Mazda, the car company that gave the world the nimble, two-seat Miata roadster, makes a commendable seven-seat crossover sport utility vehicle, too.
And like the Miata, the 2014 Mazda CX-9 is a nimble handler that drives as if it’s smaller than it is.
The nearly 17-foot-long CX-9 also is attractively styled with a raked windshield and well-proportioned shape, and comes with strong V-6 power and comfortable interior room. The five-door CX-9 is rated by Consumer Reports magazine as above average in reliability, too.
Among the standard features on every CX-9 are three-zone climate control; tilt and telescoping steering wheel with cruise control and audio buttons on the wheel; power windows, door locks and outside mirrors; three 12-volt power outlets and 5.8-inch color display touchscreen.
Japan-based Mazda doesn’t have the advertising budget that bigger car companies do, so many shoppers aren’t aware of the CX-9. Its sales in the United States through the first five months of this calendar year total just 7,812 vehicles.
But the CX-9 is worth a look, especially for families that would prefer something a bit different from what the neighbors have.
The test SUV, an all-wheel drive model in top, Grand Touring trim, was a stalwart people carrier. Both front and second-row seats moved forward and back on tracks easily, so tall and short passengers always found a way to apportion legroom to make everyone comfortable. Plus, the large and right-height lever on each side of the second-row seats was simpler to use than those in some other SUVs. The lever quickly unlocked the seats and moved them out of the way for quick entry to the third row.
Even the two seats in the third row could accommodate adults if the second-row seats were moved up a ways on their tracks, though third-row seats sat close to the floor.
Specifically, Mazda measures 40.9 inches of front-seat legroom, another 39.8 inches for second-row passengers and 32.4 inches for the third row.
Driving the CX-9 is a sporty experience. The test car rode on 20-inch tires and hewed close to the pavement, even though it sat up a good ways.
Via the front MacPherson strut suspension and rear multilink configuration, the driver of the test vehicle felt a constant connection to the road, much as one would in a sporty sedan.
This affected the ride by transmitting road bumps to passengers as mostly mild vibrations. But some passengers also noticed the noises that the tires conveyed as they traveled over the bumps.
There was some feeling of tippiness, but it was not as noticeable as in softer-riding SUVs. Overall, the vehicle had good road manners and maneuvered without fuss. The only handling complaint for the tester was a light feel to the rack-and-pinion steering.
The 3.7-liter, double overhead cam V-6 produced strong power for acceleration and never lacked for extra power during the test drive. Torque peaks at 270 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm, and most gear shifts in the transmission were smooth.
Fuel economy with all-wheel drive averaged 19.6 mpg, which was better than the federal government’s estimate of 18 mpg because the majority of the miles driven were on highways.
This mileage, combined with the generous, 20.1-gallon fuel tank, meant the tester could travel nearly 400 miles before needing a fill-up. Regular gasoline is all that’s needed, so the cost of a tank full was $80.
Though it carried a sticker price of more than $40,000, the Grand Touring model didn’t keep out all road noises.
The bi-xenon head lamps in low and high beam made an odd light shape that looked like parentheses at each side.
The CX-9 earned four out of five stars in overall federal government crash testing, with the vehicle getting only three out of five stars in frontal crash tests.
Maximum towing capacity is 3,500 pounds if the CX-9 is fitted with a towing prep package.