About 12 miles outside Atlanta, the CX-9 wanted us to exit onto surface streets. The iPhone said to continue on the interstate straight to our destination. No problem. We'll just fiddle with the CX-9's route a bit and straighten things out, right? Uh, no. While the CX-9 is in motion, no one, not even the passenger, can alter a route on the navigation system. We continued to follow the route suggested by our iPhone with the nav system begging us to make a legal u-turn.
So it seems Mazda has a few things to learn about luxury. But surely the creator of the Miata got the sport part right. Right? Uh, no. We like safety, but we don't like overbearing Dynamic Stability Control systems. Or is it the CX-9's Roll Stability Control? Or maybe its Traction Control System? The first time we went into a quick right-hander, one of the trio kicked in with alarming results. Sure, we were going a little faster than most CX-9 owners ever will, but there were no tires squealing, no imminent danger of flipping like a two-faced politician. Everything was under control until one of the nanny-systems kicked in and abruptly shut down the throttle. We thought we'd blown a tire or hit an open manhole. The revs plummeted, the car came to a crawl, and we were left just past the apex inching along, stunned. Sure, it's a safety feature to be appreciated by typical SUV owners. But CX-9 owners will be disappointed if they try to drive with any manner of enthusiasm. For those who like to have a little fun even when forced into an SUV, we recommend the smaller CX-7. You'll be able to share your driving skills with three fewer friends, but everybody will have more fun.
A 4,300-pound SUV is more likely to be bought by someone looking for minivan alternatives than wannabe race car drivers. And that crowd is a lot more likely to be impressed with the acceleration available from the 273-horse V6 and the quiet, smooth ride. Despite the size of the CX-9, it was fairly nimble in traffic and more easily maneuvered in tight parking garages than you might expect. The ride was very well composed and exhibited none of the typical SUV swaying and bucking.
Some three-row SUVs sacrifice cargo space for that additional seating, but even with all of its seats ready for use, the CX-9 retains a good bit of its rear hauling space and rear-seat passengers even have comfortable leg room. Fold the last row flat and the hauling potential will amaze.
The base price on our 2008 Grand Touring model was $33,355. Delivery charges and options, including a $525 towing package and $200 pearl paint, pushed the final price up to $39,920. Dropping the road rage-inducing navigation saves your nerves and $2,500, which is not too bad considering a top-end seven-seat minivan with fewer amenities would cost almost as much.
The EPA predicts the CX-9 will get 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway for combined average of 19 mpg. We didn't do so well. Our average over 380 miles was only 14 mpg. With the cruise set on 70 mph and the air conditioner on for the entirety of our 120-mile trip to Atlanta, we hit our high point of 17 mpg. Is a vehicle this thirsty still wanted in a world of $4-a-gallon gas?
Shoppers looking for a luxury vehicle that can seat the coach and all the infielders have few choices if a minivan misses the mark. For them, the CX-9 might indeed be "about perfect."
All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
A sportier sport-utility.
The Mazda CX-9 is a midsize crossover utility vehicle. It combines the cargo capacity of an SUV with the fuel economy, ride quality, and handling of a car. It's a swift and stylish alternative to a mid-size SUV or a minivan.
The 2010 Mazda CX-9 gets some significant updates, including minor styling revisions: Exterior updates include the corporate five-pointed grille, side mirrors redesigned to be larger and more aerodynamic, taillights that feature a texture inspired by the Nagare concept car, an additional chrome trim piece above the license plate that echoes the chrome trim floating in the front grille, and two new wheel designs. The CX-9 was introduced as a 2007 model, so these changes represent mid-cycle updates to a proven product.
Inside, Mazda aimed for a more upscale look for the 2010 CX-9 by adding piano black insets on the steering wheel and radio display and chrome trim to the door handles, door trim, instrument panel and many controls. A double-lid center console design is also new, as is a 4.3-inch display screen on models without the larger navigation screen.
The Mazda CX-9 is a great people hauler. It can carry seven six-foot passengers, thanks to a third-row seat designed with adults in mind. It's easy for a 5-foot, 6-inch woman to climb into the CX-9 because there's no need to climb up into it. Yet the seating position is high enough that the driver looks over at, not up to, drivers in big SUVs. We found the cabin surroundings handsome.
The CX-9 is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, providing a nice option for those who worry about snowy travel in hilly areas. Properly equipped, the CX-9 is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.
What sets the CX-9 apart are its sporty looks and the road manners to back them up. The CX-9 responds quickly to driver input, feeling surprisingly enthusiastic about travel on a serpentine two-lane. Performance is provided by a 3.7-liter V6 engine delivering 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. This refined, 24-valve power plant was designed by Ford and is built in Ohio before being shipped to Japan where the CX-9 is assembled. It works with an impressive six-speed, Japanese-made automatic transmission that can be shifted manually if the driver is interested in some frisky motoring.
Electronic stability control, which helps the driver maintain control on slippery surfaces, comes standard on all models, along with roll stability control, and air curtains, which provide head protection in a side-impact crash. The CX-9 has received the U.S. government's highest possible ratings (five stars) in frontal and side impact crashes, and four-star ratings for rollover resistance. All Mazda vehicles come with a roadside assistance program, which operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, throughout the United States and Canada.
The 2010 Mazda CX-9 comes in three trim levels. Each is available in either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive ($1,400).
Mazda CX-9 Sport ($28,635) comes with cloth upholstery, three-zone automatic climate control, AM/FM/CD audio with auxiliary input jack, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, remote/keyless entry, cruise control, leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, six-way manual adjusting driver's seat, split-folding second- and third-row seats, Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, rear spoiler, and P245/60R18 tires on aluminum wheels. Buyers can also add a package ($490) that includes heated front seats and outside mirrors, plus power adjustment for the driver's seat.
CX-9 Touring ($30,555) adds leather upholstery, 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar support, 4-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, and automatic-off headlamps. The Touring Liftgate Package ($617) adds Smart Card advanced entry and starting system and a power liftgate.
CX-9 Grand Touring ($32,645) adds more deluxe trim inside and out, including turn signals integrated into the side mirrors, automatic high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, memory for the driver's seat, security system with advanced keyless entry Smart Card, auto-dimming inside mirror with universal garage door opener and P245/50R20 tires. The Grand Touring Navigation Package ($2,300) adds a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic information. Also exclusive to the Grand Touring is the Entertainment and Bose Package ($3,055) with a DVD entertainment system, Bose AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, and a 115-volt power outlet.
A Moonroof and Bose Package ($2,255) includes a sunroof, the Bose AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, and a rearview camera. A towing prep package ($100) for Grand Touring FWD only comes with a transmission oil cooler and a heavy duty radiator fan, boosts trailer capacity from 2,000 pounds to 3,500. A trailer hitch receiver and cover is available for all models ($425). Other options consist of Sirius satellite radio ($430), a rearview camera with an auto-dimming rearview mirror ($665), the auto-dimming rearview mirror ($275), a power liftgate ($400), remote-engine start ($350), a retractable cargo cover ($205), and roof rails ($250).
Safety features include electronic stability control with roll stability control and traction control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, active front head restraints, tire-pressure monitor, side air curtains with rollover deployment, front-seat-mounted side-impact air bags, and of course the required dual frontal air bags. Air curtains are low-pressure airbags that come down from the ceiling to cover the side windows in all three rows. The idea is to provide head protection in a side-impact crash. Studies and crash tests have shown such head protection can significantly improve the chance of surviving side-impact crashes, which are particularly deadly because there is so little metal to protect the occupants of the vehicle being struck. The air bags mounted in the front seats are designed to provide chest protection in a side-impact crash. Optional all-wheel drive adds a measure of driving safety in slippery conditions, a rearview camera provides a view of objects behind the vehicle, and Blind Spot Alert, which is standard on Grand Touring and optional otherwise, has lights in the side mirrors to tell drivers when vehicles are traveling in the CX-9's blind spot.
The Mazda CX-9 is presented as a substitute for a sport utility vehicle or a minivan, and Mazda has made sure it looks like neither.
The CX-9 is not a longer version of the five-seat CX-7, as one might speculate. The structures of the CX-7 and CX-9 are not related. And the mechanical underpinnings are different. They are entirely different vehicles.
The Mazda CX-9 shares its basic structure with the five-passenger Ford Edge, although the Mazda is longer, by 2 inches of wheelbase and 14 inches overall. In fact, the CX-9 is the largest Mazda ever. Its overall length of just over 200 inches makes it nearly a foot longer than the Toyota Highlander or Nissan Murano. What is perhaps most surprising about the CX-9 is that it doesn't look big from the outside.
The CX-9's new nose features a version of the five-point grille that is now used on most Mazdas. There is also an upper grille with a huge Mazda insignia. The face now has sharper, more dramatic lines that aren't really better looking. The windshield is sharply raked, leading to a roof that arches, crests and then slides back and down. One surprise is a pronounced bulge in the tailgate, like an old-fashioned bustle. It is a neat trick that adds a little extra storage capacity. Along the sides, the fenders feature prominent flares.
Safety researchers say the strength of the vehicle's body is also crucial in providing protection in a side-impact crash. Mazda took this into consideration, providing B-pillars that are extra wide and strong. (The B-pillar is the second roof pillar back from the windshield, which uses the A-pillar.).
For 2010, Mazda has made some minor interior changes to give it a more upscale appearance. Piano black insets have been added to the steering wheel, while chrome accents have been added to the instrument panel, A/C controls, automatic transmission lever knob, vent louver knobs, inner door handles, and door trim. Mazda also says the fabric and leather seating surfaces are now of a higher quality. The result is an attractive design that is nice but not entirely upscale. The CX-9's dashboard and door panels are, after all, mostly plastic with only a few soft-touch surfaces.
All the driving controls stay in the same positions, which is good because they are simple and easy to use. Storage includes a relatively small center bin, now with a split lid, a small cubby at the base of the center console, and relatively thin storage compartments on the front doors.
Buyers have a choice of black or beige upholstery, and the latter makes the interior seem brighter and roomier. The look is appealing, and nothing about it says boring family transportation.
The CX-9's step-in height makes entry easy for shorter drivers, yet the seating position is as high as in most SUVs, which provides a good look down the road. However, average to taller folks will have to duck out of the way of the front pillars when entering because the windshield is so sharply raked. There is plenty of head room, though.
The CX-9 has a surprising amount of room inside. Carrying seven people means two up front, three in the second row and two in the hind quarters. One tester, at 6-feet, 4-inches, could be comfortable in the driver's seat, then move back to the second row and still find enough legroom. That second row, incidentally, is split 60/40, and either side moves fore and aft almost five inches. That allows a nice amount of flexibility for carrying people and cargo of different sizes. Second-row legroom is good if the seat is set halfway through its range or farther back.
With the second row set halfway back, we climbed into the third row and found adequate legroom there, too. Head room is tight, though, as anyone over about 5-foot, 8-inches will rub their heads on the roof. To get to the third row one grabs a handle built into the top of the second-row seat and pulls. That releases the seat and slides it forward. The opening is smallish, in part because the wheel arch intrudes, but with a wiggle and a twist an adult can reach the third row without a severe loss of dignity.
Mazda says there is 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row upright. That's not much more than the trunk of a mid-size sedan, and to use it all would require piling luggage up to the roof, blocking the rearward view. Nevertheless 17.2 cubic feet gives the CX-9 a significant advantage over, say, the Toyota Highlander, which has 10.3 cubic feet behind its third row, and 2.5 inches less legroom in the third row. To carry more stuff and fewer people, the Mazda's third row (a 50/50 split) can be lowered by pulling a strap. Gravity does the work. With both sides down the result is 48.4 cubic feet of space. Getting the seat back up requires pulling the same strap, which isn't a problem because it's easy to reach.
The second row can also be folded down easily. However, it doesn't create a completely flat cargo area. There is a slight uphill slant. With both rear rows folded, though, there is a cavernous 100.7 cubic feet of space. You wouldn't know it looking at the CX-9 from the outside.
One thing the very tall person (6-foot 4-inch, in my case) will quickly learn is that the tailgate when open does not have a 6-foot 4-inch clearance. There is nothing like a good rap on the forehead to brighten the day.
Mazda's mantra is to provide sporty vehicles with 'zoom-zoom,' as Mazda likes to say. That's easy to do with a two-seater like the MX-5 roadster, but it becomes a challenge with a seven-passenger vehicle that weighs over 4,500 pounds in its all-wheel-drive version. Still, it is a challenge that Mazda engineers have met quite nicely, based on the models we drove, with both front- and all-wheel drive.
The CX-9 comes with a 3.7-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission. It's rated at 273 horsepower. The torque curve surges from 3000 to 6000 rpm and peaks with 270 pound-feet at 4500 rpm. Best of all, the CX-9 runs on 87-octane regular unleaded gas, despite a sporty compression ratio of 10.3:1. The 60-degree V6 is state-of-the-art throughout, featuring a die-cast aluminum block with cast-in iron cylinder liners and aluminum heads for minimal weight. The valvetrain includes chain-driven dual overhead camshafts operating four valves-per-cylinder through easily adjusted bucket tappets. Intake valve timing is variable. EPA fuel economy ratings are 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway with FWD, and 15/22 with AWD. Those numbers are much better than any truck-type SUV but not as good as some competitive crossovers.
We found the V6 to be well-matched to the vehicle. It provides willing power from a stop, with just the right responsiveness. It doesn't start with a jolt, but seems to react readily to throttle inputs. We'd call that linear response. Our only complaint has to do with the transmission, which is usually smooth and responsive. When attempting to pass on the highway, however, we thought the transmission was a bit too slow to downshift to provide the best power delivery.
When it comes to handling, the CX-9 is surprisingly fun to drive for a large vehicle with so much weight up front. That is no small accomplishment. It feels remarkably like a car, turning into corners with ease and staying impressively flat through turns.
The price for the responsive handling, however, is a relatively stiff ride on anything but a smooth surface. The passengers will just have to suffer quietly while Mom or Dad has fun at the wheel. Meanwhile, the CX-9 feels strong and tight on rough roads, refusing to quiver even when striking potholes.
For the driver who wants to be a bit more involved, on mountain roads, for example, the transmission shift lever can be moved to one side, which then allows the driver to manually shift gears by tapping the lever. It is a system that works well with the transmission-control computer doing a good job of blending the upshifts and downshifts to avoid any jerks or stumbles.
Fussy drivers might notice a difference in steering feel between the front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models. The steering in our AWD test vehicle had a feel that could be called rubbery, weakening the connection between the vehicle and the driver. The steering on our FWD model was much better. The steering is tuned a bit differently on FWD and AWD chassis.
One downside of the front-drive model is torque steer: Push hard on the gas pedal, and the steering wheel tugs to one side as the front wheels scramble for traction. This requires the driver to make minor steering corrections to keep the CX-9 going straight. (This is with the gas pedal slammed down, so it may not even be noticeable in most situations.) Torque steer is eliminated in the all-wheel-drive models because some of the power is being sent to the rear, reducing the demand on the front tires.
The AWD model sends most of the power to the front wheels in normal driving. But under hard acceleration, or if the front wheels begin to slip, as much as 50 percent of that power can be sent to the rear wheels. It is an automatic system and does not require the driver to do anything.
The CX-9 has anti-lock brakes to help in an emergency. We found the brake pedal felt slightly soft but overall feedback was reassuring, and it was easy to trim a little or a lot of speed.
The Blind Spot Monitoring system monitors both rear corners of the CX-9 while underway and notifies the driver of vehicles in the detection areas by illuminating the BSM warning light located in the appropriate side mirror. Additionally, the light flashes and a beeper sounds if the driver signals a turn into the path of a detected vehicle. We found it works well, but it can sometimes beep when you know you've passed someone and you want to take their lane.
The Mazda CX-9 is an impressively well-rounded package offering practicality and a healthy list of standard safety equipment in an attractive package. It's enjoyable to drive, offering sporting road manners, though with a ride that some might consider stiff. The CX-9 and vehicles like it are much better choices for families than the truck-type larger SUVs that have become less popular in recent years.
Christopher Jensen filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from his home base in New England. Correspondent Kirk Bell contributed from Chicago.
Mazda CX-9 Sport ($28,635); Touring ($30,555); Grand Touring ($32,645).
Options As Tested
Moonroof and Bose audio package ($2,255) with sunroof, Bose AM/FM radio with six-disc CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, and rearview camera; Navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic ($1,665); power liftgate ($400); rear bumper step plate ($150).
Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring AWD ($34,045).
2010 Mazda CX-9 Information
Are you in the market for a Mazda CX-9? Research 2010 Mazda CX-9 specs, photos, reviews and ratings here. Ready to buy a 2010 Mazda CX-9? Find Mazda car dealerships in your area, check out their current Mazda CX9 deals and incentives, then browse '10 Mazda CX-9 vehicles for sale.
*The data and content on this web site is subject to change without notice. Neither AOL nor any of its data or content providers shall be liable for errors in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon.
Cars For Sale IN 98168Change
See Another Car
- Aston Martin
- Land Rover
FIND A GREAT USED CAR
Other CX-9 Years
Great Auto Loan Rates
Low Rates on New and Used AutosPresented By Apply In One Easy Step »