DNA and Crossovers. These are the buzzwords that are being used by auto manufacturers these days ad nauseam. Let's take a look at these two terms and see what they really mean.
DNA is the term that car companies use to describe the essence of their particular brand. Some manufacturers are still searching for that unique quality that defines their image, while others seem to have it down pat. For instance, when you see a Jeep, there is no mistaking it for anything else. Jaguar is also in that ball park. Judging by the vehicles that have been coming out of the Mazda camp over the last few years, the Zoom-Zoom company is well on their way towards their own unique form of brand immortality.
Crossover This is a vehicle that bridges the gap between two distinct types of vehicles and combines elements of both designs. In most cases, the two vehicle types are a Sport Utility Vehicle (or SUV) and a passenger car. This blending of truck and car is also known as a Crossover Utility Vehicle (or CUV). It is a vehicle that looks like an SUV, but is built on a lighter car-type platform. A CUV has all the interior space utilization of a truck-based SUV, but is less costly, lighter, and more economical to run. The disadvantage of a CUV over an SUV is that it usually does not have the ground clearance for serious off-road excursions, nor the structural strength to survive intact while foraging through the wilderness or for serious towing duty.
Since most people never use even the most capable SUV for anything more strenuous than ferrying the kids to soccer practice, it is no wonder that "crossovers" have become the fastest growing vehicle segment in the United States.
Mazda already has a great crossover in theMazda CX-7, but they wanted to introduce a larger CUV with useable room for up to 7 people, while still retaining the Mazda look and personality.
To this end, Mazda threw out the boxy, utilitarian look that makes up most vehicles in this class for a rakish style that flows beautifully from front to back. Judging from the photos at the top and bottom of this article, Mazda succeeded with the look, and, it did this without losing that space utilization that SUV's and CUV's are known for. In fact, the Mazda CX-9 has one of the longest wheelbases in this segment allowing room for 7 adults with space left over behind the third row for 17.2 cubic feet of storage space. Mazda claims that this is one of the longest vehicles ever produced by this company.
It is natural that we compare the CX-9 with its kid brother, theMazda CX-7. Both have the same carefree good looks that Mazda is becoming known for, but the CX-9 feels more mature, smoother, more comfortable, while the CX-7 feels more exuberant, like it wants to go out and play.
The new CX-9 is based on the same platform that underpins the Ford Edge, but the Mazda platform has been lengthened to accommodate the third row. The three rows of seats are arranged theater style so each row is slightly higher than the row in front. Entering the third row is fairly easy with a simple one-hand release mechanism to slide the second row forward and out of the way.
The middle row can also slide forward and back more than five inches in order to optimize the passenger compartment. Sliding the seat back will allow 5 people to ride comfortably. slide it forward to provide more room in the third row and make it possible to hold up to 7 adults when required. With the center row slid forward, there is enough room in the third row for two adults to have tolerable space and comfort for short excursions. Mazda claims there is enough room back there for a 6 footer, but after sitting back there (I'm 5 foot 9) I think they're being optimistic.
This Mazda personality (or DNA if you will) centers around precise steering feel coupled with sharp throttle response, but can a vehicle this large really have a fun-to-drive personality? After spending time driving a CX-9 around the winding roads that snaked through the mountains in upstate New York, I can tell you that they have succeeded.
Mazda's Zoom-Zoom has been sprinkled in liberally in the form of a 263 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine coupled to a 6-speed, shiftable automatic transmission. The suspension and steering calibration is also tailored to suit the Mazda personality.
The interior of our CX-9 Grand Touring model was especially good looking. Bands of wood drop from the top of the dashboard center stack and go down to the floor. They are matched by additional bands of wood on each front door panel.
The dash layout is clean with clear gauges and easy to decipher controls. The instrument cluster is illuminated day and night with red indicators and markings. The feeling I got from sitting behind the wheel was of an upscale sports sedan.
The interior had a certain flair to it that matched the impression I got from the exterior styling. The contrasting seat inserts and piano-black steering wheel spokes helped convey the message that Mazda is Mazda and is not trying to imitate anyone else. The interior comes in either Sand Beige or Black. On a practical note, both interior colors use Black carpeting for easy cleaning.
On the road, the CX-9 ride is firm, but comfortable, absorbing road irregularities in stride. Wind and road noise are well controlled, giving the feeling that the car is going much slower than the speedometer is indicating.
This car feels as responsive and controllable as many sports sedans I have piloted, while still retaining a reasonably comfortable ride. I have driven both the Ford Edge and the Lincoln MKX, both of which have the same engine, but their throttle response was nowhere near as lively as in the CX-9.
On winding roads, the steering feels direct and precise making for a secure feeling of control. The throttle response makes the CX-9 feel lively and powerful for short spurts, but will run out of steam due to the better than 4300 pounds of weight that the 263 horsepower V6 engine has to move. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of power for any normal driving needs. It is just that the throttle calibration makes the car feel so lively at light throttle, that you think there would be more power in reserve.
The 6 speed automatic is smooth and well matched to the 3.5 liter V6. There is a shift-it-yourself gate for those people who want to choose their own gear while driving fast through winding mountain roads. This feature is lacking in the Edge and MKX.
Safety is always a major concern when buying a new CarParts.com and the CX-9 has you covered. All modern safety features are included as standard equipment, including: 4 wheel disc brakes with ABS, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Roll Stability Control, front seat side airbags and curtain airbags for all three rows of passengers.
Roll Stability Control is a Ford safety development that is being incorporated on tall vehicles like SUV's and CUV's. It works similarly to stability control where the computer monitors the driver's intended path and intervenes when it looks like the vehicle is beginning to skid out of control. If it looks like the driver is about to lose control, the system will apply individual brakes and reduce engine power until the vehicle is brought back to the driver's intended path.
Roll Stability Control uses an additional sensor that measures whether the vehicle is going to tip over. If the system detects an impending rollover, it will first attempt to cancel the roll by applying individual brakes and controlling the throttle, but if it predicts that the vehicle is definitely going to roll, it will deploy the curtain air bags before any impact.
The Mazda CX-9 is available in three trim levels, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring and with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. It is expected to be in dealer showrooms mid February 2007.
The Mazda mojo is alive and growing. The Zoom Zoom company has found their niche and is refining it with every new model introduction. I look forward to driving Mazdas more and more. I simply feel comfortable sitting in and driving these cars. They make me feel...young. Anything that can do that these days gets my attention. This is my kind of car company.
Standard Equipment (partial list)
263 horsepower V6 engine
6-speed shiftable automatic transmission
18 inch alloy wheels
4 wheel ventilated disc brakes with ABS
Dual front side mounted air bags
Front, rear and third row head airbags
7 person seating capacity
Tire pressure monitoring
Remote power door locks
Tilt and telescopic steering wheel
Three zone climate control
AM/FM in-dash single CD player with 6 speakers
The Touring adds... (partial list)
4 way power driver's seat
Heated front seats
Heated power mirrors
The Grand Touring adds... (partial list)
20 inchpolished alloy wheels with P245/50R20 V rated all season tires
Automatic rain sensing windshield wipers
Remote anti-theft alarm system
Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
Front fog/driving lights
Alloy and wood trim on dash and center console
Bluetooth wireless data link for hands-free phone
Major Available Options (Partial List, depends on model. Some items only available as part of an option group, see your Mazda dealer for details)
Rear Entertainment System
6-Disc In-Dash CD/MP3 Changer
SIRIUS Satellite Radio w/6-Month Subscription
Remote Engine Start
8 way power driver's seat
Touring Assistance Package
Grand Touring Assistance Package, Includes DVD navigation system, rearview camera and power open and close rear hatch