Capsule Review: 2012 Mazda CX-9

If you live in Manhattan and own a car larger than, say, a Lotus Elan, you become the urban equivalent of That Guy with a Pickup Truck Down the Street.  Your weekends, once set aside for relaxing with a cup of coffee at a neighborhood cafe, are suddenly filled by new friends’ moving and hauling tasks.  And as much as you fight the urge, you suddenly find yourself ready, willing, and able to do favors at a moment’s notice.  Could the car-based, 2012 Mazda CX-9 stand up to the task?

To find out, I enlisted Mazda’s largest sport-utility vehicle for the second-most strenuous task of life in Manhattan: moving from one apartment to another.

Looks Like a 6, Drives Like a 6

I’ve liked the Mazda 6 ever since I drove one from Ann Arbor to Detroit Metro Airport for the benefit of a colleague running late.  The CX-9 expands on the same formula that makes the 6 sedan so good: by ensuring that driving dynamics remain a priority in a sea of bland appliances.  With the CX-9, Mazda created a sport-utility vehicle that captures the zoom-zoom ethos of its car-based product line in a larger wrapper.  And it’s not a minivan, like MPVs past, enhancing its appeal to a market consumed with crossovers.

Close your eyes (note: not advisable while driving), and you briefly forget that you’re behind the wheel of a high-riding sport-ute.  Steering is direct and accurate, braking is precise, and the CX-9 changes direction with a sense of deftness that separates it from most of its competition.  It feels heavy, because it is, but it strikes a unique balance between family hauler and a genuinely enjoyable conveyance to drive.  Enthusiast drivers will gravitate toward the CX-9 over its similarly sized competition for these reasons, and for its maneuverability in the tight spaces of the city.

Can It Haul?

On Friday afternoon, I got the call.

“I’m moving this weekend,” my friend Bambi said.  “What are you driving this week?”

The next morning, at 8 a.m., I was waiting on Lafayette Street, just outside her Broome Street apartment, with the CX-9.  As anyone who’s moved apartments in Manhattan can tell you, it’s a strenuous task, even if only a distance of 35 blocks — approximately 2 miles.

Luckily, all of her things were already waiting to be loaded outside on the sidewalk.  I had anticipated that the CX-9 would handle her personal items without breaking a mechanical sweat with the rear two rows folded flat.  I failed to anticipate, however, her two friends, who would be joining us for the ride uptown and the subsequent trips up and down four flights of stairs.

With the seats folded, though, we were able to move the equivalent of a studio apartment in a combined effort of the rear cargo hold and the second-row bench — in one trip.

A True Contender

The CX-9, then, is a competent hauler and an engaging driving machine.  With the rest of the details properly sweated, from material quality and panel gaps to interior noise and chassis stiffness, the CX-9 is more than a Mazda 6 in a larger size.  If it’s efficiency that you seek, Mazda will happily sell you a CX-5.  For the needs of a larger family, or if you simply want to be “That Guy” who’s available for moving, the CX-9 is an attractive choice in a crowded segment.

Mazda provided the CX-9, a tank of gas, and insurance, for a weekend, for the purposes of this review.

Author: Jeff Jablansky

Jeff Jablansky was born with his hands planted firmly at 10 and 2. He has written for automotive enthusiast publications in the United States and abroad. His favorite road trip memory involves a Hyundai, a winding desert road and a herd of sheep. He is convinced that there is a car culture that goes beyond taxis in his current city of New York.

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