By KBB.com Editors
Car-based "crossover" utility vehicles (CUVs) try to marry the best attributes of passenger cars and SUVs, and these days they are leaving the woods and mountains behind. The goal is to offer a sporty, urban vibe, and none pulls this off better than the 2008 Mazda CX-9. It offers the tough-to-achieve blend of sport sedan and SUV that can corner and carry equally well. Like the smaller Mazda CX-7, the CX-9 is genuinely fun to drive yet still useful on a shopping trip or a family vacation. Of the two, the CX-7 may be a tad sportier, but its larger three-row, seven-passenger CX-9 stablemate, which shares its engine and much of its architecture with Ford's Edge and Lincoln's MKX, delivers a similar feel while upping the utility quotient considerably.You'll Like This Car If...
If large three-row CUV practicality with a fair measure of Mazda "Zoom-Zoom" character might be your cup of tea, take a look at the 2008 Mazda CX-9. Its combination of sporty looks, eager performance and people and cargo capacity should impress you.You May Not Like This Car If...
If your needs include a greater level of off-road prowess or heavier cargo and towing capability, one of many less sporty but more powerful and capable SUVs on the market would be a better choice.What's New for 2008
A new 3.7-liter V6 replaces last year's 3.5-liter unit and provides more horsepower and torque. Mazda's Blind Spot Monitoring System will be available later in the model year.Driving It Driving Impressions
A lightly-loaded CX-9 does a creditable job of living up to Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" marketing promise with its rigid unibody chassis, low-friction MacPherson strut front and independent multi-link rear suspension, precise engine-speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering and stabilizer bars at both ends. Despite its substantial size and weight, it acquits itself surprisingly well on curvy country roads and rides smoothly and quietly at freeway speeds. With more people and cargo aboard, it is understandably less athletic and loses some performance, but it remains a satisfying ride. Unlike many three-row CUVs, there is ample adult-size room in all seating positions and 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third row.Favorite Features
60/40-split, sliding, reclining second-row seat
This versatile center-row seat slides five inches to accommodate long-legged folks either on or behind it. The seat also has reclining backrests, offers easy access to the third row with a one-handed release and folds flat into the floor to optimize cargo room.
Active Torque-Split All-Wheel Drive
On available all-wheel-drive models, sensors signal control modules to send more torque to the axle with the best traction automatically. Up to half the engine's torque can be sent to the rear through a computer-controlled coupling connected to the rear differential.
The CX-9's interior upholds the exterior's sporting character but with more luxury touches than the less expensive CX-7. Its instrument panel has quad chrome-ringed gauges under a prominent hood and a logically laid-out audio and climate control area bounded by rich wood spears plunging from dash-top to floor and mirroring similar pieces in the door panels. The three-spoke steering wheel, contoured front bucket seats and two-tone trim say "sports car" more than "SUV," while blue indirect lighting adds an upscale glow at night. The 60/40 second-row seat reclines and slides forward to enhance third-row access, and both it and the 50/50 third seat fold flat into the floor.Exterior
The 2008 Mazda CX-9 is well dressed for its role as the bigger brother of Mazda's CX-7 sport CUV. Its look is Mazda sporty, with a signature five-point grille over a wide, aggressive bumper, wrap-around headlights and a broad-shouldered tail with curving tail lights and twin trapezoidal chrome exhaust tips. One nice touch is a full-width chrome strip across the top of the black-out grille opening, which flows across the top of the large, centered Mazda logo.Notable Standard Equipment
The CX-9 is offered in three trim levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The base Sport comes with three-row, seven-passenger seating, front and rear air conditioning, power windows, locks and mirrors, remote keyless entry, tilt wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD audio and six sets of air bags (front, side and full-length side curtain). Additional safety features include four-wheel ventilated anti-lock disc brakes (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS) and Dynamic Stability Control (DSC). The mid-range Touring and top-line Grand Touring add leather trim, power front seats and more.Notable Optional Equipment
The Mazda CX-9 has an options list that mimics a premium-level sedan. Major options available on the CX-9 include SIRIUS satellite radio, DVD-based touch-screen navigation, Blind Spot Monitoring System, Surround Sound Bose premium audio with a six-CD changer, rear DVD entertainment system and a power rear liftgate. All-wheel drive is an important functional option.Under the Hood
The CX-9's new, more powerful, 3.7-liter V6 is a variation of the 3.5-liter engine that powers its American cousins, the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. The 3.7-liter version is specific to Mazda. It powers the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, or all four wheels with Mazda's available Active Torque-Split all-wheel drive.
273 horsepower @ 6250 rpm
270 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4250 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 16/22 (FWD), 15/21 (AWD)
With just one engine and transmission combination, the 2008 Mazda CX-9 starts at a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) and Fair Purchase Price of just under $30,000, and can climb as high as $40,000 for a loaded Grand Touring. That places it higher than the five-passenger Ford Edge and the three-row Saturn Outlook and Honda Pilot. Active Torque-Split all-wheel drive is an extra-cost option. The good news is that the CX-9, although slightly more expensive than many of its competitors, is projected to retain a higher resale value than the Edge, Outlook and Pilot. Be sure to check Fair Purchase Prices to see what buyers are actually paying in your area.