Sunday, October 12, 2008

2008 MAZDA CX-9

2008 MAZDA CX-9

Wherever you take the CX-9, rest assured there's plenty of room for the whole gang and their gear. Despite the sleek, flowing body that suggests tight quarters, the CX-9 boasts a spacious interior for seven, highlighted by more second-row legroom than in the Enclave, Highlander, Tribeca, or Veracruz, and more third-row legroom and cargo room behind that row than you'll find in the last three. Only the Buick, which dwarfs the other four in length, width, height, and wheelbase, offers more third-row legroom and cargo room aft than the Mazda.

Further, when a weekend run to IKEA is in order, the CX-9 presents 100.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the second- and third-rows folded flat, which equates to an extra ottoman compared with the Highlander (95.4) and an entire bedroom than the Tribeca (74.4). Of course, the CX-9 isn't perfect, delivering the least first- and third-row headroom (the latter a result of the sporty, slanted hatch) and the slightest first-row legroom of the five, but it does get points for providing a second row that slides roughly five inches fore and aft on both sides, leaving ample space for finding the third row (over two feet between the folded second row and the C-pillar). Six-foot adults won't mind the third row for short to medium trips, while kids will love it back there, especially if the CX-9 is equipped with the optional rear-seat entertainment system (not available with a moonroof) that features a nine-inch LCD and 5.1 surround sound with 11 speakers.

As amusing as a movie is on the go, though, avoid the second and third rows and opt for the driver's seat-the chair of choice. From here, the controls that count are at your beck and call, ready to react with the utmost responsiveness. Sink your spur into the well-calibrated electronic throttle, and the new-for-2008 3.7-liter V-6 shakes the reins on 273 horsepower, a 10-horse boost over the previous 3.5-liter. (If you're wondering why the CX-9 didn't play last year, the 2007 model went on sale after our cut-off date.) More important, torque has risen from 249 to 270 pound-feet, and, at 4250, is now realized 150 rpm earlier. While we still wouldn't mind a tad more low-end grunt, the 3.7 nonetheless behaves in a silky, refined manner, accentuated by a sporty growl from the dual exhaust. Mated to an Aisin six-speed automatic that's as seamless as a rubber glove, the Japan-built Ford-based V-6 scoots the CX-9 from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.0 flat at 87.8 mph, placing it ahead of every three-row midsize crossover in this year's field sans the sprightlier Highlander, which recorded 7.3 and 15.7 at 87.7.

Moreover, when full control of the powertrain is desired, the CX-9 offers a slick manumatic feature that, similar to BMW road cars and many race cars, downshifts with a push forward of the gearshift and upshifts with a pull back. Most automakers configure it the opposite way, but we feel Mazda (and BMW) get it right.

Around our 15-mile Lake Arrowhead handling loop, the CX-9 was arguably the most enjoyable sport 'ute to pilot, a reminder that SUVs ought to be exciting to drive. The steering, a Mazda hallmark, didn't disappoint, displaying a solid, on-center feel with zero play off-center and superb, linear response throughout the turning range. For clipping apexes and placing a vehicle within the inch, the CX-9, with its heavenly helm, is first-rate. Naturally, swallowing a set of esses is no fun without a composed chassis, and here, again, the Mazda excels. Based on modified Ford Edge architecture-the two share an engine box, some floor stampings, and basic front MacPherson strut and rear multilink suspension designs-the CX-9 provided a compliant, taut ride as well as best-in-field lateral acceleration (0.77 g) and figure-eight time (28.4 seconds at 0.58 g), testaments to its brilliant tuning. Much credit goes to the CX-9's transparent Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system that can route up to 50 percent of available torque to the rear wheels depending on wheel speed, steering angle yaw rate, throttle opening, and lateral acceleration, but some due goes to the weight-saving measures, which include extensive use of high- and ultra-high-strength steel in such places as the front and rear frames, B-pillars, and sidesills. At 4633 pounds, the Mazda's no light weight, but compared with the two-row Edge (4511) and the cumbersome Enclave (5077), its dietary tactics are noticeable. Under braking, when fewer pounds equal fewer feet, the midweight Mazda, which slots between the 4268-pound Subaru and the Buick, posted a respectable 60-to-0 distance of 127 feet, a byproduct of four-wheel vented disc brakes and excellent pedal feel.

Firm believers in the best type of crash is the avoidable kind, we appreciate that the Mazda comes standard with an anti-lock brake system, electronic brake-force distribution, traction control, dynamic-stability control, and roll-stability control, which analyzes body-roll rate and wheel speed to determine if a momentary torque reduction and brake application are necessary to maintain the shiny side up. There's even a Blind Spot Monitoring system available for 2008. But should the sublime chassis and electronic aids not prevent the unavoidable, the CX-9 offers ample protection in the form of front, side, and side-curtain airbags as well as seatbelt pretensioners and load limiters. According to NHTSA, the safety net works, as the CX-9 received the highest scores (five stars) for front and side impacts, along with a four-star rollover rating.

If you're taken aback by the thought of a $40,000 Mazda, don't be. Over 50 percent of CX-9 buyers have opted for a $33,950-$35,250 Grand Touring, which, when equipped as was our all-wheel-drive tester with satellite radio, navigation, moonroof, backup camera, power tailgate, Bose audio system, and a towing package, can often touch the $40-grand level. This territory, surprisingly, is not uncommon today among three-row crossovers, evidenced by this year's comparably equipped challengers, which range in price from $37,196 (Veracruz) to $44,245 (Enclave). The beauty of the CX-9 is that for just under 30 large, the core elements can be had in a front-drive $29,995 Sport version ($31,295 with AWD), which, among a few extraneous features, lacks only leather, 20-inch wheels, foglamps, Xenon headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, some chrome exterior bits, and a Smart Card key system compared with the GT. Roughly one-quarter of shoppers have snatched up a Sport-and for good reason. For a bit more luxury, the midlevel $32,210-$33,510 Touring has garnered the remaining quarter and perhaps offers the optimal compromise with standard leather, heated sideview mirrors, and Bluetooth. While all-wheel drive is a $1300 option across the range, front-drive versions still deliver the trademark dynamics, according to Mazda, thanks to special suspension tuning that provides that critical ride, handling, and steering combination.

Manufactured at the Ujina Plant No. 1 near Mazda's global headquarters in Hiroshima, the CX-9 was designed specifically for the North American market. It shows. Not only did Mazda do its research, creating an SUV with the ideal balance of sport, utility, and style, but it built the benchmark of the three-row crossover class. Move the needle like that, in the most important, competitive SUV segment, and you take home the calipers.

Source: trucktrend

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