Loads of potential restrained by the reigns of parental control
Mazda CX-9 – 2007 Review: While some would argue the validity of evolution as a human condition, there is no denying its role in the world of automobiles. As long as there have been large families, there’s been a need to move them from place to place. As a result, the station wagon was born, followed by the sport-utility vehicle, and most recently the crossover. Along the way, these people haulers have become more comfortable, more capable, and as the 2007 Mazda CX-9 proves, more engaging. Traits such as sloppy handling and drab styling have worked their way out of the gene pool, replaced with the responsiveness and sleek lines desired by today’s drivers, even those who spend equal time shuttling as cruising.
For this evaluation Mazda set us up with an all-wheel-drive 2007 CX-9 Grand Touring, the top-of-the-line model. Base price is $34,470, including a $595 destination charge, but our Stormy Blue Mica version tipped the scales at $38,880. Included with that price were a $450 towing package that bumped capacity up to 3,500 lbs., a $2,100 touch-screen navigation system with voice-activated controls and a rearview parking camera, and a $1,760 power sunroof and Bose surround sound package. In the course of one week, our editors logged about 1,000 miles, covering plenty of asphalt around our Orange County offices, a few trips to LA, and one run up to the central coast just to watch the sunset. We even hit a few dirt roads along the way.
With 263 horsepower on tap, the Mazda CX-9 is capable of scooting from here to there with relative ease. The 3.5-liter V6 delivers smooth power and remains composed even at higher revs. Over the course of 1,000 miles we averaged only 16.8 mpg, but that’s actually in line with the competition. No, it’s nothing to write home about, but at least it’s competitive, and we did see upwards of 20 mpg during a long highway cruise. Backing up the V6 is a seamless six-speed automatic transmission with a manual shift function. Click the shifter to the left and flick forward or back for upshifts/downshifts. Furthermore, the driver maintains control as the CX-9 will bounce off its rev limiter rather than automatically upshifting.
Where’s the zoom-zoom? The nicely-weighted and responsive steering pleased, as did the stiff suspension and grippy 20-inch Bridgestone Dueler H/L rubber. Toss in the fadeless brakes, and you’ve got a winner, right? Not so fast. The traction control system on the CX-9 is an intrusive mess. It literally locked up one of the front tires coming out of a turn, and more than once activated after we’d exited a corner and started down a straight path. We tried turning the system off, but were disappointed to discover that it kicks back in above nine mph. There were brief glimpses of understeer before the techno gods took over, but otherwise the CX-9 suggested that a very capable and fun vehicle lurked behind all the electronic constraints.
Maintaining a good view of the road and, equally important, a clear view of surrounding traffic is one point drivers are bound to appreciate in the all-new Mazda CX-9. Besides ample side mirrors, this long crossover features extensive side glass, an expansive windshield, and pillars that are narrow enough so as to not be a problem. The retractable second row head restraints are a little on the large side, and the rising rear beltline compromises visibility out of the rear quarter window a smidge, but neither is significant enough to warrant any real complaints. A rearview camera, which offers playback through the screen on the dash, is included with the optional navigation system.
Fun to Drive
Around town and where the road includes long gradual sweepers, the tight and composed Mazda CX-9 is a hoot to drive, especially given its size. The leather-wrapped sport steering wheel, which appears to have been taken directly from the MX-5 Miata parts bin, offers good road feel and plenty of response, while the somewhat stiff suspension promises limited body roll and welcome stability. But, damn, that ever-present stability control is a total buzzkill. There’s obviously a need for that technology, and chances are anyone caught in a gnarly situation would sing its praises. However, stability control systems should do their work behind the scenes, and not be overbearing to the point of leaving the driver dead in the water.
crossovers appeal to all types of drivers, who just happen to come in all different sizes. The vast majority should be comfortable in the 2007 Mazda CX-9 with its ample head, leg, and shoulder room, not to mention the wide, padded center armrest, padded door armrests and sills, and the sporty steering wheel that manually tilts and telescopes. We should mention that it’s just the column that tilts – allowing the wheel to tilt would provide an added element of comfort. The seats are large and supportive, and in keeping with Mazda’s zoom-zoom character, beefy side bolsters keep body motion to a minimum. Our loaded Touring model also included effective heated seats, though we would have preferred more than one setting.
Second row passengers are treated like royalty in the CX-9. The split bench is soft and comfortable, there are copious amounts of head and foot room, and the sills and armrests are padded. Three large, adjustable head restraints are provided, as are rear climate controls and two cupholders in the fold-down center armrest. If anything, the seat could be positioned higher, which would prevent knees from rubbing against the soft front seatbacks. Third row access is easy thanks to the tilting and sliding second row bench. With the second row positioned all the way back, third row leg room is woefully insufficient, but OK when the second row’s moved up a bit. Headroom is always tight; head restraints offer admirable adjustment.
Just one week prior to our time in the CX-9, the all-new Hyundai Veracruz fell under our care. Hyundai aimed at meeting or beating Lexus in terms of interior noise, a feat it succeeded in achieving. Mazda has not set the same goal, and it shows (or sounds, as the case may be). From wind noise to tire and road noise, the CX-9 is far from the quietest offering in the growing large crossover segment. Part of our dissatisfaction was due to the concrete highways we suffer with in Southern California, but even on smooth pavement we found ourselves raising the decibels for normal conversation. On the plus side, the engine sounds reasonably refined even at full revs, and squeaks and rattles were almost non-existent.
Check out the majority of three-row crossovers and you’ll notice that using the third row means giving up any usable cargo space. Not so with the CX-9, which thanks to its bowed rear shape maintains some usable space even with seven passengers on board. The liftover height is higher than shorter folks will appreciate, yet the tailgate opens barely high enough to clear our five-foot-eight-inch tall editor’s head. The tailgate includes a handle, and a power function is in the works. Lowering the seats requires a pull of a strap and handle, after which you get a nearly flat load floor. There are four tie-down points, and a plastic bumper pad prevents expensive gouges and scratches to the painted surface.
For nearly $40,000, you’d expect a well-built piece of work, and for the most part our 2007 Mazda CX-9 tester fit the bill. With the exception of minor inconsistencies around the tailgate, all exterior gaps were in line, and with the exception of the right rear door, all panels fit flush. Inside, again, our usual tug and hawk eye inspection found few victims. Among them were different gaps on the left and right sides of the dash and a few interior bits scattered throughout the cabin that looked like they needed a few more seconds of finish work before leaving the production line.
When Hyundai can build a comparable car with superior materials, you’d think Mazda could do the same. Found in the new Veracruz but absent from the CX-9 are soft-touch surfaces nearly everywhere your finger can reach, replaced in the Mazda with an abundance of hard, albeit durable, goods. Kudos for the mesh headliner and the soft leather on the steering wheel, shift knob, and seats, and thumbs up for the padded door sills and armrests. Now, if designers could just keep the ball rolling onto the dash, the center console, and the pillars.
If the five-passenger Mazda CX-7 is a wild teenager, the CX-9 is more like a mature adult, one that’s toned and energetic. There’s a clear link between the two models in general shape and proportions, but the CX-9 is a bit more graceful and smooth. The CX-7’s flared front fenders, heavily influenced by the RX-8 sports car, have been toned down, and the arch of the rear beltline is less dramatic. Taken as a whole, the CX-9 is muscular but restrained, while the CX-7 has more in-your-face attitude. Similarly, the CX-9’s interior borders on upscale with faux wood, alloy accents and two-tone leather upholstery, a look that is juxtaposed by the small steering wheel, sport shifter, and chrome trim pieces.
Every hit has a miss or two, and for the CX-9 that’d be interior storage. Among the pros is a large center armrest cubby with an outlet, a rubber-lined slot below the instrument panel, a small slot by the driver’s knee, a decent-size glovebox, and a damped and lined overhead sunglass holder. There’s also a map pocket on the back of the driver’s seat. Third row passengers get four small cupholders, and riders in the second row get a small spot in the fold-down center armrest. But that’s not a lot of storage space in a seven-passenger rig. Plus, the door pockets are designed more for holding beverages than anything else, and when used in such a fashion, leave precious little room for anything else.
When fitted with the touch-screen navigation system, the radio can be controlled with illuminated steering wheel buttons, buttons next to the center screen, and with buttons integrated into the navigation system. Users can also run through presets on the steering wheel, but a tuning button would be nice, too. As it is, the driver has to stretch for the tuning button on the dash. Signal strength was a problem. The navigation system includes voice controls and a tilting screen that washes out in daylight. A RTN (return) button next to the screen is in place of a more useful touch-screen Back button, and destination points can only be entered when the CX-9 is stopped. An auxiliary MP3 jack is located inside the center armrest.
So rubber grips aren’t available – not everything can be perfect. That minor quibble aside, the 2007 Mazda CX-9 makes warming up or cooling off a relatively simple affair. Equipped with a dual-zone automatic climate controls system, our Touring tester featured three dials – one for driver temp, one for fan speed, and one for front passenger temp. A small digital readout atop the dash informed of temperature settings and fan speed. A series of buttons below the three dials addressed defrost functions, heated front seats, and rear climate controls, which consisted of fan and temperature dials on the back side of the front center console.
Logical placement and clear labels ensure that the CX-9’s secondary controls will be found quickly. We’re not crazy about the vertical layout of the power window and mirror switches, but they are illuminated and the windows do include automatic up and down functionality. Overhead, there are two buttons for the tilt and sliding sunroof, and on the lower left dash are buttons for the traction control system and the adjustable headlights – a total of four settings allow drivers to keep all eyes on the immediate road surface, or tilt up a bit to brighten things up and possibly annoy fellow drivers. Finally, our CX-9 included Mazda’s handy Smart Card keyless ignition, which automatically unlocked the doors and started the car without a key.
Filling the growing field of midsize and large crossover vehicles are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz, and GMC Acadia/Saturn OUTLOOK twins. This is the introductory year for the Hyundai and GM models, and marks the final year of the current Highlander – look for a larger and more powerful version later this year. There are other competitors, but these are the strongest contenders, and they represent some serious competition for the 2007 Mazda CX-9. However, Mazda’s largest vehicle to date comes ready with sporty styling, an engaging demeanor, most of the desirable features, and a reasonable price.
2nd Opinion – Buglewicz
Mazda CX-9 – Buglewicz’s Opinion:
Ford really needs to take a closer look at how its Mazda subsidiary does things. Drive the CX-9 and Lincoln MKX that was in our offices at the same time back to back and you’d never know they were related under the skin. I’d much rather spend my time and money on this Mazda. At $40,000 it’s not cheap, but the CX-9’s mostly high-quality interior appointments and superior driving experience make it much more satisfying than its Ford-branded brethren. Like many crossovers, making the body stiff results in thick, view-obstructing rear pillars. The structurally similar MKX has the same problem, but CX-9 uses a backup camera to help reversing, a feature not even available on Mazda’s supposedly premium Lincoln cousin.
2nd Opinion – Wardlaw
Mazda CX-9 -- Wardlaw’s Opinion:
Comfortable, communicative, and quiet, Mazda’s CX-9 is big inside but drives like a smaller vehicle. It’s got a light and lively feel that belies its size, athleticism uncommon to the crossover class but perfectly in line with Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” brand image. Our decked-out Grand Touring’s almost $40,000 sticker dismayed given the fake wood, ersatz metal, stiff leather, and hard plastic decorating the cabin, but the interior is nonetheless visually pleasing. My problem is with the CX-9’s compromised rear seating. The second-row is too low for comfort, and the third-row inhospitable to adults. Sadly, personal insecurity and image trump the practicality and utility of a minivan, which is what people choosing the CX-9 for its maximum passenger capacity really should buy.