The con­quest of cool: Driv­ing the 2017 Mazda CX-9 Grand Tour­ing

Wisconsin Gazette - - Front Page - By Cliff Lepke Con­tribut­ing writer

The wrap­per of the CX-9 — Mazda’s big three-row cross­over — evokes Ray­mond Loewy’s 1930s Stream­line-Moderne re­frig­er­a­tors. Loewy trans­formed un­gainly boxes into tres chic curved-top, mono­lithic forms with thin stain­less-steel speed stripes and skirted va­lences.

The apron of the CX-9’s flared front bumper apes that look — and then adds late1960s mus­cle-car ag­gres­sion: a for­wardlean­ing shield grille. The ve­hi­cle’s sexy cab­back stance has panache.

Mazda’s char­iot wears a fast­back rear, big wheels and inset lamps. In­side, it’s a sybarite’s de­light, decked out with tightly fit­ted, soft-touch ma­te­ri­als. Even the hard parts are mon­u­men­tal — Mazda’s door and cen­ter con­sole plas­tics re­sem­ble black­onyx sculp­tures. The in­te­rior evokes tonier rides: leather trim­mings (Volvo), steer­ing wheel (Audi) and sculpted door pan­els (Bent­ley). Real alu­minum trim adds piz­zazz. How­ever, high-style means com­pro­mises. The CX-9’s cargo bay is height-re­stricted, as is the nar­row third row’s head­room. If you want max­i­mum cargo ca­pac­ity, check out some­thing square. The slid­ing mid-row seat fits three. The front thrones are too high. Width for work­ing the steer­ing wheel is nar­row due to a high cen­ter con­sole with flip-top bin cov­ers. Plus, the door’s stitched up­hol­stery in­trudes. Nicely cov­ered in­te­rior door han­dles are hefty, which is a plea­sure. Naughty bits, such as un­der-the-seat met­al­work, are fab­ric cov­ered, en­sur­ing no more scuffed Gucci loafers.

EN­GI­NEER­ING TRICKS

Mazda has en­gi­neer­ing tricks up its metaphor­i­cal sleeves. The 2.5-liter, four-cylin­der 227-hp (87 oc­tane) power plant uti­lizes tech­niques that im­prove its tur­bocharger’s re­spon­sive­ness. Torque? Yes! It’s 310 lb.-ft. at 2,000 rpm. That means the 4,336-pound ma­chine moves when spurred.

There’s also a cooled, ex­haust-gas re­cir­cu­la­tion sys­tem — low­er­ing the engine’s com­bus­tion tem­per­a­ture, which per­mits a leaner fuel mix­ture for im­proved econ­omy. The re­sult is a civ­i­lized, will­ing engine. The all-wheel-drive CX-9’s EPA num­bers are 21 mpg city and 26 mpg high­way for a 23 mpg com­bined. I ob­served 21 mpg over­all.

On the road, the CX-9 be­haves, mostly. The CX-9 is ag­ile, not clumsy. Steer­ing is light but ac­cu­rate, and ride qual­ity is good. The sta­bil­ity pro­gram, how­ever, scolds like a sixth-grade sci­ence teacher and curbs cor­ner­ing speed. The brakes are also over­ac­tive. So, there’s a limit to this Mazda’s zoom, de­spite the spiffy 20-inch tires.

ADDED FEA­TURES

There’s a smor­gas­bord of driver as­sists. For in­stance, lane de­par­ture warn­ing with as­sist vi­brates the steer­ing wheel and then steers for you. Y in­ter­sec­tions, how­ever, baf­fle lane keep­ing, lead­ing to a di­rec­tional tug of war. A push-but­ton lets you dis­able its fol­low-the-road wiz­ardry. Blind spot de­tec­tion also is in­cluded. The adap­tive cruise con­trol uses radar; there’s also a cam­era that helps it main­tain a gap be­tween you and the ve­hi­cle ahead.

An added bonus is the on-wind­shield dis­play, which shows ve­hi­cle speed, cruise con­trol info, whether there’s a ve­hi­cle ahead or to the side, and lane-as­sist in­di­ca­tors. The nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem’s di­rec­tions are also in­cluded.

A three-ring in­stru­ment clus­ter houses a trip com­puter and data dis­play. One omis­sion: a glove-box light. There are cen­ter mid-row, face-level vents with au­to­matic or man­ual con­trols.

The in­te­rior noise is muted. Mazda in­stalled lots of sound-dead­en­ing ma­te­rial, in­clud­ing thick Sty­ro­foam on the floor. It works.

Mazda’s in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem can be voice ac­ti­vated. There is a pleas­ant on­board tu­to­rial. Us­ing its ro­tary-knob in­ter­face, in con­trast, can be mad­den­ing. For ex­am­ple, chang­ing ra­dio bands re­quires mul­ti­ple steps, and then tun­ing sta­tions re­quires fur­ther twist­ing, tap­ping and con­troller bump­ing.

For 2018, the CX-9 gets au­to­matic city­driv­ing emergency brak­ing at speeds less than 19 mph, blind spot mon­i­tor­ing, rear cross-traf­fic alerts, and vec­tor­ing con­trol for im­proved steer­ing pre­ci­sion.

The MSRP of the tested Grand Tour­ing ver­sion: $43,810 in­clud­ing ex­tra fees for spe­cial paint ($200), floor mats and delivery. The Sig­na­ture ver­sion with wood ve­neer in­te­rior costs more, while the base FWD CX-9 starts at about $33,000. Think of the CX-9 as the de­signer kitchen of crossovers. As with Loewy’s re­frig­er­a­tors, it’s cool.

On the road in the Mazda CX-9.

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