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Avg. Price Paid:$11,849 - $13,869
Original MSRP: $29,400 - $34,655
MPG: 16 City / 22 Hwy
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2008 Mazda CX-9 Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Mazda CX-9 was new.

The 2008 Mazda CX-9 provides a spirited driving experience and adequate power, even if the ride is a little stiff. "The all-new CX-9 really does carry on the 'zoom-zoom' nature of Mazda's product offerings with pleasant steering, chassis and brake feel that work in harmony with one another," says Road and Track.

Acceleration and Power

Under the hood, the 2008 Mazda CX-7 boasts an all-new 273-horsepower 3.7-liter DOHC V6 engine -- the largest ever in a Mazda. The engine in two-wheel drive is rated for 16 mpg in the city and 22 on the highway -- but the Detroit Free Press says the CX-9's fuel economy "trails the competition." Fortunately, the engine runs on 87-octane regular-grade fuel.

The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that reviewers love. The Detroit News notes "The six-speed glides through the gears quickly even under hard acceleration. The engine never sounds stressed or overtaxed." Cars.com similarly says "Smooth is the defining word for this powertrain; the V6 revs freely and the automatic changes gears without a hint of harshness." The transmission also has a sport-shift mode for more invigorated driving.

Handling and Braking

Our analysis finds the the 2008 Mazda CX-9 is light on its feet despite its 4,284-pound curb weight. "It's like the Jackie Gleason of crossover vehicles," says Edmunds. "Despite his girth, our favorite Honeymooner could skip the light fandango like nobody's business. And even with seven seats and a length of almost 200 inches, the CX-9 doesn't feel objectionably large or heavy on the road.". To Car and Driver, "The engineering work yielded a unibody that's arguably the best in its class for structural rigidity, which in turn yields benefits in terms of ride and handling, two of several areas where the CX-9 gets high marks."

Reviewers also find the CX-9 fun to drive, though they point out it's not tuned for sporty performance. AutoWeek, who reviewed the Grand Touring trim, comments "let's be clear that the CX-9 is no sports car, but a crossover with some sporty traits peppered in."

The CX-9 rests on a car platform -- the same suspension used in the Mazda6 sedan -- and carries enough weight to keep the large SUV steady through turns. Reviewers are largely pleased with the front MacPherson strut and E-Type multilink rear suspension setup. Motor Trend notes "Over a wide variety of road surfaces, the CX-9 was supple and quiet. And it cornered much flatter than an equivalent minivan might, with a nice build-up of forces at the steering wheel." Road and Track notices the CX-9 "feels satisfyingly firm with zero float. It turns in nicely and remains flat when cornering ..." But the Detroit Free Press feels that even the pricey Grand Touring model "left much to be desired, with nervous steering and a suspension that's in limbo between soft and sporty."

Urban driving is a different story. The Washington Post writes "weight is noticeable in low-speed city traffic, where the CX-9 feels a bit cumbersome." Cars.com similarly observes "It's only when you throw it into a tight turn that you start to feel its true size as moderate body roll develops. It's stable on the highway, and overall offers a very car-like driving experience, albeit one from a higher vantage point." Still, Car and Driver asserts, "Ride quality can be a little choppy on warty pavement with the 20-inch-wheel option..."

The Detroit News bridges the distance. "All the gadgets in the world don't prevent a big vehicle from behaving like a big vehicle. While the suspension system [smoothes] out the ride, especially on highways, it still feels heavy in tight turns, with lots of body roll. As a crossover, it still handles more like an SUV than a car." Other reviewers point to another drawback -- a stiff ride for passengers. "The price for the responsive handling, however, is a relatively stiff ride on anything but a smooth surface," writes New Car Test Drive. "The passengers will just have to suffer quietly while Mom or Dad has fun at the wheel."

To keep the ride steady, the CX-9 comes with Traction Control and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), but some feel the system detract from the driving experience. Autobytel complains the traction control "is an intrusive mess. It literally locked up one of the front tires coming out of a turn, and more than once activated after we'd exited a corner and started down a straight path." The reviewer feels similarly about the stability control, calling it "a total buzz kill. There's obviously a need for that technology, and chances are anyone caught in a gnarly situation would sing its praises. However, stability control systems should do their work behind the scenes, and not be overbearing to the point of leaving the driver dead in the water."

Reviewers have slightly mixed reactions to the CX-9's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with engine-speed-sensing variable assist. Of the Grand Touring trim, AutoWeek says it's "on the light side ... but is responsive for this type of vehicle." While Consumer Guide likes the "tidy turning radius [which] makes CX-9 easy to maneuver in tight spots," the Detroit News finds steering to be both "crisp and sensitive."

Still, not all reviewers are impressed. New Car Test Drive dislikes the CX-9's torque steer, noting it as an "annoying downside" for the front-wheel-drive model: "Triggered by pushing hard on the gas pedal this is a tugging at the front wheels as they scramble for traction. This requires the driver to make minor steering corrections to keep the CX-9 going straight." Moreover, the Detroit Free Press found that "steering required too much effort in parking lots but felt light at highway speeds. It also had a pronounced inclination to groove-steer, with the tires following every irregularity in the road surface."

While the CX-9's steering receives mixed reviews, nearly every reviewer praises its power-assisted ventilated front and rear disc brakes with standard anti-lock braking and Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD). The Detroit Free Press says "brakes provided plenty of stopping power and the pedals gave good feedback," and Edmunds notes "the four-wheel discs stopped the 4,284-pound car from 60 mph in 136 feet, a stunning 20 feet shorter than our long-term 4,195-pound Ford Edge."

All Wheel Drive

The 2008 Mazda CX-9 comes standard in front-wheel drive, but an active torque-split all-wheel drive system is available. The system lacks low-range gearing, which means it's not for off-roading, but provides "a nice option for those who worry about snowy travel in hilly areas," says New Car Test Drive.

Under hard acceleration or a slippery situation, the automatic AWD sends as much as 50 percent of the power from the front wheels to the rear wheels. The Kansas City Star is impressed with the system's invisibility, noting the "optional all-wheel-drive system goes about its business without a hint that it's providing traction to all four wheels."

Some complain of poor steering in all-wheel-drive CX-9 models. New Car Test Drive explains "The all-wheel-drive model had a feel that could be called rubbery, that weakened the connection between the vehicle and the driver. The steering on the front-wheel-drive model was much better."

Towing

When properly equipped with the optional Towing Package, the CX-9 can tow up to 3,500 pounds - which Car and Driver describes as only being "modest." Available on the Touring and Grand Touring trims, the package includes a heavy-duty transmission cooler and fan, a wiring harness and a receiver. But NewCars.com notes the CX-9 is not optimal for its towing abilities, commenting "The average midsize SUV outpulls the Mazda CX-9 by a massive margin."

Review Last Updated: 3/10/09

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