2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photo courtesy Mazda Canada. Click image to enlarge

By Greg Wilson

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Bamfield, British Columbia – Though the mid-sized Mazda CX-9 “crossover” SUV was first introduced as a 2007 model less than a year ago, the 2008 model is already here and has been given some updates, notably a small increase in engine size and a resulting boost in horsepower and torque. The 3.5-litre V6 engine used in 2007 has been boosted to 3.7 litres for 2008, and horsepower rises to 273 @ 6250 rpm from 263 @ 6250 rpm. Perhaps more importantly, torque has been increased to 270 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm from 249 lb-ft @ 4500 r.p.m. This makes the engine feel more responsive, and helps improve towing performance, although the maximum towing capacity remains 1588 kg (3500 lbs).

Despite the power increase, fuel economy is about the same, according to Mazda Canada. Official fuel consumption figures (L/100 km) for the 2008 CX-9 (FWD) are 13.2/9.0 City/Hwy. That compares to the 2007 CX-9 (FWD) with 13.3/8.9 City/Hwy. 2008 CX-9 AWD models offer 14.0/9.7 City/Hwy compared to the 2007 CX-9 AWD with 14.5/9.7 City/Hwy. The new 3.7-litre engine continues to use Regular grade gasoline.

The CX-9 is based on the Mazda6 unit body platform which it shares with the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers – however, the CX-9 is built in Hiroshima, Japan while the Edge and MKX are built in Oakville, Ontario.

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photo courtesy Mazda Canada. Click image to enlarge

The 2008 Edge and MKX will continue to use the Ford-built 3.5-litre V6 engine, but the CX-9’s new 3.7-litre V6 engine is exclusive to Mazda and is built in Japan – as is the CX-9’s Aisin six-speed automatic transmission which is different from the Ford-built six-speed auto transmission. Basically, the 2008 CX-9 is now a Japanese-engineered and Japanese-built vehicle.

Other minor changes to the 2008 CX-9 include an all-wheel drive system now standard on GT models, and a Bluetooth hands-free phone system now standard on all CX-9s. Later in the model year, a new Blind Spot Monitoring System will be available as an option with the ‘Luxury Package’.

2008 pricing

2008 pricing has gone up slightly on the base GS model and substantially on the GT model: the GS is up by $400 to $39,995 while the GT has increased by $2,870 to $46,825 – that’s mostly because the GT now includes all-wheel drive as standard equipment.

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photos by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

As before the 2008 CX-9 comes standard with seven seats in all models (the Edge and MKX have five seats). GS models have standard front-wheel drive or optional all-wheel drive while GT models have standard all-wheel drive. The latter is a fully automatic “active torque split” system that normally runs in front-wheel drive but a computer-controlled coupling integrated with the rear differential sends up to 50 percent of the power to the rear wheels when necessary – it automatically adjusts to changing traction by monitoring wheel slippage, steering angle, yaw rate, lateral acceleration, and available driveline torque. The same AWD system is used in the Mazda CX-7 and Mazdaspeed6.

2008 CX-9 GS models include standard 18-inch tires and alloy wheels, four disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake differential, traction control, stability control, rollover stability control with rollover sensors, and variable assist rack and pinion steering.

Inside, GS standard features are front and rear air conditioning, “piano black” dash trim, AM/FM/CD stereo with six speakers, steering wheel audio controls, iPod jack, Bluetooth phone connectivity, cloth seating material and leather-wrapped shifter knob, eight-way power driver’s seat with manual lumbar adjustment, 60/40 split folding second row seats, 50/50 split folding third row seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, power door locks with remote keyless entry, power windows with driver/front passenger automatic up/down feature, power mirrors, eight cupholders, and two 12-volt power outlets.

Optional on the GS is all-wheel drive ($2,000) and a power moonroof ($1,000).

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

The CX-9 GT adds standard all-wheel drive, 20-inch tires and alloys, xenon headlights, woodgrain dash trim, leather seats with front seat heaters, driver’s power lumbar adjuster, four-way power front passenger seat, power glass moonroof with one-touch opening, and indirect blue interior lighting.

There are three option packages available on the GT model: the Luxury Package ($1,495) includes an in-dash six-disc CD changer, Bose audio system with 10-speakers, Centrepoint surround sound, AudioPilot noise compensation system, keyless entry & start, and power tailgate (from September production, package includes Blind Spot monitoring system for $1,895). The Navigation Package ($2,875) which requires the Luxury Package, includes a voice-activated navigation system with MP3 ability, rear-view camera, and Bluetooth Hands Free Phone System. The optional Rear Entertainment System ($1,520), which requires the Luxury and Navigation Packages, includes a nine-inch monitor, CD/DVD player with audio input jack, Bose 5.1 channel surround sound system with 11-speakers, two wireless headphones, and a 115V power outlet.

Mazda’s Destination charge is $1,390.

Driving impressions

Huge logging trucks take up most of the road, and they have the legal right, of way, coming or going.  Pass with care!
Huge logging trucks take up most of the road, and they have the legal right, of way, coming or going. Pass with care! Photo by Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge

My two-day test drive of the 2008 CX-9 took me from Vancouver to the remote fishing hamlet of Bamfield, population 200, on the western coast of Vancouver Island just south of Barkley Sound. After crossing the Strait of Georgia from West Vancouver on a comfortable B.C. ferry, my co-driver and I enjoyed a leisurely drive on the north-south Island Highway, turning west on the winding Highway 4 to the halfway point, Port Alberni. From there, the paved road ended, becoming a rough, pot-hole strewn gravel logging road where signs say that logging trucks have the right of way. These gigantic trucks take up most of the road and weigh as much as a freight train, so most drivers don’t hesitate to give them plenty of room. With so many blind crests and one-lane bridges along the way, this proved to be a bit tense at times, but with a coastal forestry strike just under way, we passed only two logging trucks on our entire journey.

The road to Bamfield, with its washboard surface, frequent potholes, and muddy sections, proved to be a good test of the CX-9’s suspension. After all, this crossover vehicle is designed to be more of a family vehicle than an off-road vehicle, so I was interested how it would do in the rough stuff. Last year, I found the ride stiff over rough pavement, so I wasn’t expecting a smooth ride on gravel. However with 204 mm (8.0 in.) of ground clearance to clear protruding rocks and a fully independent suspension, I found the handling quite controllable while the ride was stiff but not back-breaking. When we arrived in Bamfield, we stepped out without any stiff muscles, back aches or headaches to contend with, so the ride couldn’t have been too bad.

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photo by Andrew McCredie. Click image to enlarge

The CX-9’s all-wheel drive system provided good traction and stability, but we found that driving on gravel required unique driving skills – notably, braking earlier for corners, swerving around deep potholes, staying off the soft shoulders, and adjusting for front-end ploughing when cornering. As the road had no guard rails and frequent steep drop-offs into a forest of unforgiving firs and cedars, we felt a special motivation to stay on the road. Happily, we had no opportunity to use the standard Roll Stability Control that uses tilt sensors and wheel speed sensors to decrease the throttle and apply the brakes to avert a roll-over – or the standard side and curtain airbags.

The new 3.7-litre DOHC 24-valve V6 engine is quiet and powerful, and while responsive, it’s difficult to judge how much more responsive it is than last year’s 3.5-litre engine without a back to back comparison test. The numbers indicate an 8% improvement in torque at lower revs which would mean a little more throttle responsiveness.

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9. Top photo by Greg Wilson; bottom photo courtesy Mazda Canada. Click image to enlarge

I barely noticed the six-speed automatic transmission changing gears, which is a good thing – and I found the manual shifting option useful when descending steep, slippery grades.

The cabin is very quiet, in part due to the CX-9’s slippery shape and lack of wind noise, and a quiet engine. The CX-9 makes a great cruiser on a paved highway.

My GT test model had comfortable leather seats and a high level of interior quality and materials. The interior blends sporty round gauges and a small, thick-rimmed leather wrapped steering wheel with traditional leather and warm woodgrain dash trim and big, easy to operate controls. I had two gripes about the dash layout: the display for the heating functions and stereo are lumped together at the top of the centre dash, separate from controls below; and I’m not fond of the harsh red backlighting for the instruments; but other than that I found the instrument panel easy to see and operate.

2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9
2008 Mazda CX-9; photos courtesy Mazda Canada. Click image to enlarge

There’s plenty of legroom and headroom in the first and second rows, and adequate headroom and legroom in the third row for two adults. The second row seats slide fore and aft, allowing some adjustment for legroom. To access the third row, the second seatback folds down easily and slides forward. Even with the third row seats up, there is 487 litres (17.2 cu. ft.) of cargo space behind the third row seats. Both second and third row seatbacks fold flat for a loading length of about 183 cm (6 ft.). Golfers take note: the trunk has side walls that have been hollowed out to allow two golf bags to fit.

The 2008 Mazda CX-9 isn’t a heck of a lot different than the 2007 model, but some people will like its “Made in Japan” label and its extra responsiveness. The CX-9 remains possibly the most stylish seven-passenger mid-size crossover on the market today.

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