Motoramic

Road tripping the 2013 Mazda CX-9: Motoramic Family Drive

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After 18 years as an editor at Road & Track, Patrick Hong’s trying a different tack in reviewing cars — letting his whole family weigh in:

Full disclosure: We own a 2003 Mazda MPV, a minivan in which the company no longer sells in America. While there is a new version of this people hauler called the Mazda8 sold in Japan, in the US, the CX-9 is deemed more viable as a replacement due to the popularity of crossover sport utes. Additionally, full-size minivans like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are favored because they have more room, in contrast to the smaller-statured MPV. For our family, we actually prefer Mazda’s nimble size and handling performance, plus its flexibility to meet our family's utility needs. But as our much-loved family shuttle is nearing its retirement, we need to start looking for our next car. Over a long holiday weekend, we decided to give the CX-9 a try. After stocking the CX-9 full of snacks, water, camera, jackets, books, two razors and helmets, we piled into the SUV on a city-park-hopping day-trip across Southern California.

With no need to bring our two dogs Wallace and Gromit on this road trip, the CX-9 has plenty of room to store everything we needed, especially with the 3rd-row seat folded flat—a feature my wife Elise and I debate about all that time if that is something we still need on our next car. On the way to our first destination, a dinosaur-themed park in Laguna Hills, Calif., it is apparent that our 10 and 8-year old kids miss the optional rear seat DVD entertainment package. Luckily, the stacks of books, the quiet ride plus a competent satellite radio and Bose 10-speaker sound system kept us entertained during our drive.

Sitting in back, our 8-year old son likes the all-black interior. The perforated leather seats give the car a comfortable, classy look and feel. However, he did complain that after the car is parked under the sun for awhile, the back seats can use dedicated air vents behind the center console to cool the leather quicker. And while there is plenty of storage in the back, including the fold-flat trunk space and the fold-down center armrest, our youngest also wishes the side door pockets would be deeper, to not only hold water bottles, but also other items like books so they can be easily accessible while on the move.

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After spending sometime at the Dinosaur Park, we key in our next destination, the Blue Bird Park in Laguna Beach, Calif., into the onboard TomTom-powered in-dash navigation system. Being somewhat of a techno-geek, I take pride that I could learn fairly quickly and adapt to most car infotainment systems. The one in the CX-9, however, stumped me. The touchscreen interface is slow to react. After trying to input and search for the park by hand, I give the voice-recognition a try. Time and time again the navigation system keeps directing us to the nearest airport—John Wayne. Even our 10-year old son, who usually blames me for incompetence, agrees that the small touchscreen is not easy to manipulate, and the voice guidance does not work well. He diplomatically writes in his notes that he is “really concerned about the technology.”

Upfront in the driver's seat, the Mazda CX-9 gives a commanding view of the road. The wrapped-around dash and high center console make you feel like you are nestled safely inside the car. However, on the passenger side, Elise actually feels a little cramped, especially when we can’t help but keep looking at the CX-9 through the lens of our MPV. She comments that the “interior roominess doesn’t match its larger sport ute exterior stature.”

Gripes on the interior roominess aside, the entire family do very much like the CX-9’s sporty styling, especially the new for 2013 revised front(and back)end. On the road, the 273 horsepower V-6 provides good power. The 6-speed automatic transmission is responsive to throttle demands, either for passing or at the start of a climb around the hills of Laguna Beach. And on the mostly Interstate ride to our final city park, the historic Vincent Lugo Park in San Gabriel, Calif., the CX-9 soaks up the concrete gaps nicely and cruises effortlessly. And while the steering has too much power-assist for my taste, it still directs the crossover sport ute through the corners with confidence.

Our nicely equipped, top-of-the-line 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring all-wheel-drive model stickers around $39,600, a pretty good value for all the features you get. Will we replace our MPV with it? Still not a clear-cut decision. That said, in the crossover sport ute category, we still think the 2013 Mazda CX-9 is worth the money.

2013 Mazda CX-9 AWD
CLASS 7-Passenger Crossover Sport Utility
ENGINE 3.7-liter V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
POWER 273 hp
TORQUE 270 ft.-lb.
WEIGHT 4,552 lbs.
EPA MILEAGE 16 City / 22 Highway
STARTING PRICE $29,785
PROS Sporty styling and quiet ride
CONS Hard-to-use TomTom navigation and tight interior
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