CX-9 delivers more room, zoom-zoom

A few decades ago, most families got by with sedans and station wagons. Today, having one or two kids requires a transport truck.

The Mazda CX-9 seven-passenger crossover is anything but trucky. It’s profile is long and somewhat low

The Mazda CX-9 seven-passenger crossover is anything but trucky. It’s profile is long and somewhat low

Despite the absurd prices at the pumps, large people movers are still moving well.

Not that today’s families are truly large. In fact, quite the opposite as the size of our broods has been steadily shrinking since the 1970s.

It’s more a matter of our frazzled lifestyles requiring—and acquiring—far too much crap.

A few short decades ago, most families got by with sedans and station wagons.

Today, having one or two kids in hockey apparently justifies buying an SUV the size of a transport truck.

And don’t get me started on just how much gear (boxes, bags, stroller, booster, high chair, potty, play pen, toys, etc.) now accompanies a single infant.

Until recently, most of these vehicles were trucky and bland. Automakers today are more creative, particularly with crossovers, which often blur the lines between SUV, minivan and wagon. And the Mazda CX-9—my tester for the week—is among the most stylish of these.

The CX-9 is most striking from the side, where its high and rising beltline is topped by a band of windows that narrows towards the rear. Wide shoulders and a tapered greenhouse, accented by a roof-mounted spoiler give it a more athletic look than you’d expect from a family hauler.

Ditto for the large wheel openings over big 20-inch alloys, and the trapezoidal dual exhausts.

From the front, this crossover’s projector headlamps sweep back like cat’s eyes, either side of the chrome-surround upper grille. And although I don’t like Mazda’s gaping signature lower grille (the old one is more tidy), at least it’s bisected by a horizontal chrome piece.

But don’t let the CX-9’s low, swoopy profile fool you, as there’s still plenty of space for both passengers and cargo. Behind the third row—yes, this is a seven-passenger vehicle—you’ll find 475 litres of space. That’s more than in many full-size sedans, and there’s even a handy underfloor tray.

Drop the third row, and you’re left with 1,368 litres. This is the configuration I used all week—much of it with two kids bickering in the middle row, and the cargo hold jammed floor-to-ceiling with camping gear.

Drop both the second and third rows, and you have 2,851 litres. That doesn’t measure up to minivan standards, and is less than offered by the bulkier Chevy Traverse, but it tops competitors like Honda Pilot, Hyundai Veracruz and Toyota Highlander.

Cargo volume is important, but convenience and the accessibility are as critical.

For starters, all seats fold flat in the CX-9, and do so quickly and easily. Putting everything back in place is a minor effort as well. Simple straps and levers do a fine job, and there’s really no need for a power third row.

Speaking of the 50/50 third row, seating back here is fine for those of us under six feet tall, at least on short trips. And with some compromise from second-row occupants—who have oodles of seat travel fore and aft—there’s ample knee room.

Getting into the third row is aided by the CX-9’s tilt-and-slide mechanism, which is a one-handed operation that moves the 60/40 second row forward nearly nine inches.

More challenging, however, is the high step-in. It’s easy enough for kids and nimble adults, but I wouldn’t want my elderly father making the attempt.

Passengers in the second row get their own HVAC controls, and are treated to loads of knee and head room. Seating is comfortable, and in the GT is embellished with contrasting leather inserts.

The middle position drops down for an armrest and pair of cupholders—and provides some much-needed separation between kids.

The CX-9 is among the pricier offerings in this segment (with a starting MSRP of $36,395), and as such I’d expect a healthy list of standard content. Here, Mazda does not disappoint.

The base front-drive GS gets three-zone climate control, heated front seats (eight-way power adjust for driver), six-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system, Bluetooth, tilt/telescopic steering with audio and cruise controls, rain-sensing wipers, power heated mirrors, 18-inch alloys and more.

You can add $2,000 for active torque split all-wheel drive and $2,395 for a luxury package that includes power moonroof, leather upholstery, four-way power adjust for the front passenger and power lumbar support for the driver.

My tester was in GT trim (MSRP $45,745), which included all the above GS and luxury package features plus blind spot monitoring, rearview camera, smart key system, driver’s seat memory, upgraded 10-speaker Bose surround sound audio system, 20-inch Indeed, the CX-9 can reach 50-grand, not including freight and taxes, which puts it into contention with some premium haulers like Infiniti JX and Acura MDX.

What makes it competitive isn’t so much the interior appointments, although the tightly-fitted woodgrain trim, chrome accents and leather upholstery are nicely done.

The independent front and rear suspensions (with stabilizer bars) are forgiving enough to soak up potholes and road imperfections, yet tight enough to keep this big vehicle from excessive lean in hard cornering.

The CX-9’s steering, with rpm-sensing variable power assist, has more road feel than typical in this kind of vehicle.

And the engine—a DOHC 24-valve 3.7-litre V6 (273 hp, 270 lb/ft of torque), mated to a six-speed automatic —packs enough punch to launch it smoothly and quickly, and deliver ample passing power on the highway.

Transport Canada rates this powertrain at a reasonable 12.7/8.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy) as a front driver and 12.8/9.0 litres/100 km (city/hwy) with AWD. I wouldn’t expect to see these numbers, unless you’re extremely light on the pedal. My own result was a thirstier 13 litres/100 km combined.

Fuel economy aside, the CX-9 is both practical and fun to drive—and handles more like a mid-size sedan than a large crossover. It won’t get your heart pumping, but delivers the kind of nimbleness and åzoom zoom’ that Mazda is known for.

Mazda CX-9 2012

Body Style: seven-seat crossover

Drive Method: front-engine, front wheel drive or all-wheel-drive

Engine: DOHC 24-valve 3.7-litre V6 (273 hp and 270 lb/ft of torque)

Fuel Economy: FWD 12.7/8.4 litres/100 km (city/hwy); AWD 12.8/9.0 litres/100 km (city/hwy)

Cargo: behind third row 475 litres; behind second row 1,368 litres; behind first row 2,851 litres

Towing Capacity: 1,588 kg (3,500 lbs)

Price: base GS (FWD) $36,395; GT (AWD) $45,745


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