If you're in the market for a large 4x4, then you're probably not expecting to get much sportiness to go along with your ute. But Mazda decided to give its customers a vehicle that was not only capable of transporting loads of people and gear, but one that could also excite the driver. From the pilot seat, the Mazda CX-9 doesn't feel like a clumsy off-roader; it feels youthful and fun.
Launched in 2007, the Mazda CX-9 offers families comfortable seating for seven, and a driving experience rivalled by few 4x4s. Based on a platform shared with the American Ford Edge, the Mazda CX-9 uses a 4-wheel independent suspension, with beefy coil springs and big anti-roll bars. Steering is accomplished with a hydraulic-assist rack-and-pinion system, not a fidgety electric system like many in this class. The result is a big 4x4 that can out-handle many sedans.
Unlike most trucks of this size, you get a great feel of the road through the steering wheel. The standard Stability Control system is programmed to allow you to have some fun, but it can activate the individual wheel brakes to bring you back on track, should you get carried away. Behind the wheel, you'll find an engaging driving experience, with engines that are tuned to match. Early versions of the Mazda CX-9 were fitted with a 196kW 3.5-litre V6, and post-2010 models got a larger 3.7-litre V6 that produced an impressive 204kW.
You might expect that something that handles this well on the road isn't going to be much good off of it. Even though there's an ample 203mm of ground clearance, the suspension isn't designed for maximum wheel articulation. This is at least partly due to the thick sway bars that keep the body roll in check around bends. The optional Active Torque Split AWD does a good job of transferring power between the front and rear axles, helping you to navigate muddy tracks with ease. But more treacherous terrain should be avoided.
On the inside of the Mazda CX-9 you'll find an inviting cabin lined with properly upscale materials. The seats are soft and supportive, and Mazda went the extra mile to insulate occupants from intrusive road noise. The inside of the Mazda CX-9 is surprisingly quiet and comfortable, which is only fitting for such a premium 4x4.
The 2007 to 2009 Mazda CX-9 are powered by a Ford-designed dual overhead cam 3.5-litre V6, which produces 196kW, fed to either the front wheels or all four, through a 6-speed automatic gearbox. Average fuel economy is around 13.1L/100km.
After a facelift in 2010, the Mazda CX-9 got a 204kW DOHC 3.7-litre V6 (also designed by Ford), which also achieves an average fuel economy of 13.1L/100km. Both engines offer a satisfying exhaust notes when you give them some stick, and the throttle response is excellent for a vehicle of this type. Mazda set out to build a 4x4 �with the soul of a sports car� and they certainly picked the right engines for the task.
The base Mazda CX-9 Classic boasts standard luxuries like climate control, electronic brake-force distribution, a leather-wrapped tilt/telescoping wheel, reversing camera, and remote central locking. The Mazda CX-9 Luxury model adds kit like power leather seats, a sunroof, and 20-inch wheels. Step up to the top-spec Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring and you'll be treated to amenities like heated seats, park-distance control, and a larger screen on the dash for things like the reversing camera and navigation.
In the big 4x4 category, you'll find favourites like the Kia Sorento and the Toyota Kluger. Both offer similar light-duty off-road capabilities, with seating for seven and a comfortable ride. However, the third-row accommodations in those trucks are less than suitable for anyone other than young children. The back seat of the CX-9, on the other hand, has ample room for two adults, and accessing it is as simple as pulling a lever on the second row seatback and sliding the whole arrangement forward and out of the way. In addition, the driving experience of the Mazda CX-9 is designed to be more car-like, thus giving it a more confident feeling on the road. If you have to trade your sports car for something that's more family friendly, the Mazda CX-9 is the one you should check out.