More often than not, when drivers seek out full-size luxury in a utility vehicle, what they get is a curse; bulky, beastly sport-utes that eat gas and spit out subpar performance. The 2011 CX-9 is the seven-passenger SUV that only Mazda could build; consider it their gift to the cursed.
In Sport, Touring and Grand Touring Trims, the 2011 CX-9 (starting MSRP $29,135) is the power player atop the feisty and sporty Mazda lineup. Curvy and muscular, the CX-9 puts boxy SUVs on notice with a wide, iconic grin. Available features like heated side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers and xenon HID headlamps lend the requisite convenience and functionality to the ute’s aggressive exterior while powerful 20-inch alloys (standard on the Grand Touring), available chrome accents, halogen foglights and a standard roof-mounted spoiler separate the CX-9 from the uninspired pack.
Should you ever find yourself mired in that pack, the CX-9 has the might and the motor to muscle you out. A 3.7-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 moves the CX-9 with authority, delivering a robust 273 hp and 270 lb/ft of torque through a six-speed electronically-controlled Sport automatic transmission with Adaptive Shift Logic and a manual-shift mode. Beyond sporting more power than competing models from Honda and Toyota, as well as up to 24 highway mpg, a properly equipped CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds.
Like any full-size worth its weight, the newest CX-9 features confident all-season capability thanks to the optional Active Torque Split All-Wheel Drive, a system that monitors driver input and advanced vehicle sensors to deliver all-wheel handling performance and safety perfectly balanced with the economy of front-wheel drive. The all-weather attributes of the 2011 Mazda don’t compromise a single drop of its race-inspired heritage; the CX-9 gets a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension setup, along with a pair of stabilizer bars for impressively nimble, downright rewarding handling.
It’s difficult to believe that seven-passenger versatility could accompany such an inspired suspension and powertrain, but the CX-9 has both a will and a way. The cavernously spacious cabins of Touring and Grand Touring trims get three rows of leather-trimmed seats that slide, adjust and fold to fit just about any need, and with second and third rows down, the CX-9 fits over 100 cubic feet of cargo through an available one-touch power liftgate.
The nicely designed dash houses sporty gauges and Bluetooth, as well as optional SIRIUS Satellite Radio and a voice-activated DVD navigation system, along with a seven-inch touchscreen, backup camera and premium Bose® Centerpoint® 5.1 Surround Sound System with AudioPilot® 2. Rear-seat passengers can enjoy an optional DVD entertainment system and standard three-zone climate control.
Grand Touring trims come standard with an innovative Blind Spot Monitoring System, and all models get Dynamic Stability (DSC) and Traction Control (TRAC), as well as Roll Stability Control (RSC), a must for the modern SUV. The vehicle’s body is reinforced on the sides, and features a collapsible steering column and a foldaway brake pedal assembly. Front, side and side-curtain airbags come standard, as do a tire-pressure monitor and active headrests.
When it comes to full-size sport utility, style is no substitute for substance, but it is a nice accompaniment.