Mazda keeps managing to build vehicles of various types that are fun to drive. One of them is its sleek CX-9 sport-utility vehicle.
The CX-9 looks about as sporty as a fairly large, roomy SUV can look, although Mazda also refers to it as a"crossover." The CX-9's blunt, aggressive nose leads flowing lines that end in a nicely curved rear end with dual exhaust outlets. The 200-inch-long CX-9 comes in Touring, Grand Touring, Signature and Sport trim levels with front or all-wheel drive (AWD).
List CX-9 prices go from $32,130 to $44,315. The Grand Touring lists at $40,470 with front-drive and $42,270 with all-wheel drive (AWD).
In keeping with its sporty nature, my test Grand Touring AWD model had dual exhaust outlets, big tires on 20-inch aluminum wheels and a body color rear roof spoiler.
The CX-9 has a turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 227 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 r.p.m. on 87-octane gasoline. Fill 'er up with 93-octane, and horsepower jumps to 250. That largely explains why my test 250-horsepower CX-9 had strong acceleration even though it had available all-wheel drive that brings the CX-9s weight up from 4,166 pounds with front-wheel drive to 4,361 pounds.
The engine works with a crisp-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission with a responsive manual-shift feature. A "Sport" mode enhances acceleration a bit when passing or merging, but I never really felt the need for it.
The steering is quick and nicely weighted with 3.1 turns lock-to-lock. Handling is car-like and the ride is smooth, with the suspension and large tires easily soaking up bumps. The brake pedal works in a smooth, progressive manner.
Estimated fuel economy is 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on highways with front-drive and 20 and 26 with AWD. The front-drive version's tank holds holds 19 gallons, while the AWD model's tank holds 19.5 gallons. (The Signature model comes only with AWD.)
I averaged about 22 miles per gallon but did mostly brisk city stop-go street driving, which hurt fuel economy.
The Grand Touring's quiet interior is definitely upscale. It has a push-button start, aluminum trim and nice materials, a Bose sound system, easily read gauges and handy manual dashboard controls for the HIV system.There's also a power glass moonroof, and the dial-controlled infotainment system is fairly easy to figure out. Deep storage areas in the front door pockets and a large covered console bin provide room to stash various items.
The CX-9 is supposed to hold seven occupants, but only four average-size adults fit comfortably in the first two seating rows because the center of the backseat is stiff, and the third-row seat is suited only for two kids. However, I reached the third row without too much trouble despite long legs because the second-row seat slides and flips forward.
The cargo area is modest, at best, for this size vehicle. But flipping the rear seatbacks forward with the third-row seat out of the way greatly increases cargo space. My CX-9 Grand Touring had a standard power hatch that worked quickly and efficiently.
Grand Touring AWD standard features include remote keyless entry, heated steering wheel with audio, phone and cruise controls, active driving display with traffic sign recognition, rearview camera, power front seats, first- and second-row heated seats, three-zone automatic climate control, 7-inch full color touch screen display, blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert and Smart City brake support.
With the Mazda CX-9, it's nice to know there's at least one SUV out there that's fun to drive.