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2008 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring – Click above for high-res image gallery

If you keep up with the print mags, it would be easy to think that every journalist, PR flack and blogger loves Mazda's CX-9. Automobile Magazine made a spot for it on their All-Stars list, Motor Trend named it Sport Utility of the Year, Car & Driver thinks its one of the 5 Best Trucks of 2008, SEAMO crowned it their Family Car of the Year and USA TODAY even went as far as calling it "about perfect." We put 380 miles on the 7-seater in our best attempt to debunk the CX-9's mythical aura of SUV perfection and found most of the legend true.

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

Approaching the CX-9, one of the first thing you notice is its size. "Damn, that's big!" was a common sentiment of our friends. It's true. From afar, the car's 20-inch wheels and narrow greenhouse give the impression of a smaller, sportier vehicle. But up close, you realize you're gonna need a step ladder to wash the middle of this thing's roof. Mazda dug deep into its bag of sports car styling to make the 16.5-foot-long CX-9 look svelte. As on the smaller CX-7, the CX-9's windshield is low and long, more like an Italian supercar than a suburban soccer mom's ride. Those huge alloys sit under bulging fenders and wrapped in semi-low-profile rubber. A chrome-surrounded row of side windows narrows to an angled rear hatch topped with the requisite spoiler. In back, jeweled taillights sit above the rear fascia inset with twin chromed tailpipes.

Inside the monstrous Mazda, it's easy to imagine the company's engineers studying hundreds of photos of luxury-car interiors, picking the best woodgrain trim from one and seat design and instrument layout from another. The end product looks great. The cream-colored (friends call it "Sand") leather seats are contrasted nicely by dark gray inserts. The chrome-edged, faux wood trim upgrades the cabin further and nicely ties in the brushed-aluminum door pulls. The seats electrically adjust eight ways, and at the push of a button toast your tush. Center stage on the CX-9's dashboard is the entertainment system, just what every couch needs for comfort completion.

Though the interior looks great, the design team should have been given actual examples of luxury cars to mimic rather than just photos. While Mazda used soft, buttery leather in the interior of the smaller CX-7, for the CX-9 it instead went with leather that almost exactly imitates the feel of high-grade vinyl. My wife complained more than once about sliding around in her seat because the leather offered no grip. (Keep reading to see why it wasn't because of enthusiastic driving.) And what exotic animal, exactly, are those oddly-textured gray inserts meant to imitate? Eel? Stingray? Opossum? To be fair, other than the seat covers feeling like a that of a bargain-bin office chair, they were easily adjustable and comfortable; just a little short of luxurious.

What was luxurious, though, was the amazing lack of outside noise, a feat at which the smaller CX-7 fails at miserably. If you're able to afford an SUV with a $39,920 sticker price, you've earned the right to be isolated from the noisy, nerve-rattling world of the common folk. Mazda apparently agrees, and has managed to make one seriously quiet interior. At night, the carpeted floors are also illuminated in a subtle blue glow and LEDs mounted above the center console shine down on the shifter and cupholders.

Then there are the electronics. Let's start with the positives. There's an auxiliary jack for your iPod (or whatever 3% marketshare-mp3-player you're using) coupled to a sweet-sounding 10-speaker Bose surround sound system. Packaged with the moonroof, it's almost worth the $1,760 charge. Our CX-9 Grand Touring also had the optional $2,500 GT Assist Package that includes a backup camera and electric open-and-close hatch. The camera's view, unfortunately, didn't help much when parallel parking, but we can see it reducing the risk of running over a careless kid. The dual-zone climate control was nice, and the auto-dimming mirror must have worked since we never noticed it not working.

Possibly the most valuable bit of electronics this Mazda sported was its $200 blind spot monitoring system. Using sensors on all four corners, it detects objects hiding in blind spots and alerts the driver with a lighted icon in the doors' mirrors. Signal a lane change with the icon lit, and the car beeps to get your attention. Unfortunately, that's a sound only courteous drivers will ever know. Hopefully one day such a system will be required on every car sold in the U.S., especially ones with blind spots as big this SUV.

Now on to the electronic negatives, and oh boy were there some negatives in the CX-9's gadgets. Starting at the slightly-annoying end we find the satellite radio interface. Why does Mazda insist on making owners choose their satrad stations by number instead of name? If someone pays $430(!) for a device that lets Sirius beam its programming into their car, why do they need to consult a book just to pick their broadcast? At least I can use the car's touch screen to systematically go through all 198 offerings, but I can do that with a portable $90 satrad unit.

Next on our list of high-tech annoyances for the CX-9 is its standard Bluetooth system. The voice-activated setup is a pretty simple process. And making calls is easy if there's no 2-year-old in the back seat screaming to talk to his grandmother. With even that little bit of noise, the car can't distinguish between an area code and, "Talk Gramma now!" The car then gets confused and calls Bangladesh instead. Theoretically, using your phone's contact list should make dialing easier, but we couldn't get it to work. We would have spent more time figuring it out, but during the few calls we could complete, the other party couldn't understand the conversation so we saw little point. On top of that, every time we got into the car, we had to go through the process of re-syncing the phone. Now that's annoying.

The worst, though, was the CX-9's navigation system. Apparently designed during the Cold War by Soviet engineers, it was clunky, slow and, well, often wrong. Setting a course from Birmingham, Ala., to Atlanta began by entering a home address so the mapping program would know where to start. On several nav systems, that means just asking it to find its location to use as the starting point. The CX-9, however, refused to admit that the street on which it was parked exists. Out comes the owner's manual, which means the car has failed at intuitiveness. Apparently, despite having a built-in global positioning system receiver that costs $2,500, it's up to the driver to tell the car when it has moved from one of its GPS mapping zones into another. Now that's really annoying. But wait, there's more.

With the high-tech, high-dollar, low intelligence nav system informed of its location and destination, two routes were generated. One choice was a fairly straightforward 2.5-hour trip except for an odd turn that took us through industrial parks and residential areas. The second choice was just bizarre. For some reason, the CX-9 thought it might be nice to take a scenic drive on our way to Atlanta through Chattanooga of all places. That alternative would have taken us 118 miles out of our way.

We chose the primary route for obvious reasons, but for backup we had an iPhone with Google Maps loaded. About 12 miles outside Atlanta, the CX-9 wanted us to exit onto surface streets. The iPhone said to continue on the interstate straight to our destination. No problem. We'll just fiddle with the CX-9's route a bit and straighten things out, right? Uh, no. While the CX-9 is in motion, no one, not even the passenger, can alter a route on the navigation system. We continued to follow the route suggested by our iPhone with the nav system begging us to make a legal u-turn.

So it seems Mazda has a few things to learn about luxury. But surely the creator of the Miata got the sport part right. Right? Uh, no. We like safety, but we don't like overbearing Dynamic Stability Control systems. Or is it the CX-9's Roll Stability Control? Or maybe its Traction Control System? The first time we went into a quick right-hander, one of the trio kicked in with alarming results. Sure, we were going a little faster than most CX-9 owners ever will, but there were no tires squealing, no imminent danger of flipping like a two-faced politician. Everything was under control until one of the nanny-systems kicked in and abruptly shut down the throttle. We thought we'd blown a tire or hit an open manhole. The revs plummeted, the car came to a crawl, and we were left just past the apex inching along, stunned. Sure, it's a safety feature to be appreciated by typical SUV owners. But CX-9 owners will be disappointed if they try to drive with any manner of enthusiasm. For those who like to have a little fun even when forced into an SUV, we recommend the smaller CX-7. You'll be able to share your driving skills with three fewer friends, but everybody will have more fun.

A 4,300-pound SUV is more likely to be bought by someone looking for minivan alternatives than wannabe race car drivers. And that crowd is a lot more likely to be impressed with the acceleration available from the 273-horse V6 and the quiet, smooth ride. Despite the size of the CX-9, it was fairly nimble in traffic and more easily maneuvered in tight parking garages than you might expect. The ride was very well composed and exhibited none of the typical SUV swaying and bucking.

Some three-row SUVs sacrifice cargo space for that additional seating, but even with all of its seats ready for use, the CX-9 retains a good bit of its rear hauling space and rear-seat passengers even have comfortable leg room. Fold the last row flat and the hauling potential will amaze.

The base price on our 2008 Grand Touring model was $33,355. Delivery charges and options, including a $525 towing package and $200 pearl paint, pushed the final price up to $39,920. Dropping the road rage-inducing navigation saves your nerves and $2,500, which is not too bad considering a top-end seven-seat minivan with fewer amenities would cost almost as much.

The EPA predicts the CX-9 will get 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway for combined average of 19 mpg. We didn't do so well. Our average over 380 miles was only 14 mpg. With the cruise set on 70 mph and the air conditioner on for the entirety of our 120-mile trip to Atlanta, we hit our high point of 17 mpg. Is a vehicle this thirsty still wanted in a world of $4-a-gallon gas?

Shoppers looking for a luxury vehicle that can seat the coach and all the infielders have few choices if a minivan misses the mark. For them, the CX-9 might indeed be "about perfect."

All photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Tutor / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Hey "Chris Tutor"

      When did Mazda become the Luxury auto maker that you've been trying to disprove in your article?

      I thought they were a sporty/family oriented car company. I only mention it because if you reviewed this vehicle with standards in mind and not luxury, your eloquently hidden negative tone towards this vehicle wouldn't have been able to be apparent so much since the benchmark was normalcy and not luxury!

      Just a thought!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Perhaps he is still having nightmares about the 929 and Millenia S.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Chris, your buddy "Chris Skunk" words it correctly, check it out!

        "Mazda adding Premium Touches"
      • 6 Years Ago
      I have been researching 3-row crossovers for a while..Pilot, CX9, Acadia, Highlander and even the high-end mdx, Q7 and the rumored new Lexus RX that's rumored to have a 3rd row. This is my conclusion to date-
      If only the 09 Pilot looked better, it would be the hands down winner. The CX9 is a great vehicle ...looks and drive but if only they improved its mileage which, besides what ASEVENSEE4 claims, is bad from other CX9 users. The Acadia, from my research, gives you the most for the money...looks, mileage, drive, space..... but if only it wasn't a GM !!! So in the end, I am still not sure what to get.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I'd rather have a Buick Enclave. Better looking, better interior (more luxurious) and better mpg. And I think it's even cheaper.
        • 6 Years Ago
        And it would have been over posts ago if you didn't contradict yourself by saying it gets 18% better MPG then saying your mileage will vary, which is what I said in the first place. You need to pick one side of the fence and stay on it.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Not really, The Enclave/etc. all vary, with people reporting super low 12mpg, 15mpg, etc. I get 17mpg in the city and 22 on the highway. Some owners with the CX-9 report the same or better than me, and some report even worse, 15mpg, 14mpg, etc. It all varies.

        • 6 Years Ago
        Either transmission can..

        Well that's the point, its not. And there is a limit on how quick a transmission can shift depending on it's design.

        A never said "a guy". I said plenty of people and sources. ALL vary with the MPG, some get as low as 14-15mpg, and as high as 23, MUCH like the Enclave, with drivers in the Enclave getting lower-lowest MPG numbers.

        You bragging about the EPA's estimates are better some how? Why would you contradict yourself by claiming the Enclave gets better MPG then saying your mileage may vary(which is every sticker on every car sold says) and what I've said and observed?
        • 6 Years Ago
        Either transmission can be programmed to shift however it needs to. Sorry GM didn't pick an aggressive enough shift speed in your 4500 lb 3-row SUV.

        Fuel mileage must be measured by a 3rd party. Changes in driving habits can hurt fuel economy 35% or more. So just saying "I know a guy who gets great mpg in a CX-9" is no more valid than autoblog pointing out they did far worse than EPA.

        On average, the EPA figures indicate the Enclave will return significantly higher mileage. Your mileage of course can vary.
        • 6 Years Ago
        GM/Ford 6-Speed Autos are slow shifting, and when they do they jump down too far hurting fuel economy. The Aisin in the CX-9 shifts much more intuitively. Equal in the number of gears, not in the way they operate.

        Real World (NOT EPA) MPG for both is almost the same with the GM CUV's taking the crown in how many people can hit 12mpg.

        The bright finish wheels can be blinding in the right light, point is they're on the CX-9 and bright finish is available on the Enclave (albeit BRIGHTER and prone to pitting) and they are smaller chrome wheels. Period.
        • 6 Years Ago
        You have to pick either overhead DVD or Sunroof if you order directly from MAZDA(dealer installed is there if your dealer offers it).

        That said the CX-9 is still cheaper, better built(take a look at any GM crossover on the dealer lot, they still have poorly aligned interior/exterior trim panels), and sports a much better transmission/on road agility.

        • 6 Years Ago
        You forgot the sunroof(Standard on the CX-9) although it's got more glass in the Enclave, brings it to 45K. The chrome wheels are the closest thing to the bright finish 20's on the CX-9, and they are an $1,100 option.
        • 6 Years Ago
        It wasn't an argument, and it wouldn't have taken place if the CX-9 could be reviewed/praised on here without someone mentioning how much better the Enclave is, without the facts, and without being completely unreasonable.
        • 6 Years Ago
        And if you missed my point, the Enclave is not a good enough cut above, and is too expensive over the cheaper GM crossovers for whats there, a glamorized interior with fake wood and chrome. Don't get me wrong though, the panels are the same, they just slapped a bunch of wood over it and knew people would pay thousands more for it. Take a look at all of the interiors back to back and you will see that they're not really that different.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I put together one on Buick.com as well. $43,500 for the CXL with SUNROOF, NAVI (no DVD system), 7 (not 8) passenger seating and the luggage net. The MPG is about the same so no advantage there. The Buick is more expensive. The GMC version would probably be a better comparison.
        • 6 Years Ago
        A priced out Enclave costs over 45K, not to mention it's just a Traverse/Acadia/Outlook with more wood interior trim and some extra sound damping, lets not forget that extra big price tag you pay for all of that lipstick.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I can't be bothered with your pretending to not understand what I am saying.

        Just read the FAQ.

        • 6 Years Ago
        You'll be pushing closer to $45k instead of $40 in an Enclave, not to mention that the enclave is about 400 lbs. heavier.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Yes but they all get better MPG than the CX-9.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Sorry, not standard, but included in the BOSE/Moonroof package.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I think ASEVENSEE4 works for Mazda. Fess up, you are a PR flack.
      • 6 Years Ago
      We rented a new CX-9 from our local Enterprise Rental for a six day trip to Los Angeles and San Diego in March (driving over from Tucson). The vehicle handled fantastically, was very quiet on the expressway over and back ( at 80MPH), and held tons of luggage, two 6'+ teenagers, my wife and I with plenty of room to spare. Over the 1400 mile trip (lots of in town and expressway driving), we averaged 21MPG. We were very impressed.

      Guys, give it a rest!
      • 6 Years Ago
      I really like how the CX-9 looks, looks considerably better than the MDX and RX350. Earlier posts compared it to the Enclave and as others have said, the Acadia is a much closer competitor when it comes to price/features/etc.

      The only problem I have with the CX-9 is the third row. Compared the Lambda triplets (soon to be quads) the CX-9 third row is useless. While there might be some leg room, the way the liftgate slopes, there is no headroom in the third row. I found the third row in the Acadia much roomier and much more accessible, due to the briliant design of the "Smart Slide" second row seats.

      Other than that, I love the CX-9. If the excellent Lambdas weren't on the market, the CX-9 would have my vote.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Smart slide? In the CX-9 you pull the lever, the seat goes forward, pull it back, done. Flipping the bottom forward is extra unless you're all wide in the thighs, which is what I guess GM is expecting with that feature. I'm 6 feet tall and I fit in the third row just fine, I have longer legs though so it depends on the build.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Likewise. We have a CX9 and have had 7 people (5'8 - 6'2) in the car comfortably. Sure the middle row has to slide forward some from its traditionally cavernous back-most position, but there's still tons of legroom for all... and I (6') have no issues sitting in any of the 3 rows, and wouldn't for a 3-4 hour trip at least.

        Have you actually tried sitting in one and going for a ride? Its really pretty nice...
      • 6 Years Ago
      You guys harped on the Navigation way too much.

      That said, my Avatar says it all, I
      • 6 Years Ago
      We have a 2008 CX9 with about 3,500 miles on it so far, a reasonable mix of city/highway. Our observed MPG is about 18 in the city, 23-24 highway (75ish).

      First, you should not have to resync the bluetooth every time you get in the car - at least, we've never had to do that. Works pretty well, with the only exception being that the beep for the phone system activating/deactivating is far louder than the phone call volume itself. Odd, but not too bad. The navi is pretty poor, but works very well as a quick "where am I" overhead glance, IMO the best purpose for an in-car system.

      The main reasons we went with it are twofold - first, it has enough space for two 75 lb dogs behind the 2nd row without making it too small for them (letting us take the dogs and child-seats in the same vehicle). Important to us, may be less so to others. Second, you can take some pretty impressive corners at nice, high speeds and it feels very put together. I don't think we've ever had the nanny-systems kick in, and I know we've done stuff in it we probably shouldn't have done.

      The Edge felt a lot more plastic-y inside, and its transmission was a lot less smooth. Our price was $31.5 plus TTL for our dark blue Grand Touring with nav, mirrors, stereo, sunroof, rack, etc (pretty much loaded except for sirius/dvd). The CX9 also takes regular gas, which is pretty nice these days, and in general is fairly straightforward which should allow us low to moderate repair bills in the future (we tend to keep cars well over 100k wherever possible).
      • 6 Years Ago
      My mom (She's 50) actually got the first CX-9 in our area back in March of '07 and she has loved it ever since. I did a lot of research for my dad and her and had them drive enclaveacadiatouaregedgemkxRX330 etc. and we just found the CX-9 to have the nicest set of features available for the price. Hers is actually just like the review model except they added the roof rails, which I think makes it look even nicer. It has a much nicer feel on the inside than the Edge, and the engine note is much more pleasing. I've driven it several times and it really does manage to not feel like a full-size SUV. The driving dynamics actually remind me a lot of my wife's '08 Accord 4-cyl coupe. The leather did feel a bit chintzy at first, but it was much more pliable after a good application of leather conditioner. Their only gripe so far has been the $600 replacement cost of a 20" rim after a local tire company scratched up one of the original rims. The bluetooth and navigation systems have functioned great, though I don't think they've ever tried the satellite radio.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Great news! You can just head down to your Ford dealer and pickup a loaded Edge. It'll be cheaper, the bluetooth will work and so will the navi. Sometimes Mazda goes a little too far to hide from Ford.

      The dealer will be glad to see you, and the Edge will be a lot cheaper!
        • 6 Years Ago
        Is not the Edge more like the CX-7? I would think the Lincoln would be more similar to the CX-9 but even the Lincoln is more similar in size to the CX-7. I am guessing.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I've driven bothe the Acadia and the CX-9. I like the styling and handling of the CX-9 but it lacks storage compared to the Acadia. I mean why does the CX-9 have this enormous center console but a tiny cubby for space? I also like the fact that in the Acadia you can get second row buckets and more storage behind the rear seat when its up. My father in law bought an Enclave and yes its more expensive than the CX-9 but its interior blows the CX-9 outta the water in every respect from material useage/quality and space utilization. It looks more refined; like a nice corporate jet.
      Also, in dash nav FTL in ANY vehicle.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Maybe if you like a bunch of fake wood trim and think that it's "classy" and "luxurious". the Enclave hands down has poorer panel fitment, I'll be sure to snap pictures of it when I'm by the Buick dealer because it really does vary from almost perfect to WTF. The carpeting finish is also cheaper on the back of the seats / cargo area, the handles to move the seats forward, and door panels have some cheap hard plastic touches too. Acceptable in the cheaper crossover variants, not in the Enclave. The CX-9 is generally well built and uses much less fake wood.

        The GM crossovers hands down have more space, no doubt about it, they're bigger. I can fit in the 3rd row myself of the CX-9 no problem(some adults can't, but they're like 6' 4"). The extra space behind the third row is not anything major, you can't fit double anything, just a little more.

        The CX-9 is lacking in cubbys, and the center console box is not big by any means, but I do just fine with the ample amount of cupholders up front (2 in the doors and two in the center console) that I use to store stuff in.

        Top that off with too soft of a ride, and a super slow engine/transmission combo, the Enclave is not meant for anyone that wants driving enjoyment out of their crossover. With worse reliability(check the LT fleet, two power steering pumps and a steering column).
      • 6 Years Ago
      Have really liked the CX-9 since it came out. It really is a Japanese Audi Q7. It looks great and appears to drive very well for such a large vehicle.

      The CX-9 is better than the CX-7. The CX-7 would be better with a V-6 instead of the peaky turbocharger and the both get about the same mileage even though the CX-7 is smaller.

      Great choice for those who need a big SUV.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I would be loving a V6, but I'm still happy with the 4 banger in the CX-7. But I agree that a V6 might ruin the handling on the CX-7. And the stock tires? throw them away, they're garbage for handling. Get some Yokohama or Nittos.
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