2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

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2010 Mazda CX-9

Aggressive looks, responsive handling, and a 273-hp V6: sounds like a checklist that describes my ideal sports coupe, until I add this next feature: seating for seven.

Coming from the company that brought you “Zoom Zoom”, the Mazda CX-9 has a challenging role to play. It needs to embody Mazda’s culture of style and sportiness while wrapping it in a package that can move the whole family – and then some.

While the 2010 CX-9 is essentially the same vehicle that was introduced to us for the 2007 model year (although it did benefit from a power increase in 2008), changes this year can best be summarized as minor updates: standard equipment now includes active head restraints, two-stage front seat heaters, and a tire pressure monitoring system, while GT models now get 10-speaker Bose audio, blind-spot monitoring, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, and a few other goodies.

2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

The CX-9 is a large vehicle; it slots in somewhere between the Honda Pilot and Ford Flex in overall length. Like its competitors, it sports a third row of seats bringing its capacity to seven. But as is the case with many of them, that third row is of limited use, especially for adults. For maximum third-row space and comfort without venturing into the realm of minivandom, the best candidates are Ford Flex and the GM Acadia/Enclave/Traverse triplets.

It’s a cinch, though, to drop that third row into the floor and find a large, well-shaped cargo area which is how I think most buyers will configure the interior most of the time. And when used as a five-seater, the CX-9 provides limo-like room, thanks to its second row split bench that slides fore-and-aft. The two rear passenger doors are quite long, making for easy ingress to the second-row seats. Of course the flip-side is that the CX-9 requires wider parking spaces to allow those doors to open. And for those who do decide to use the third row, the second row tilts and slides forward at the flip of a lever to provide access. The system works well enough but it’s not as slick as the Ford/Lincoln power tumbling setup.

Up front, driver and passenger are greeted to a tastefully-executed cabin. Two-tone leather and dash materials, complemented by tastefully restrained wood trim and a splash of brightwork enhance a well-designed cockpit. Our loaded GT tester was equipped with a navigation screen that thankfully didn’t dominate the CX-9’s interior.

On the outside, the CX-9 looks much like a stretched version of the company’s smaller crossover, the CX-7. This kind of family resemblance is a good thing, since Mazda tends to bestow upon its models an athletic stance that manages to at least partially hide this brute’s size. They manage to get away without overdoing or forcing any styling elements; the brightwork is there on the door handles and various surrounds, but its subtlety is what makes it attractive. This is overall a very clean design, with 20-inch wheels that manage to fill the wheel wells quite nicely.

2010 Mazda CX-9 GT
2010 Mazda CX-9 GT. Click image to enlarge

All CX-9s are powered by the same 3.7-litre V6 and six-speed automatic transmission that form the guts of the Ford Flex and Lincoln MKT, as well as the company’s own 6 sedan. In the CX-9, the powerplant produces 273 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Power delivery is smooth and progressive, with no obvious valleys or ridges in the torque curve. Similarly, the six-speed slushbox conducts itself well in full automatic mode. There is a manual mode, though, and it’s activated by nudging the shift lever to the left from D, then tapping it fore and aft to effect gear changes. While the forward-for downshift and rearward-for-upshift action is more consistent with various race cars, it is the opposite of what’s found in most other production vehicles and takes some getting used to.

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