We probably all know somebody who’s a car enthusiast. Heck, many of you are probably like me and consider yourselves enthusiasts. These are people who value the driving fun and aesthetic appeal of their car as much as they do other, more practical traits. They (we) would never be caught dead in a boring car, no matter how functional and reliable that car may be.
It used to be that the auto enthusiast had to put aside those desires when a large family vehicle was needed; succumbing to the call of the minivan or sport utility vehicle once it became clear that the little coupe or sedan that was so fun to drive wasn’t going to be compatible with domestic life. Schlepping around the trappings of infants, toddlers and kids often requires something bigger, and unfortunately, less interesting.
A few years ago Mazda came up with a pretty nice compromise called the CX-9. A three row crossover SUV with lots of room inside for people and their stuff, but with a healthy dose of sporty road manners and even a somewhat stylish physique. The enthusiast crowd now had their sporty (or at least less “unsporty”) family vehicle.
The new model year brings a few changes to the CX-9, both in terms of styling and equipment. The big Mazda keeps its same basic shape, but adds a new grill and other front and rear design elements to bring it into line with the way the company’s newer models look. The face is not quite as smiley looking as, say, the compact Mazda3, but it’s now grinning a little. The changes are subtle, and most people wouldn’t notice them unless a 2010 CX-9 was parked right next to a 2009.
There also wasn’t much that needed to be changed in the interior, but some minor tweaks show up here as well. The main changes are a few splashes of chrome, and new fabrics for the basic cloth seats as well as new leather for the higher-end models. All models also get active head restraints on the front seats.
One of the things that will impress those who enjoy spirited driving is the seating position, which thankfully wasn’t changed. When behind the wheel of the CX-9, you feel more like you’re driving a car instead of a truck or a van. While some vehicles purposely raise up their seats for that “high and mighty” feeling, Mazda knows that their core buyers prefer the feel of being a bit closer to the ground, just as you would be in a sport sedan.
The CX-9 doesn’t really drive like an actual sport sedan, what with the laws of physics and all, but it actually handles pretty well given its weight and size. One of the best compliments I can pay to this vehicle, as well as the engineers and designers who created it, is that it never feels like you’re maneuvering something really large around in traffic.
It will hold a bunch of people in actual comfort, though. The second row seats are adjustable fore and aft, to maximize flexibility when different sized families are making use of the interior. Slide them forward if you need to tend to an infant in a car seat, or let growing teenagers or adults maximize legroom with a simple pull of a lever. And the third row isn’t a complete joke the way some are – average sized people can actually ride back there.
No changes under the hood, where a Ford-sourced V6 engine displacing 3.7 liters is standard. Mazda goes with their own transmission for easier manufacturing, a Japanese-built 6-speed automatic, which is also standard. The only thing a buyer needs to decide is whether the engine’s 273 horsepower are going to propel just the front wheels, or all four.
Due to time constraints and juggling other test vehicles, I didn’t put a whole lot of miles on the 2010 CX-7, but I was quickly reminded of how nice it drives and handles. Acceleration is smooth and brisk, and the controls are well laid out. New for 2010 is an optional rear-view camera that doesn’t require a navigation system, as there’s a small information screen in the dash that switches to the camera view when reverse is selected.
There are three trim levels for the CX-9. Sport is the most basic, and starts at $28,635 with a pretty nice assortment of standard equipment. Next step up is the Touring model at $30,555, and the high-end Grand Touring version is $32,645 to which a satellite navigation system can be added (which has to be combined with other upgrades for an option total of around $4000). Those base prices are for two wheel drive; there’s an all wheel drive version of them all for an additional $1400.
While it’s fun to motor around in something small and sporty, sometimes we just need a vehicle that’s larger and more utilitarian. For those situations, Mazda is offering a nice choice with room for seven people and a dose of their famous “Zoom-Zoom” driving experience.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz @ pacbell.net.