First Drive: The 2007 Mazda CX-9

Until recently Mazda customers have had to look elsewhere to have their Crossover or SUV needs met. Mazda unveiled their mid-sized CX-7 crossover about a year ago. And, last month Mazda launched their largest vehicle yet, the all new CX-9 Crossover. The CX-9 offers a blend of Mazda, sporty heritage with a very well thought out third-row seat.

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The CX-9 was designed from the ground up to be a competitor to large, family-oriented crossover SUVs like the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. It’s long enough to fit a third row of seats, a feat the CX-7 cannot accomplish. It’s also almost a foot longer than either the Pilot or the CX-7, at 199.8 inches. It’s wider and taller than the CX-7 too, by 2.5 and 3.5 inches, respectively.

With added dimensions comes added weight – the CX-9’s curb weight ranges from 4300 to 6,050 lbs! So the CX-9 had to be beefier all-around than the CX-7, which shares much of its architecture with the Mazda 3- and 5-series hatchbacks. For the CX-9, Mazda engineers started with architectural cues from the CX-7 and then applied dimensional and functional changes borrowed from within Mazda when possible. The rear suspension, for example is derived from the Mazda6.

The 6’s handling capabilities are well-known, and have been passed on to the CX-9 without much dilution. The CX-9 handles better than any minivan, and better than any SUV short of high-dollar exotics like the Porsche Cayenne or BMW X5. Despite its large dimensions and considerable heft, it shrinks at speed, and one rarely feels the body roll intrinsic to vehicles of this size.

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To move the CX-9’s considerable bulk around, the 6’s sporty, high-revving motor simply would not suffice. So the CX-9 has been fitted with a new 3.5 V6, making 263hp at 6250 rpm and 249 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. The CX-9 is not startlingly quick in the eyes of the clock, chuffing to 60 mph in anywhere between eight and ten seconds. This may sound imprecise, but the CX-9’s weight can vary by nearly a ton, depending on the options fitted to it and whether it has the optional all-wheel-drive.

Numbers aside, the CX-9’s new V6 has been garnering a lot of praise around the automotive press, and with good reason. It’s exceptionally smooth, and makes all the right sounds. It’s mated to the same excellent 6-speed automatic found in the CX-7, although things like the final drive ratio have been changed to compensate for the added weight. One of the most impressive things about the new CX-9 is the excellent job the engineers have done matching engine torque and RPMs to transmission shift points. Shifts are smooth, quick and always seem to occur exactly where you want them.

The interior is uber-roomy, offering 17.5 cubic feet of cargo room with the third row in place. With the third row folded (an easy task), that space grows by an even 30 cubes. We should mention that the CX-9’s second row doesn’t mess around either – in a nod to its family-hauler intentions, the entire row can be easily stowed with one hand, leaving the other free to hold leashed pets or children, cell phones, or lattes. Both rows are split, as well – 50/50 for the third row, and 60/40 for the second, bolstering the CX-9’s claim to cargo-carrying hegemony.

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We at Roadfly think the CX-9 will sell quite well indeed. There aren’t many vehicles like it on the market, and it’s pushed the envelope of versatility to extremes deemed impossible just a few years ago. The only utility vehicles we’ve seen that can match the CX-9’s blend of dynamics, practicality, and style are Teutonic bruisers – Audi’s Q7, BMW’s X5, Porsche’s Cayenne – that can cost twice as much and beyond. The Mazda’s price tag ranges from $29,035 for the front-wheel-drive ‘sport’ model to $33,875 for the all-wheel-drive ‘Grand Touring.’ If you’ve got to haul a family, but can’t stomach the dowdiness of a minivan or the excess of an SUV, put the Mazda CX-9 on your short list.

Car Review Videos, First Drives, Mazda, SUVs & Crossovers

Written by Roadfly Charlie

Charlie is Roadfly’s founder and publisher, and was taught to drive by his father in a 1974 Porsche 914. That made poor Charlie a Porsche fanboy for life, and after driving a 911SC at 16, he bought and campaigned a variety of 944s at racetracks up and down the East Coast, earning awards and track records in his twenties. Charlie never really got over the car bug, and after a career in real estate development he founded the Internet media firm that became Roadfly. Charlie lives in McLean, VA with his wife and two daughters, and between the demands of family and business doesn’t have much time to play with cars anymore, excluding the machinery we review.

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