THE RIDE: Four-door, seven-passenger 2009 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring front-wheel-drive midsize crossover SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: Last year's North American Truck of the Year may share a basic design with the Ford Edge but otherwise the CX-9 is its own vehicle. Available in six trims, the SUV exhibits exceptional balance and stability, especially at tight corners and turns.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: The CX-9 retains the 3.7-liter V-6 DOHC engine, which produces an impressive 274 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 270 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. Mated to a standard 6-speed automatic transmission with sport shift, the SUV is equipped with a front independent MacPherson strut and a rear multilink suspension system. Anti-roll bars are installed in front and rear. No wonder it received a five-star rating for frontal and side crashes and a four-star rollover rating from the NTSB. Credit for the solid performance also goes to the large 20-inch tires, which keep slippage to a minimum. The speed-sensitive, rack-and-pinion power conveys a solid on-center feel to the driver.
LOOK & FEEL: Sitting on a well-built unibody frame is a five-point grille with a chrome bar. It meets up with xenon headlights and fog lamps underneath. During a walkabout, you will notice the body-colored mirrors, bright finish door handles, rear spoiler, LED taillights and best of all, large dual trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips. A T-shaped instrument panel shows off round blue illuminated gauges for tachometer, speedometer, fuel and water temperature. A metal-looking trim is visible on the dashboard, which also holds easy-to-read and reach climate controls. That the CX-9 is a practical vehicle is evident in the second row 60/40 split and fold-flat seat, which slides fore and aft at least 5 inches, the 50/50 third-row seat, eight-way driver and four-way front-passenger power seats and a tri-zone climate control.
SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain airbag for all rows with rollover protection, dynamic stability and traction control systems, four-wheel antilock brakes, front and rear crumple zones, keyless entry and start, three-point front seatbelts with pretensioners, blind spot and tire pressure monitoring systems.
OUT THE DOOR: $33,805, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P245/50R20 aluminum; wheelbase, 113.2 inches; length, 199.8 inches; weight, 4,528 pounds; fuel capacity, 20.1 gallons; city, 16 mpg; highway, 22 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: Sharp handling and snappy performance, for one. The CX-9 is an invigorating ride with a stylish and top-notch cabin. No wonder it was picked as 2008 North American Truck of the Year. Kudos for Mazda for a job well done.