The CX-9 comes in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trims; however, all trims get the same 3.7-liter V-6 and six-speed-automatic transmission. The car can also be had in front- or all-wheel-drive formats. Our car, in Crystal White Pearl Mica, came with the Touring trim that adds niceties such as leather power adjustable seats. All trims get a hands-free Bluetooth phone system.
Rather than the big, squared-off style of SUVs, the CX-9 mostly looks like a jumbo-size wagon. The 2010 model shows a little of Mazda's new Nagare design language in the front end, but it hasn't gone through as complete a transformation as the upcoming Mazda5 has.
"Tasteful" is how we would describe the cabin of the car, interspersing chrome and piano black gloss plastic with soft surfaces. In one of those strange combinations from automakers, the sunroof package in the CX-9 also includes a Bose audio system. The third row seats, which we found easy to raise and lower, are standard on all trims.
Less than meets the eye
As for cabin tech, Mazda is far from the leading edge and should have transferred some technology from Ford when the companies were more closely aligned. As such, a GPS navigation system is only available at the Grand Touring trim level, not on the Touring or Sport trims.
When we stepped into the comfortable cabin of the CX-9, we immediately noticed a new dashboard configuration with a 4.3-inch full-color LCD in place of a standard radio screen. A little research showed that this new screen comes with the sunroof package. These option mazes get a little annoying, and we wish Mazda would just make this new LCD standard for the CX-9.
Although the screen shows more information than a standard radio display, and has eight soft buttons down the sides, we found it very easy to use. Whether choosing a satellite radio channel or music from the MP3-compatible six CD changer, the labeling for the buttons was always clear and intuitive.
According to Mazda, the sunroof and Bose audio system also includes iPod integration, but what that really means is the stereo accepts Bluetooth stereo streaming. The LCD won't show an iPod's music library, but its wireless audio streaming is very convenient. We paired an iPhone to the Bluetooth system and were pleased that the phone kicked into play mode as soon as we switched to the streaming audio source on the car's stereo. There is also an auxiliary audio input in the console.
Mazda's Bose system, as configured in our CX-9, uses a 277-watt amp powering 10 speakers. Typical for Bose, it produces a strong sound emphasizing the midranges. We tested it with a variety of music, from layered electronic recordings to acoustic to classic rock. With each genre it sounded very good, making distinct highs and bass; however, it didn't really stand out as an exceptional listening experience. With the optional rear-entertainment system, the audio system gets an extra speaker.