The new crossover segment encourages car makers to be more creative than they have in years. Witness the 2007 Mazda CX-9, Mazda's largest car sporting a unique exterior look that embodies the company's "zoom-zoom" theme. The CX-9 works as a minivan replacement, and has three rows of seats for maximum people-carrying capacity.
The CX-9 looks like a larger version of the company's previous crossover, the CX-7. A much larger version. With its 20-inch wheels and over 16-foot length, it looks big when it rolls up next to you. Its unique Mazda styling gives it a sporty look, although its narrowed rear windows and large D pillars seriously hamper rear visibility.
Heavily padded seats make it a comfortable car to sit in, and it offers a pretty smooth driving experience. Its engine moves this big car with little effort, while the six-speed automatic's high gears keep engine RPMs low during freeway driving. The stereo controls are the same poor layout we saw in the Mazdaspeed3, but the Bose audio system sounds very nice.
Test the tech: Working at the beach
Two tech items caught our eye when we got a hold of the CX-9: standard Bluetooth cell phone integration and an optional AC outlet. With our trusty laptop and cell phone, we did what we've always wanted to do: spend a day working at the beach. Bluetooth wasn't entirely necessary for this operation, but it made the car feel more like a mobile office. The AC outlet would keep our laptop running for as long as we needed.
We loaded up our equipment, forwarded our office phone to our cell, told the boss we would be online soon, and drove out to Rockaway Beach, on the Pacific coast just south of San Francisco. It was a day only a surfer could love, with cold wind and an overcast of fog making outside activities out of the question. But it made for some nice office scenery as we sat in the CX-9.
Before we set out, we paired up our Samsung SGH-D807 phone with the car, using its voice command system. The car shows visual feedback about phone pairing and numbers dialed in an LED display at the top of the stack. When we got to the beach, we plugged our laptop into the car's AC outlet and slid a Sprint Mobile Broadband card into the laptop's PC card slot. All communications were online.
The front and middle row seats feel like big recliners, and were more comfortable than our office chairs. We chose to work from the front seat so we could use the phone button on the steering wheel whenever we wanted to answer or place a call. Moving the seat back all the way and telescoping the steering wheel in gave ample room for our laptop, although some kind of fold-down desk would have been nice. Well, the CX-9 isn't exactly an executive limousine.
During our time in the car, we worked on this review, used the Web, and kept in contact with the office through our cell phone. The call quality was very good--we could easily hear and be heard. We had music on hand through the car's stereo system and, although we were tempted, we didn't make use of the rear-seat entertainment option.
In the cabin
With the size of this car and the big, comfortable seats, the interior feels like a well-furnished living room. But the interior decorator must have been schizophrenic, as interior accents combine fake wood, aluminum-looking strips, and glossy, piano-black panels. Someone needs to tell Mazda to either go with the wood or with the aluminum look, but not both, and we can do without the glossy-black plastic entirely.
The 'key' for this car is a credit card-size piece of plastic--an RFID transmitter that lets you open the doors and start the engine without taking it from your pocket. We like the convenience of these keyless start systems, and the shape of the Mazda transmitter makes it fit easily in pockets, wallets, and purses.
The stereo in our review car uses the same horrible arrangement as in the Mazdaspeed3, with the volume knob placed in the center, tuning on the left, and audio settings on the right. If the navigation option were present, the LCD would replace the stereo interface. The six-disc changer doesn't play MP3s, a surprising omission in any modern car. But the stereo is prepped for satellite radio, and an auxiliary audio jack is mounted in the center console, making it a good place to keep an iPod.