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Mazda crossover puts function before form, beautifully

The 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring crossover-utility vehicle puts function before form in a beautiful way.
Mazda
The 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring crossover-utility vehicle puts function before form in a beautiful way.
Posted Aug. 29, 2013, at 6:36 a.m.
Warren Brown
Warren Brown

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — It is the complete crossover-utility vehicle, which means it excels in honor of its design mission, which is to haul people and stuff safely, comfortably and efficiently.

As such, it is not what most people here would call sexy, especially not this week during the 63rd annual running of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance of America, a seven-day celebration of all things automotive, “classic car” and ridiculously expensive.

Some people come to the event in the subject of this week’s column, the slightly-revised-for-2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring crossover-utility vehicle. They park and walk away from it in the manner of a couple checking raincoats at a posh dining establishment. They don’t ponder or ogle it — their servant, their transportation — especially not in the presence of so many Aston Martin, Ferrari, Rolls-Royce, Cadillac, Corvette and Lamborghini automobiles.

It would be unseemly.

But I am here to honor the CX-9 for doing what it does so exceptionally well — the mundane stuff of providing seven comfortable, easily accessible seats; of still leaving you with a rather generous 17.2 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place; of having myriad cubbyholes and storage places for you to put stuff; and of providing it all in a remarkably sleek package that is actually fun to drive.

Yes, I am writing that here in the midst of all things posh, glitzy and classic, a few miles from the Laguna Seca Raceway, where serious car people are gathering to watch their favorite cars of all time go at it on the track. The CX-9 might not be that much fun. But, equipped with a gasoline-fueled 3.7-liter V-6 (273 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque), it has more than enough power to get out of its own way and haul everyone and everything it is carrying along with it.

In truth, although we almost never think of crossover-utility vehicle in these terms, and for good reason, the Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring, is discernibly nimble. Equipped with Mazda’s optional “active torque split” all-wheel drive, it responds quickly, precisely to steering inputs in weather fair and foul. It is amazing, really, not at all what I would expect from something designed to carry seven people.

But what I love most about it is the homage it pays to common sense. It offers all of the luxury and safety available in more expensive vehicles, but it does so at a price ($40,415 for this column’s model) that might allow gainfully employed parents to at least consider paying for state-college tuitions. It runs quite well on less-expensive regular gasoline (87 octane). And it consumes that with something approaching frugality (16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway).

As I said, it’s not sexy. But it surely helps you carry the aftermath of such heat — a family and all of its stuff. Frankly, I think it deserves an honorable place here at the annual Pebble Beach display of automotive splendor. It is what happens when sexy meets reality.

Bottom line: The Mazda CX-9 — slightly revised for 2013, including a new touch screen on the instrument panel — is one of the best family haulers for sale in the United States. It gets an enthusiastic thumbs-up here.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Excellent marks in all three.

Head-turning quotient: It is sleek and reasonably attractive. But let’s face it: It’s a crossover-utility vehicle, a family hauler. It gets all the respect reserved for cabs.

Body style/layout: This is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive full-size crossover-utility vehicle also available with all-wheel drive. There are three versions — Sport (base), Touring (mid-range) and Grand Touring (fully loaded top-of-the-line).

Engine/transmission: The 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring comes standard with a 3.7-liter, 24-valve gasoline V-6 with variable valve timing (273 horsepower, 270 pound-feet of torque). The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission that also can be shifted manually.

Capacities: There is room for seven people with a third row of seating easily accessible. Cargo space with all seats in place is 17.2 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 20.1 gallons of gasoline (regular grade is recommended).

Mileage: My real-world mileage with the all-wheel-drive CX-9 was 15 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway.

Safety: Standard equipment includes ventilated disc brakes front and rear; four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; electronic brake-force distribution; electronic stability and traction control; and side and head air bags.

Pricing: The base price of the 2013 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring with all-wheel drive is $36,375 with a dealer’s invoice price of $34,413. Price as tested is $40,415 including $3,245 in options (rear audio/video entertainment system) and a $795 destination charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $37,999.

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