2011 Mazda CX-9
Fun-to-drive, engaging cars have been hallmarks of the Mazda brand for some time, but can a large SUV deliver this sort of behind-the-wheel entertainment? With the 2011 Mazda CX-9, the answer is resoundingly affirmative. Despite its larger dimensions, the CX-9 drives more like a midsize crossover. In an expanding field of choices that are getting harder to distinguish one from another, the CX-9 stands out thanks to not only its smiling grille, but also the enthusiastic grin it puts on its driver.
The added athleticism doesn't come at the expense of comfort or utility. The Mazda CX-9 provides adult-size seating in all three rows, solid build quality and a respectable 101 cubic feet of maximum cargo capacity. Easy access to the rearmost seats is an added bonus, as are a carlike driving position and attractive interior styling. The CX-9's only significant downsides include long rear doors that complicate entry and egress in tight parking spots and a ride quality that's just a little too stiff on Grand Touring models with the 20-inch wheels.
Overall, though, the 2011 Mazda CX-9 certainly presents more positives than negatives. But if an involved driving experience isn't a priority for your next family hauler, there are others to consider. The Ford Flex is one of our favorites thanks to its high-quality interior, roomy third-row seat and innovative electronic features. The Chevrolet Traverse (plus its Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia relatives) is also worth considering due to its more compliant suspension and roomier cargo area. But for a large three-row crossover that will provide plenty of grins per mile, it doesn't get any better than the CX-9.
The 2011 Mazda CX-9 features an elegant interior that is more carlike than other SUVs in this category � especially in regard to its seating position and dash design. Leather and cloth seating surfaces plus wood and chrome trim add distinction to the sporty interior, while two-tone leather treatments and red-and-blue lighting for the instruments deliver visual flair. There are some subpar plastics (particularly on the center stack), and a lack of useful storage bins also detract from an otherwise sharp execution.
Taller, adult-size passengers in the first two seating rows will likely find the accommodations comfortable, but third-row occupants have a bit less headroom. The second-row seat reclines and slides fore and aft to deliver optimal comfort. Access to the third row comes easily thanks to large openings for the rear doors and the fold-and-slide second row; however, the larger doors can be troublesome in tight parking spaces. With the second and third rows folded flat, the CX-9 offers up 101 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
For the inside the CX-9 received new chrome accents for the center of the instrument panel, A/C controls, automatic transmission knob, vent louver knobs, inner door handles and door trim. The finish was also upgraded to piano-black insets on the steering wheel and around the audio display. Smooth leather and subtle stitching changes on the seats were also added to provide a more upscale feel and look.
The second row's backrest can recline or fold flat, and the seat can slide fore and aft to optimize legroom and cargo space. There's room for two in the 50/50-split third-row seat, which also can fold flat.
*Optional powered front seats
*Double-lid center console
*Optional navigation and backseat entertainment systems
The "base" CX-9 comes well equipped with standard 18-inch wheels, power moonroof, heated mirrors, three-zone automatic climate control, 8-way power adjustable driver's seat, Bluetooth compatibility, side-impact air bags, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), Traction Control System (TCS) and Roll Stability Control (RSC).
Upgrading to the CX-9 Touring trim level yields available power opening and closing rear liftgate, advanced keyless entry, 4-way power adjustable front seats, Bose audio and a backup camera.
The premium trim level designated by the Grand Touring moniker delivers upgraded 20-inch wheels, Xenon headlamps, halogen fog lamps, rain-sensing windshield wipers,
The CX-9 has sleeker lines and a sportier look than most crossovers, especially large three-row ones.
* New designs for 18- and 20-inch wheels
* Chrome door handles and turn-signal side mirrors (Grand Touring)
* Available power liftgate
* Available xenon headlights
All three variants of the CX-9 feature the same 273 horsepower 3.7-liter V6 which is mated to a 6-speed transmission. FWD is standard and yields 16 city, 22 highway estimated MPG. The optional AWD is available across the trim levels and returns 15 city, and 21 highway MPG.
The CX-9 features a 273-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 with 270 pounds-feet of torque. Front- and all-wheel drive are offered.
* Standard six-speed automatic transmission with clutchless-manual mode
* V-6 runs on regular gas
*Mazda claims that fuel economy has improved to 17/24 mpg city/highway for front-wheel drive and 16/22 mpg for all-wheel drive
Standard safety equipment for every 2011 Mazda CX-9 includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control with a rollover sensor, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active head restraints. An optional rearview camera is available on Touring and Grand Touring models, while a blind-spot warning system is standard on the Grand Touring.
The Mazda CX-9 has not been rated using the government's new, more demanding 2011 crash testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in a perfect five out of five stars for frontal and side crash protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also awarded the CX-9 its highest rating of "Good" for both frontal-offset and side-impact crashworthiness.
In Edmunds brake testing, an AWD Grand Touring model came to a stop from 60 mph in 123 feet, which is short for SUVs in this class.