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Is set to carry more goods for Mazda

CX-9 SUV

February 23, 2007|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

Bigger might not always be better, but the CX-9's dimensions and packaging will no doubt bringing plenty of new shoppers into Mazda showrooms.

The company's latest wagon offers truly inspired styling, plenty of room and thoughtful attention to detail. But many who gaze upon this sleek and shapely Mazda will likely think they've seen it somewhere before.

That deja vu perception is quite understandable since the Japanese-based, Ford-controlled company also produces the CX-7, a similar-looking, but smaller machine that was introduced last year.

The folks at Mazda don't seem at all fazed that both vehicles appear alike. Their sporty silhouettes, featuring rounded fascias, steeply raked windshields and pushed-out fenders containing oversized wheel-and-tire combinations, clearly run counter to the bulky, squared-off shapes featured on several competing models.

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Mazda is quick to point out that the CX-9 is not an extended CX-7. Both are based on the Mazda6 platform, but while the back half of the CX-7 is part Mazda5, the aft section of the CX-9 comes from the more bountiful Mazda3.

The CX-9's larger measurements (it's more than 15 inches longer, 3 inches wider and about 3 inches taller than the five-passenger CX-7) are put to good use in accommodating three rows of seats that can hold up to seven passengers. And Mazda's designers have come up with the ways and means to give everyone aboard ample space. The split-folding second row includes 5 inches of fore/aft adjustment. Access to the rear seat has also been made easier by way of a release mechanism that, with one hand, slides and tilts the second-row seat forward. Very slick.

The CX-9 employs a platform loosely based on that of the Ford Edge, but one that has been lengthened and widened for seven-passenger duty. Both share the 3.5-liter V-6 that, in the CX-9, makes 263 horsepower and 249 lb.-ft. of torque. However the Mazda's standard six-speed automatic transmission is different than the six-speed unit used in the Edge/MKX, which is a Ford/General Motors co-production. By contrast, the smaller CX-7 uses a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder.

Front-wheel drive is a standard feature on the CX-9, while optional on all models is an all-wheel-drive setup that originates with the CX-7 and high-performance Mazdaspeed6. Up to 50 percent of the torque is shifted to the rear wheels depending on the degree of slippage detected. It's not an expensive option (around $1,200) and, with only a minor fuel-economy penalty is certainly worth the expense.

While driving southern Vancouver Island's rain-slicked paved back roads, the CX-9 was right at home. It ran comfortably and confidently on rough pavement, was sure-footed around corners and always seemed to be in the right gear at the right time. When the clouds finally lifted, the Mazda responded to a quicker pace without effort or complaint.

The base Sport comes with climate control, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, six-speaker sound system, stability and traction control and six air bags.

Move up to the Touring and leather seats (heated in front), power driver's and front passenger's seat and heated side-view mirrors are included.

The uplevel Grand Touring edition includes 20-inch wheels, fog lights, keyless start, memory settings for the power driver's chair, deluxe interior trim and an anti-theft alarm.

In addition, there are several extra-cost packages available that offer items such as a navigation system, moonroof, Bose-brand audio system, rear-seat entertainment unit and a towing package. Although positioned as premium vehicle, our Grand Touring test CX-9 had no backup sensor and a manually dimming (flip a small lever) rear-view mirror.

Regardless, the CX-9 is a great example of form and function working hand in hand to deliver an exceptional looking vehicle that drives well and can carry lots of people and their gear over good, bad and ugly roads in all weather conditions.

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