As the saying goes, it's all in the details, and that's where the Mazda CX-9's sporty personality shines. Slide behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel and into the nicely bolstered bucket, and you're treated to one of the most comfortable, driver-focused seating positions available, not just in an SUV but in any vehicle.
The cabin on our Grand Touring tester, which was adorned with rich plastics, faux wood, and two-tone leather, not to mention calming indirect blue lighting and a pleasing mix of horizontal and vertical elements, manages to feel enveloping yet still plenty airy.
From the steeply angled windshield and sharp fender flares to the slanted headlamps and the distinct trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips, the CX-9 puts a spin on the traditional two-box sport 'ute and punts it into orbit. A 12/10ths-scale CX-7 only done better, the CX-9 is sleek and elegant, sporty and sophisticated, an SUV seemingly well suited for going to the mountains, midtown, or the market.
Despite an exterior that suggests tight quarters, the CX-9 boasts a spacious interior for seven, highlighted by more second-row legroom than in the Enclave, Highlander, Tribeca, or Veracruz, and more third-row legroom and cargo room behind that row than you'll find in the last three. Only the Buick, which dwarfs the other four in length, width, height, and wheelbase, offers more third-row legroom and cargo room aft.
The new-for-2008 3.7-liter V-6 is good for 273 horsepower, a 10-horse boost over the previous 3.5-liter. (If you're wondering why the CX-9 didn't play last year, the 2007 model went on sale after our cut-off date.) More important, torque has risen from 249 to 270 pound-feet, and, at 4250, is now realized 150 rpm earlier. While we still wouldn't mind a tad more low-end grunt, the 3.7 nonetheless behaves in a silky, refined manner, accentuated by a sporty growl from the dual exhaust. Mated to an Aisin six-speed automatic that's as seamless as a rubber glove, the Japan-built Ford-based V-6 scoots the CX-9 from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.0 flat at 87.8 mph, placing it ahead of every three-row midsize crossover in this year's field sans the sprightlier Highlander, which recorded 7.3 and 15.7 at 87.7.
The CX-9 was designed specifically for the North American market and it shows. Has it moved the needle enough to take home the calipers? We shall see.
VIDEO: Of The Year: 2008 Sport Utility of the Year - Overview Video
PHOTOS: EXCLUSIVE 2008 JEEP LIBERTY PHOTO GALLERY