2010 Mazda CX-9

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Mazda's largest crossover, the CX-9, is completely inoffensive, entirely functional and totally boring. It does everything it's supposed to do: It carried the kids, stowed the cargo, provided the entertainment, but it never inspired me to love it. I really couldn't find anything wrong with it, but at the same time, I just didn't love it.

Mazda does a great job balancing the line between sporty and luxury in the 2010 CX-9, with a smooth ride that handles the speed bumps of daily life as well as the highway on-ramps. The CX-9 accelerates well enough to take on the hills of my hometown, but I wouldn't call it "zoomy." It's a subtle power, the kind you don't really have to think about. In fact, driving the CX-9 doesn't require much thought at all. It goes. It stops. It turns. Nothing was terrific enough for me to say wow, but nothing disappointed me, either. It just kind of fades into the background. I like a car that doesn't demand anything of me, but I'd like a more memorable ride.

One thing is for sure about the CX-9: It's priced as a great value. Starting fat $28,805, my fully loaded all-wheel-drive test vehicle, a CX-9 Grand Touring, was $40,065. That price includes standard leather seating, an optional rear entertainment system (part of a $3,055 entertainment package), an optional navigation system ($1,665) and all-wheel drive. Sadly, though, that value doesn't extend to the gas station. I only managed to average 14 mpg; the CX-9 gets an EPA-estimated 15/21 mpg city/highway using regular gas.

EXTERIOR

The 2010 CX-9 is the sleekest three-row crossover on the road. Unless you look closely, you'd never know that this is a vehicle that comfortably seats seven people. The front of the CX-9 looks like a friendly face, with wide-set headlights and a big, smiling grille. You can't help but smile back at the thing. The rest of the exterior is less personable but still attractive. The lines are smooth and rounded, with no sharp edges to be found. The roof slopes gently back to a snub of a spoiler and subtle touches of chrome wrap the windows and door handles, bringing a bit of sparkle to this crossover.

My favorite thing about crossovers is they manage to offer the room and function of an SUV with the moderate height of a minivan. The CX-9 sits only a bit higher off the road than a sedan, but doesn't require the climb of a truck-based SUV. I slid right in, while my kids only had a small hop to make. The wide doors mean that it's easy to help little ones in or pop in a child-safety seat. I'm also a big fan of the power liftgate (I support anything that enables my innate laziness). Opening the CX-9's liftgate manually isn't difficult, and it doesn't go higher than I can reach comfortably, but man, pushing a button is just so much easier. And cooler.

The CX-9 comes with a 3.7-liter V-6 engine that puts out 273 horsepower. That's respectable but not impressive. The engine, which uses regular gas, gets the job done without any of that obnoxious noise or temptation to race sports cars, a move to which I am sadly vulnerable.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Excellent

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Some

INTERIOR

As much as I appreciated the CX-9's exterior, the interior is where I found myself annoyed. Big comfy leather seats adjust every which way to cradle the driver just right, but somehow I never managed to find the sweet spot.

When the seat was in a comfortable position and I had the tilt/telescoping steering wheel in the right place, all the dash controls were too far away to reach. The window and door controls on the driver-side door also were a stretch. They sit in a weird swoopy stripe that heads down toward the door bin. However, the center stack's layout is easy to manage, with only the seat-heater buttons hidden behind the gearshift. There are enough bins and cubbies to contain the clutter, but the center console bin is on the small side. There are two cupholders in the front row and small bottleholders in the door pockets.

In the second row, there's plenty of room for adults or bulky infant-safety seats. My school-age boys loved the fold-down armrest with a "hidden secret compartment" and cupholders, as well as the rear entertainment system. However, my 9-year-old was put out that he couldn't listen to his favorite radio station, which is available through satellite radio. Sirius Satellite Radio is an option that's part of a $2,255 package.

The CX-9's third row is best left to people who are less than 5 feet tall. By which I mean kiddos. The seats aren't as cushy as the other rows' seats and legroom is tight. Even though the second row slides forward to allow easier access to the third row, it's a bit awkward to climb back there because of the slight hop upward and the low-slanting roof. I didn't manage it with any degree of grace or lack of grunting.

The cargo area is spacious when the third row is folded, which it does easily, as long as the second-row seats aren't reclined too far back. When the third-row seats are up, there's room for a few grocery bags or my kids' massive roller baseball bags. There's even a small under-floor storage area back there.

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Galore

SAFETY

While the CX-9 has three rows of seats, it only has two sets of Latch anchors, which can be found in the second row. The lower Latch anchors are slightly buried under the seat cushions, but not hard to get to.

The second row's flat seats make it easy to get a good fit with child-safety seats, and there's plenty of room for even the largest of premium infant seats, especially since the second row slides forward and back. Unfortunately, the floppy seat belt buckles will lead to whining from little ones in booster seats, because it's hard for kids to get a good grasp of a floppy buckle. My kids handled it just fine since they're so big now that they don't even need booster seats.

To keep your family safe on the road, the CX-9 comes with standard four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, stability control with Roll Stability Control, traction control and six airbags, including side-impact airbags for the front row and side curtains for all three rows of seats. All-wheel drive is optional. A backup camera is also optional.

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