The phrase "family hauler" evokes a lot of mental pictures, few of them brimming with excitement. The 2017 Mazda CX-9 we recently added to the Kelley Blue Book long-term fleet aims to change that with a much-needed dose of behind-the-wheel entertainment to supplement its wholesomeness. Think of it like Brussels sprouts, but slathered in butter and cooked with bacon: Tasty, but still kinda good for you under all that.

The question, of course, is whether or not the tastiness of the bacon overrides the goodness of the sprouts. That is, did Mazda make the CX-9 fun to drive at the expense of its core mission of family-friendly hauling? We're going to spend the next year finding out.

It's a Looker

If three-row crossover SUVs were bought solely on their looks, the Mazda CX-9 would be the hands-down winner. This is a great looking crossover, with sharp lines, a little bit of a shark-nose jut to the top of the hood, head and taillights sunk into the bodywork, and razor-sharp grille offset give it a simultaneously modern and classic look. We especially like the clean LED accents in the headlights, and the slab-sided flanks that stand out for all the right reasons. There's just enough chrome to keep things interesting without being garish. The Machine Gray Metallic paint highlights the CX-9's subtle handsomeness perfectly, its satin finish helping this already good looking car stand out even more.

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Inside, the CX-9 obviously targets higher-end luxury SUVs rather than the workaday Honda Pilots and Toyota Highlanders of the world. Soft touch surfaces are everywhere, with stitched and padded panels down by the driver's knees. The control knob for the infotainment system is a hefty feeling solid metal piece, as is the volume knob. Everything has a weight and positivity to how it feels, and if you were to strip out the Mazda badge and replace it with one from a luxury brand—looking at you, Lexus—we're guessing few would doubt the subterfuge.

Is It a Doer?

Our test CX-9 is a Grand Touring model, with all-wheel drive and the cool color being the only paid-for options. Everything else is standard at this trim level, and it's a lot. There's active cruise control, lane keeping assist, automatic braking, a backup camera with cross-traffic alert, and more. The leather interior also includes heated front seats, real aluminum trim, and separate climate controls for the second row of seats. So far we're enjoying the Bose audio system, but truth be told we'd like the infotainment more if Mazda would offer Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Fully belled-and-whistled, our 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring comes with a price tag of $43,510, including the $940 destination charge and $300 paint job.

We're putting our Mazda through its paces already, and in its first month it has racked up more than 1,000 miles of service. Stay up to date with our Mazda CX-9 adventures by bookmarking this page. 

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