THE RIDE: Four-door, seven-passenger 2007 Mazda CX-9 crossover SUV.
DOWN THE ROAD: Based on a unibody construction, this first midsize SUV from Mazda offers bold styling in a carlike atmosphere. The CX-9 handles the rigors of daily driving exceptionally well, even showing off a good balance at sharp corners. Regardless of any of the three trims you choose, the car exhibits plenty of pep and fun.
TECH & PERFORMANCE: The 3.5-liter V-6 engine pumps out 263 horsepower at 6250 rpm and 249 pounds-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. It is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift capabilities, resulting in a quiet and responsive drivetrain. An independent front MacPherson strut and a rear multilink suspension does a laudable job of soaking up road irregularities. A power rack-and-pinion steering system enables the SUV to hustle along at a rapid pace. The 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels come shod with large 245/50R tires. Best of all, the all-wheel-drive system distributes torque as necessary to the wheels, depending on traction conditions.
LOOK & FEEL: That the CX-9 is not just any ordinary-looking vehicle is evident in its five-point grille with a chrome bar atop, steeply raked windshield, muscular fenders and trapezoidal chrome exhaust pipes. The look of the dashboard and instrument panel is clean and attractive. A four-pod electroluminescent gauge displays easy-to-read fuel, speedometer, tachometer and water temperature readings. The leather seats with trim accents are inviting. Both the second-row seat, which splits 60/40, and the 50/50 split third-row seat can be folded flat to haul cargo. Some of the standard features are a three-spoke leather steering wheel, tri-zone automatic climate controls, heated front seats, eight-way power driver's seat and a four-way power front-passenger seat.
SAFETY FIRST: Dual front and side airbags, side curtain for all three rows, traction and stability control, four-wheel antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring system, and front and rear crumple zones are standard.
OUT THE DOOR: $33,875, plus tax, tag, delivery and destination charges.
BY THE NUMBERS: Tires, P245/50R20; wheelbase, 113.2 inches; length, 199.8 inches; weight, 4,546 pounds; fuel capacity, 20.1 gallons; highway, 22 mpg; city, 16 mpg.
WHY DIG IT: You have to hand it to Mazda for continuing to produce trendy-looking vehicles. The CX-9 dares to be different in a crowded field of crossover SUVs. With plenty of power, carlike feel and numerous creature comforts, it could give the competition a run for the money.
Nitish S. Rele is an advertising staff writer for The Tampa Tribune.