Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 Mazda CX-9 Touring

Once the kids are dropped off at soccer practice, or ballet, or camp, what's the point of that seven-seat penalty box? What if somebody got this crossover thing right and faithfully combined carlike agility with SUV-like capacities? And did so without it looking like a minivan?

Well, Mazda has done just that. The 2008 Mazda CX-9 is a CUV as at home on the PCH as it is at the PTA. It's a seven-passenger crossover infused with the confidence, poise and taut good looks we expect from Mazda, without sacrificing the all-important utility and third-row seating upon which we've become so dependent. Now we've added one to our long-term test fleet.

What We BoughtKeeping nearly lock-step with our Long-Term Buick Enclave CX, we chose the Touring trim level for our newest CUV. Like the Buick, it's front-wheel drive and seats seven. Like the Buick it has 18-inch rims. And, like the Buick, it starts around $32,000 — $31,615, to be exact. Unlike with our Buick, heated, leather-upholstered, eight-way power-adjustable seats are standard equipment. So is Bluetooth.

And, unlike our Enclave CX, the rear liftgate is fully manual. We didn't buy this one; it's a 12-month loaner from Mazda. We still spec'd it out to our liking, keeping value in mind. The Touring trim is well equipped, so we were able to minimize what we "spent" on options.

A moonroof is packaged with the 277-watt, 10-speaker Bose stereo. Fortunately we wanted both, so $1,760 felt like a fair price for the combo. Once we had the upgraded stereo, the addition of Sirius Satellite Radio proved to be a no-brainer at $430. To get a back-up camera on the Enclave, the $3,000 navigation system is a must. Not so for the CX-9. A trick screen in the corner of the auto-dimming rearview mirror assists in parking the big Mazda and is available for only $665.

Although the CX-9 is available with all-wheel drive, front-wheel serves our purposes in California (and probably everywhere else except North Dakota), plus it's cheaper and promotes better fuel economy. If you're eager for sporting driving, 20-inch tires are available, but we're not eager to give up so much ride comfort for quicker steering response, so the 18-inch setup works better for us. While Black Cherry Mica (purple) and Cherry Mica (red) are available, we chose the Liquid Platinum Metallic (silver) exterior paint.

With a silver exterior, black is the only interior color available. Leather, rearview camera, Bose stereo, moonroof — all for $35,065, including delivery. Why We Bought ItZoom-zoominess abounds in anything Mazda graces with its seagull-inspired badge, and its newest crossover is no exception. The 2008 model year marks the debut of the 3.7-liter DOHC V6 in the CX-9. Power has been increased to 273 horsepower, up from 263 in the 2007 CX-9 with its 3.5-liter V6. Fuel economy under the EPA's revised system is 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. The transmission is a six-speed automatic with a sport shift feature. During a First Drive of the 2007 model, Director of Vehicle Testing Dan Edmunds noted, "The most significant CX-7 hardware item carried over to the CX-9 is the well-sorted six-speed automatic transmission.

We loved its smooth and positive shifting behavior in that application, and it's much the same here." Mazda's CX-9 also has a serious — and seriously safe — side. Stability control is standard equipment. Front and side-impact airbags are standard. There's a five-star frontal crash rating for driver and passenger. The CX-9 also gets five stars for front and rear seat occupants in the event of a side collision, and four stars for rollover protection, all of which are on par with our Enclave. We're especially taken with the way the CX-9's flexible seating package works for us. The 60/40-split second-row seat offers 5 inches of fore and aft travel for added comfort, and once you swing the second-row seat out of the way for access to the third row, there's a wide 26-inch gap to wriggle through.

Although the measurements for passenger accommodation are impressive, the CX-9 still seems a little tight to us (especially in headroom), so we'll see what we discover in the next year. In combining the agility of a car with the seating and cargo options of an SUV, Mazda hopes to deliver a CUV that's truly about crossing over. Has it successfully merged two disparate genres? Or has it, with the goal of creating a true crossover, compromised both goals?

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