No better example of the newish crossover automotive segment exists than the 2010 Mazda CX-9. Automakers may use the term crossover for everything from small wagons to bulky SUVs, but the CX-9 shows crossover attributes in their purest form. It offers plenty of interior room, with three seating rows, yet remains nimble on the road. The CX-9's high seating position offers a good view, yet it drives like a car.
The CX-9 comes in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims; however, all trims get the same 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed-automatic transmission. The car can also be had in front- or all-wheel-drive formats. Our car, in Crystal White Pearl Mica, came with the Touring trim that adds niceties such as leather power adjustable seats. All trims get a hands-free Bluetooth phone system.
Rather than the big, squared-off style of SUVs, the CX-9 mostly looks like a jumbo-size wagon. The 2010 model shows a little of Mazda's new Nagare design language in the front end, but it hasn't gone through as complete a transformation as the upcoming Mazda5 has.
The CX-9 is large enough for seven passengers, with its third-row seating.
"Tasteful" is how we would describe the cabin of the car, interspersing chrome and piano black gloss plastic with soft surfaces. In one of those strange combinations from automakers, the sunroof package in the CX-9 also includes a Bose audio system. The third row seats, which we found easy to raise and lower, are standard on all trims.
Less than meets the eye
As for cabin tech, Mazda is far from the leading edge and should have transferred some technology from Ford when the companies were more closely aligned. As such, a GPS navigation system is only available at the Grand Touring trim level, not on the Touring or Sport trims.
The new full-color LCD makes selecting music from an MP3 CD easy.
When we stepped into the comfortable cabin of the CX-9, we immediately noticed a new dashboard configuration with a 4.3-inch full-color LCD in place of a standard radio screen. A little research showed that this new screen comes with the sunroof package. These option mazes get a little annoying, and we wish Mazda would just make this new LCD standard for the CX-9.
Although the screen shows more information than a standard radio display, and has eight soft buttons down the sides, we found it very easy to use. Whether choosing a satellite radio channel or music from the MP3-compatible six CD changer, the labeling for the buttons was always clear and intuitive.
According to Mazda, the sunroof and Bose audio system also includes iPod integration, but what that really means is the stereo accepts Bluetooth stereo streaming. The LCD won't show an iPod's music library, but its wireless audio streaming is very convenient. We paired an iPhone to the Bluetooth system and were pleased that the phone kicked into play mode as soon as we switched to the streaming audio source on the car's stereo. There is also an auxiliary audio input in the console.
Mazda's Bose system, as configured in our CX-9, uses a 277-watt amp powering 10 speakers. Typical for Bose, it produces a strong sound emphasizing the midranges. We tested it with a variety of music, from layered electronic recordings to acoustic to classic rock. With each genre it sounded very good, making distinct highs and bass; however, it didn't really stand out as an exceptional listening experience. With the optional rear-entertainment system, the audio system gets an extra speaker.
The Bluetooth phone system in the Mazda CX-9 imports contact lists from phones.
The new LCD also made the standard Bluetooth phone system much easier to use. With our iPhone paired, the system offered not only the usual basic voice commands but also showed a very nice phone dialing graphic on the LCD. Even better, when we paired the phone the system gave the option of importing the contact list to the car and offers an easy interface for browsing contact list entries and making calls.
Thoroughly pleasant driving
Out on the road, the CX-9 drives well, fulfilling that crossover promise of a car-like experience. The steering proved responsive and the car did not seem bulky at all as we maneuvered through dense urban streets. The 4.3-inch LCD shows the rearview camera video. It's a small image, but it is useful when parallel parking.
Climbing a hill on a mountain highway, the V-6's 273 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque kept the CX-9 up to the pace of the faster traffic. The engine didn't sound strained when we pushed it and the car moved along effortlessly.
The EPA fuel economy for the CX-9 is 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. In our driving, we achieved 18.4 mpg--not a spectacular number.
The automatic transmission has a manual mode, but it shifts very well on its own.
We liked the programming of the six-speed-automatic transmission. The digital gear indicator in the instrument cluster showed how fast this transmission downshifts when we floored the gas. Cruising on the freeway, the transmission quickly finds its way up to sixth gear; however, jamming down the gas pedal, the gear indicator jumps down to third gear before you know it, giving the CX-9 the thrust it needs for passing maneuvers.
The transmission also has a manual mode, but the automatic mode shifts so well it isn't needed for most driving. We did try it while going down a grade, using engine braking. Like a sports car, a push forward on the shifter downshifts, while pulling back upshifts.
The CX-9's fully independent suspension leads to a comfortable ride in most circumstances. Mazda fits the CX-9 with stabilizer bars front and rear, but the size of the vehicle prevented it from being something we wanted to drive hard in the corners.
The 2010 Mazda CX-9 looked good inside and out, and, overall, gave us a good driving feel. But looking at the available tech, it lets us down. The lack of a navigation system in the Touring trim is especially troubling, as Mazda is not only forcing a move to a more expensive trim level, but also then charging an extra chunk of money for the navigation option. Its stereo sounded OK, and we appreciate Bluetooth streaming audio, but it lacks true iPod integration.
The engine, although the right size for the CX-9, was ultimately average and didn't excel in power or fuel economy. However, we were impressed with the automatic transmission that made good use of the engine's power. We also liked the design of the CX-9, as the car has practical interior space and has a unique body. The new radio and phone display was also easy to use.
|Model||2010 Mazda CX-9|
|Power train||3.7-liter V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||16 mpg city/22 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18.4 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible six disc changer|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, satellite radio, auxiliary input|
|Audio system||Bose 277-watt 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rearview camera|
|Price as tested||$34,527|