Wherever you take the CX-9, rest assured there's plenty of room for the whole gang and their gear. Despite the sleek, flowing body that suggests tight quarters, the CX-9 boasts a spacious interior for seven, highlighted by more second-row legroom than in the Enclave, Highlander, Tribeca, or Veracruz, and more third-row legroom and cargo room behind that row than you'll find in the last three. Only the Buick, which dwarfs the other four in length, width, height, and wheelbase, offers more third-row legroom and cargo room aft than the Mazda.

Further, when a weekend run to IKEA is in order, the CX-9 presents 100.7 cubic feet of cargo space with the second- and third-rows folded flat, which equates to an extra ottoman compared with the Highlander (95.4) and an entire bedroom than the Tribeca (74.4). Of course, the CX-9 isn't perfect, delivering the least first- and third-row headroom (the latter a result of the sporty, slanted hatch) and the slightest first-row legroom of the five, but it does get points for providing a second row that slides roughly five inches fore and aft on both sides, leaving ample space for finding the third row (over two feet between the folded second row and the C-pillar). Six-foot adults won't mind the third row for short to medium trips, while kids will love it back there, especially if the CX-9 is equipped with the optional rear-seat entertainment system (not available with a moonroof) that features a nine-inch LCD and 5.1 surround sound with 11 speakers.

As amusing as a movie is on the go, though, avoid the second and third rows and opt for the driver's seat-the chair of choice. From here, the controls that count are at your beck and call, ready to react with the utmost responsiveness. Sink your spur into the well-calibrated electronic throttle, and the new-for-2008 3.7-liter V-6 shakes the reins on 273 horsepower, a 10-horse boost over the previous 3.5-liter. (If you're wondering why the CX-9 didn't play last year, the 2007 model went on sale after our cut-off date.) More important, torque has risen from 249 to 270 pound-feet, and, at 4250, is now realized 150 rpm earlier. While we still wouldn't mind a tad more low-end grunt, the 3.7 nonetheless behaves in a silky, refined manner, accentuated by a sporty growl from the dual exhaust. Mated to an Aisin six-speed automatic that's as seamless as a rubber glove, the Japan-built Ford-based V-6 scoots the CX-9 from 0 to 60 in 7.8 seconds and through the quarter mile in 16.0 flat at 87.8 mph, placing it ahead of every three-row midsize crossover in this year's field sans the sprightlier Highlander, which recorded 7.3 and 15.7 at 87.7.

Moreover, when full control of the powertrain is desired, the CX-9 offers a slick manumatic feature that, similar to BMW road cars and many race cars, downshifts with a push forward of the gearshift and upshifts with a pull back. Most automakers configure it the opposite way, but we feel Mazda (and BMW) get it right.